Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wildflowers and Wild Trout

If you have been waiting for the first spring wildflowers to show themselves before you officially declare winter is over, then wait no longer, get out and enjoy. It seems like just yesterday there was 6 inches of snow on the ground and now these little jewels can be seen popping up all over the place. If you enjoy these seeing these beautiful little harbingers of spring, now is the time to get out and enjoy them while they last. There annual appearance seems to be the last nail in the coffin for "old man winter" but enjoy them while you can, their appearance can be as fleeting as a rally on wall street.

Darrin Doss called and said he had an itching to go after some native trout on Saturday and thought Rock Castle might be the best place to give it a shot. We could even get the "triple crown" there, a Brown, a Rainbow and a Brookie, and it's close to home. At the very least, Rock Castle is a favorite for photography, and we would be assured incredibly scenic fishing even if we didn't catch a single trout.

Heading over in the early afternoon, we were both wondering whether spring wildflowers were out yet at this elevation. I knew our usual spots for wildflowers in Henry County were already seeing Bloodroot, cut-leaf and spring beauties, but what about over in the gorge, will anything be blooming there yet. We were not to be disappointed and both of us were regretting not bringing our good cameras since we had opted for taking along our small "point and shoots." After all, the primary purpose of the trip was fishing right?

Rock Castle is a very popular spot for hikers, scouts, birders, photographers and the fly fishermen. The parking area off CC Camp Road is small, so on a beautiful day, be prepared to find a creative way to fit your vehicle in a spot. We squeezed in as best we could and stepped out to be greeted with the chilly mountain air which meant a few more layers were going to be needed for this trip. After gearing up and heading into the woods, we were reminded why this is such a popular area. It's incredibly gorgeous. It's only about 45 minutes from Martinsville and the scenery is worth the drive. Spring was just showing itself with tiny yellow and white buds peeking out on a few of the early blooming trees and shrubs and a hint of green as new leaves began to show. Just a few yards up the trail and we were greeted with a bankside covered in bloodroot, their brilliant white star blooms on fragile succulent stalks, rising up through the dead leaves and relegating winter to a distant memory. It was going to be a good day for wildfowers, I was wondering if the trout were to be as cooperative.

The plan was to hike in deeper up the gorge and fish the upper waterfall pools, working our way back downstream at dusk. It's really hard to pass up those first beautiful emerald green pools that beckon with deep green recesses under the rhododendron and rock outcrops. The plans changed, and we decided to just hit the good spots on the way up.

Darrin and I are about the same when it comes to our tactics, and we will continue to work a pool that we know holds fish, regardless of whether they cooperate. A fun way to fish these challenging waters when you are with someone else is to leap frog upstream. One goes in below a good spot and the other heads upstream and works their way back. You fish towards each other until you cover a section of stream...then head up the trail and start over in the next likely spot. This way you get to fish close and see the other's catch, or lack of, but still cover the stream without getting in each others way. This is not the Smith River where you can stand side by side and walk upstream covering both banks. Fishing here is a real challenge, and you really never get much of a cast, only a flip of the rod, which sometimes even puts your fly where it needs to be.

Darrin slipped in below the first pool and I worked my way upstream and then down to the upper pool. Making the first hook-up of the day, I pulled in a typical Rock Castle sized brown. "Hey Darrin, could these trout be any smaller," I called out. Darrin reminded me that , "Hey, if we were trying to catch big trout, we wouldn't have come over here!" True.

The creek was running large with springtime snow and rainfalls contributing to the volume. At least there was good water to fish, but I think the trout had plenty of food to choose from and so they were not as anxious as during low water times.

Further up the stream I caught the second fish of the day and this time it was a tiny, little rainbow. These fish are really small, but if you think you need big fish to have fun, you are missing the point. Just fooling these little wild trout in these gin clear waters can be quite a challenge.

Fishing finally took a backseat to wildflowers, and we began to stop more frequently along the banks. Getting out of the stream at one spot, we noticed the area was covered with Virginia Bluebells some already starting to bloom, that was a treat.

Trout fishing in these tiny mountain streams and photographing wildflowers both employ some of the same techniques....only the bloodroots are easier to sneak up on than trout!

Darrin gets close to his subject!

Latter in the day, Darrin worked a small hole for 25 minutes with 6 different flies before finally pulling in another little rainbow. We never got very far up the creek, just a little past the campground, and we didn't get the "triple crown" today, but just being here and watching the woods wake up to spring was more than enough.

This place is special. One of those Southern Virginia gems hidden away just enough, enjoyed and protected but still accessible to most anyone willing to make the journey.

Now is the time to get out and enjoy the beauty of what early spring offers in our neck of the woods. Don't put it off by waiting for the perfect day, or warmer temperatures, the wildflowers wait for no one.

Article by: Brian Williams

Photos by: Darrin Doss and Brian Williams

Edited and posted by: Vicky Thomas

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