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Fishing Virginia’s Wild Brook Trout

By Garrett Turner

To be born in Virginia means a great deal. Many of y’all are native to the Commonwealth and you wear it like a badge of honor. The Old Dominion’s rivers called Potomac, James, New or Dan or its mountains named Blue Ridge, Allegheny or Cumberland just mean more to you. There’s another one of your state’s indigenous residents I’d like you to meet. Many of you already may know of these native sons and daughters–Virginia’s Brook Trout.

I was born and raised in Missouri—the Show Me State. I’ve moved all around from Boston to Alaska to now here in Southwest Virginia. My wife and I have been in Roanoke for three years and we’ve loved every minute of it. Most of all we’ve enjoyed the people we’ve met. As someone who likes the outdoors, I gravitated to those who hold the same values. I met Matt Thomas a few years back. He works as a fly fishing guide at a local shop. He’s also not from Virginia but that doesn’t mean we aren’t obsessed with the outdoor opportunities of this great state. When Matt and I get together, we get after it with our fly rod looking for trout in Bath, Alleghany and Highland County. On this particular day, we were after one of Virginia’s own–the brookie.

Tucked deep into the Blue Ridge mountains are some of the prettiest brook trout streams you can find. The water these Commonwealth creatures inhabit isn’t very big. Finding their native homes can present a big challenge. The biggest hurdle is the fact there wasn’t a map leading us to this particular fishery. So we forged our own. With a six foot, 2 weight rod in one hand and a DSLR Canon Rebel 6 in the other, we set out to find these native fish. Our treasure map’s dashed line included descending into brush laden trails to climbing rocky ridges but finally after our 30 minute hike into the heart of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, we heard the rushing sound of water.

“Not spooking the fish and being able to manage your line and fly are the keys to getting on these brook trout,” Matt Thomas said. “I think I like it because it takes a little bit of work. It’s a native fish that aren’t actually a trout. It’s a char. It’s amazing how strong they are. It can be a real fun fight. I also like it because they like to take dry flies. They’re not picky. They’re really opportunistic eaters so if you can get a good natural drift you have a shot of them taking your fly.”

Our fly of choice was a elk wing caddis. We saw them dancing around. This particular dry fly is always a good choice especially in the Spring. With mountain laurel leaves draped all around us and other branches looming over head, our casting had to be spot on. To get to these colorful beauties, we had to crouch and use our ole bow and arrow cast that we have practiced before but it finally became a practical solution rather than a fun trick.

With the dry fly perfectly laid on the water’s riffle, we waited in suspense. This was a new place to us. Our only knowledge of it came from a book written decades ago loosely telling us where to go. So with no map and zero knowledge if the brookies were in here, we didn’t know what to expect until “CRACK.” Sure enough, a brook trout surfaced like a sudden lightning strike up from the stream’s rocky floor. Lucky enough, we had seen this game before and were able to set the hook with ease for our first mountain trout of the day.

Many more brookies would rise on this day. One after another we were spoiled with their artful display of red and yellow dots painted on a light to dark shading of blue.

On this adventure we simply chased colors. We pursued Virginia’s native brookies deep in its mountains on one of its finest waters and even though we can’t call the Old Dominion our birth place, on this day we felt like one of its own.

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  • September 11, 2019