TJTU Announcements

The dry weather  is preventing the usual fall return of brook trout fishing in the Shenandoah National Park.   Nevertheless,  Thomas Jefferson Trout Unlimited is gearing up for the fall season.  There will be a meeting in the University of Virginia's astronomy building at 6:30 pm on Thursday, September 23. 

There will also be a river clean-up at the Moorman's River below the Sugar Hollow dam on Wednesday, September 22 from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.  Contact Chubby Damron at damron1961 [at] comcast.net to volunteer.  


The Fly Cast

The blog has not had content for several days.  I have been busy preparing lectures for teaching, exercising my excitable golden retriever, and planning an upcoming academic conference.  However, I've also been reading up on fly-casting technique and offering some fly-casting instruction to colleagues and friends.  From my reading of Lefty Kreh, Joan Wulff, Mel Kreiger, Jason Borger, and some of the articles on www.sexyloops.com, it seems as if there are two distinct theories of fly-casting and associated styles.  Lefty Kreh advocates four different "principles" of fly casting.  They are:

1) You must get the end of the fly line moving before you can make a back or forward cast
2) Once the line is moving, the only way to load the rod is to move the casting hand at an ever-increasing speed and then bring it to a quick stop
3)  The line will go in the direction the rod tip speeds up and stops
4) The longer the distance the rod travels on the back and forward casting strokes, the less effort is required to make the cast

Lefty also recommends keeping a "straight" wrist and keeping the "elbow on the shelf"--i.e. on the same plane, parallel with the ground throughout the cast.  

Casters such as Joan Wulff and Jason Borger have a different theory.  They have no problem with the elbow leaving "the shelf" and even leading the fly cast.  Both also disagree with point number 4, advocating a "drift" after the powerstroke instead of just a longer cast.  You can read a spirited critique of Lefty's principles here.

To be honest, I have seen casters be effective with both styles.  Several years ago, I took a class with the famous Bob Clouser.  Clouser enthusiastically endorses the Kreh method and can boom 75 foot fasts with ease and tight loops.  Nick Teynor of western rivers seems to adopt to Wulff and Borger method and can cast a country mile.   What I would like to see is a more in-depth comparisons of these different methods and styles.

Tight lines,



A Couple Hours on the James

This weekend, I came to the realization that while I am a fairly competent trout angler--feeling confident that I will catch some fish no matter the conditions--the same is not true for bass.  For some reason, the smallmouth here in Virginia seem to resist my best efforts to catch them.  Sure, I do well on farm ponds with largemouths and the annoying bluegills, but I just have not yet figured out the smallmouth rivers.

On Sunday, I spent about three hours fishing the James near the public boat put-in in Scottsville.  The water was unusually high, restricting wading to a small stretch of water up to the route 20 bridge.  I was fishing my Winston 6 wt with a sinking line and Galloup streamers.   Casting to the banks and stripping back secured one exciting follow by a 13-inch smallmouth and a sore rotator cuff, but that was about it.   Next time, I will try to rent a canoe to fish the James.  The water is just too deep to cover by wading. 


Myths and Mossy Creek

Mossy Creek is one of the most written-about trout streams in the Central Virginia era.  Fed by cold springs and winding through beautiful farm land, the creek is home to a healthy population of large brown and rainbow trout.  It is one of the few Virginia trout streams fishable all year round.  Right now, during successive ninety-degree days without rain, almost all of the mountain streams have slowed to a trickle, while Mossy is still fishing nicely.

Mossy Creek is also one of the most talked-about streams in Virginia.  I have heard more myths and frankly nonsense about it than any other place.  In a reputable angling magazine, one author exclaimed that an angler could score a "triple crown" on the river--catching brown, rainbow, and brook trout.  Simply put, there are NO brook trout in Mossy Creek.   The state does stalk some rainbows and there are chubs in Mossy, but the main attraction is its large brown trout.  Another myth is that only big meaty woolly buggers will draw attention from these large browns.  I have found the opposite to be true.  The trout have seen so many presentations of large woolly buggers that they shy away from them.  If you are going to fish a streamer, try one of the Galloup patterns or a unusual sculpin imitation.  Contrary to popular perception, the big trout do feed on terrestrials and nymphs.  A Murray's Flying Beetle in sizes 14 and 16 in just the ticket during the spring and summer.  I caught a nice 17-inch brown on one this past spring.  Local Thomas Jefferson Trout Unlimited members have had luck on scud nymphs and small hoppers.  The key is to match the insects the trout are feeding on--which are often smaller than the patterns anglers are throwing. 


Minimalism and Fly Fishing

How much stuff does one really need on the water?  If someone was to buy all the gizmos and gadgets sold on the market today, that person could be carrying close to 15 pounds on the water with countless  appendages tangling in the bushes.  Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of Patagonia, argues that the mark of the master angler is simplicity--carrying only one fly box, a pair of nippers, and hemostats. 

