More specifically, wild brook trout. And taking it a step further, wild brook trout on dry flies in remote waters I’ve never before fished.
So there I was, smack dab in the latter stages of turkey season, heading south on I-81 for the Shenandoah National Forest in Virginia, loaded down not with shotgun and camo but a pair of fly rods, reels, hip boots and assorted fly patterns, bursting with anticipation.
Paula, thankfully, understands my need for solitude and wilderness every once in a while, and while she worries when I’m off the grid she knows my experience in the backcountry trumps any shaky decision-making. Usually.
That experience told me to bring a futon mattress for the tent camping trip, that my days of sleeping on rock deep into the bush had long passed, that an organized campground would serve me well, and there was no need to get crazy and turn this into the kind of odyssey that has the potential to land you on the front page of the local newspaper in the worst way.
I had everything I needed. A comfortable tent and sleeping bag. Chocolate chip cookies. Frozen pierogies and other favorites. All my fly-fishing gear. Maps, along with Harry Murray’s book detailing the stream options available within the park, of which there are many, most involving a serious hike into the mountains.
I chose the Hughes River for the next morning, a modest-sized water accessible with a hike of better than two miles down into the valley. An early start would tip the odds in my favor of being the first angler on the stretch of my choice.
My Pennsylvania roots showed when I tied on an inchworm pattern dubbed the Green Weenie, but after a half hour of fishing I had yet to attract a trout. A Little Yellow Sally also yielded nothing, although I did spook a couple fish. I told myself to slow down and then moved downstream about 500 yards.
Tying on a time-tested Elk Hair Caddis in size 14, I relaxed and enjoyed the surroundings. I was alone in the wilderness, just as I’d planned. I listened to the varied call of a wood thrush, and several warbler species I can never sort out. I noticed some wild orchids streamside and should have taken a picture for Paula to identify, but my camera and cell phone were tucked deeply into my vest. Instead, I fished.
The first trout of the day rose casually to my offering, a beautiful 9-inch wild brook trout which, by these backcountry standards, qualified as a solid fish. Several others reached that mark during the morning; many were smaller although no less spectacular in color.
In all, there were 15 fish, maybe 20. I saw no other anglers, just a couple hikers who strolled by, unaware of my presence. It was exactly the kind of day I was looking for, that I needed.
The hike out was another story. Not torturously steep, the growing heat sapped my energy as I headed out of the valley. I stopped several times, finally punched back out onto Skyline Drive and chugged three bottles of Gatorade back at the truck.
A couple days of oppressive heat looming, I spent the next day at Harry Murray’s fly shop in Edinburg. Harry was pleased I had done well and agreed it was too hot to hike the park’s waters.
I headed home early, the pierogies and cookies gone, missing Paula and the dogs, but satisfied with my mini-journey.
I could hunt gobblers in the morning.