I appreciate this sentiment, but have to disagree with the one fly box.  A lot of anglers simply like flies and even if one does not need to carry an armada of flies to river, it is fun to tie and fish different patterns.  Plus, it is rewarding to precisely imitate the natural insect that the trout are feeding on.  I also believe in carrying some survival gear.  Water, a means of purification, a knife, matches, a rain jacket, and a whistle can help you a lot if you get stranded in the backcountry.  Drinking water is also critical for avoiding dehydration, which can lead to injuries and create an unpleasant trip.   Besides survival gear, I carry a multitool, floatant, a net, split shot, and a few strike indicators in case I go nymphing.  A net is a big help for catch and release fishing. 

What are your thoughts? What is truly "necessary" on the water?  What do you carry?


Grizzly Bears

While in Yellowstone, I had the pleasure of seeing a Grizzly bear and her two cubs near a park road.   The bears did not seem at all threatened and ambled through the bushes, grazing on berries.   The raw power of the mother Grizzly seemed more elegant than frightening.  Of course, not all bear encounters in the park are this positive.   You can read about a deadly bear attack here

When fishing in the Yellowstone backcountry or anywhere else that Grizzly bears frequent, it is vital to keep a can of bear spray at the ready.  Bear spray is pepper mace that can be sprayed at a Grizzly to deter an attack.  A study by a BYU professor, posted here, shows that bear spray is more effective than a gun in fending off a charge.  The spray should not be sitting in your backpack, not still wrapped in plastic, not tucked away in your fishing vest, but on the belt or on the chest, ready to be used.  Otherwise, why take it?

A second point to remember is that bears hate surprises.  When hiking alone, be sure to call out "hey bear" at every blind turn and make a lot of noise to alert bears to your presence.  When in a group, keep up a steady conversation and again, shout "hey bear," at blind turns on the trail.  

A third point is to safeguard your food.   Don't leave a pack full of food on the river bank while you are fishing.  Take the proper precautions in camp to keep food away from Yogi.  Don't camp next to where you cooked a fresh caught trout or even top-ramen. Hang food on trees or keep it in a "bear can," but be sure to consult park rangers to see which method they recommend. 

While you should take these safety measures, it is important to remember that buffalo charges and vehicle accidents cause more deaths in Yellowstone than bear attacks.   On my trip, I saw a sleepy driver slam into a tree and a small RV catch on fire.   Sometimes our fears can magnify certain risks and minimize others.  


Gray Beards and the Henry's Fork

The Henry's Fork of the Snake, located in Last Chance, Idaho, is one of the most challenging and unique trout streams in the nation.  The river is slow, wide, and relatively shallow.  Cool temperatures and a fertile environment produce a tremendous amount of insect life.  There are so many bugs in the river that large trout  continue to feed on insects rather than converting to a predatory diet.  Once past twenty inches in most rivers, trout feed on sculpins, minnows, and juvenile trout, ignoring mayflies, caddis, stoneflies, and terrestrials.  On the Henry's Fork, by contrast, one can find huge rainbows feeding on size 22 blue-wing-olives. The stream is also unique because it is a sight-fishery.  One wanders the bank in search of big trout to cast to.  "Searching" the water is unproductive and generally frowned upon by other fishermen. 

There is a catch.  Due to years of catch-and-release management, the abundant food supply, and clear, shallow, water, the large trout of the Henry's Fork are notoriously picky.   The old refrain that "90% of trout can be caught on a Adams or a Hair's Ear" simply is not true on the Henry's Fork.   Fish key in on particular hatches and stages of hatches.  They closely inspect flies for comparison to the natural.   Some of the most accomplished fly-fishers on the Henry's Fork, such as Rene Harrop, owner of the Trout Hunter lodge, carry up to 18 fly boxes while on the water.

My own experience on the Henry's Fork has me yearning to go back.  My friends and I began the morning near the log jam pullout just down the road from Last Chance.   Walking a mile or two into Harriman Ranch, we did not see many risers until about 10:00 in the morning.   When I finally had the opportunity to fish to a couple, the trout spooked at my offerings.   On the way back to lunch, we had the pleasure to witness an accomplished angler hook and land two large rainbows.   The older gentlemen informed us that he had caught the trout on a Pale-Morning-Dun emerger. 

The afternoon brought more much more opportunities and an up-close-encounter with what appeared to be a 25-inch trout.   We made the critical mistake, however, of not following the old fly-fisherman's advice and picking up some PMD emerger pattterns.  Instead, some kids at a fly shop we stopped at insisted that brown ants were the way to go.   We drove further from Last Chance, taking Wood Road to a secluded part of the river.  At about 4:00 pm, a plethora of large fish started rising, sometimes only 10 to 15 feet away from where we were standing.   The largest of them--the 25 incher--had its fin sticking out of the water like a miniature Jaws.  We tried for three hours to hook up with one of these monsters, but could not select the right fly pattern.  Brown ants garnered no interest, neither did PMD cripples, nymphs, or spinners.   I had one strike on a PMD sparke dun, but it was a smaller fish that got off the hook.  Finally, around 7:30 pm we decided to call it a day.  Walking back to the car, I stopped to confer with some other fly-fishermen.  They had done well on--guess what--PMD emergers.  My friend Mike remarked that we "should have trusted the gray beard."  I could not have agreed more.