Jackson River 2/18/2012
Warm Springs, VA
Dave Peterson, Matt Reynolds, Jared Davis, and John Butz
Air temp – 48-56 deg F
Water temp – 40-43 deg F
Bright sunny skies, wind gusts to 10-15 mph
Hatch Activity – midges 20, BWO -18, stonefly -14, caddis – 12
It is a rare event that so many residents can coordinate their schedules to enjoy some shared piscatorial experiences. Matt, Jared, and John made the crazy decision to drive to Bath County Friday night and spend the night in a whiskey filled sub-freezing daze
When Dave and I arrived Saturday morning after spending the night in our comfortable beds and drinking warm coffee on the drive over we found them in good spirits.
The weather was cold and a little windy with the sun barely peeking over the mountains. Dave and I set off on foot down the trail towards the special regulation section while the other guys broke camp. The first few riffles we fished were very cold and had received little sun. I tied on a #18 partridge and orange, as is my new custom. Dave set up a “pseudo czech nymphing” rig. Dave clearly had the better winter fishing set-up. When the water is cold and there is no real hatch activity on the water, getting your fly down deep and in front of the fish is the best strategy. The fish are not going to be willing to chase a fly in forty degree water no matter how tasty it may seem. I believe that is why my swinging soft hackle was a complete failure on this trip.
We moved slowly downstream fishing pocket water that looked enticing waiting for the other guys to catch up. The Jackson River and for that matter all of Bath County is beautiful country.
We settled in to a very deep pool at the edge of a bend in the river and I went downstream to swing some soft hackles near a submerged log while Dave probed the bottom with his #10 bead head hare’s ear nymph. About five minutes into the fishing I heard some hollering. Dave hooked into a 12″ rather bland looking trout. The fins weren’t in bad shape like we would expect from a hatchery fish, but the colors were almost non-existent. The bottom of the fins were white like a brook trout. Dave moved downstream of the pool to the tailout to let me fish the pool. I changed my rig to about 5 feet of tippet heavily weighted. As I was fishing that same riffle, Dave started grinning broadly again, he pulled in another hatchery looking trout followed in quick succession by a few fall fish. We switched places again. This time I hooked into a rather large fallfish.
Fall fish are about as fun to reel in as a stick, but this one actually put up a reasonable fight. My next few casts resulted in another stocked trout. These fish must have been recently stocked because they had almost no color. Hatchery fish get fed brown pellets so they grow fat, quickly. This robs of them of the usual spectacular palette enjoyed by their wild “cousins”
I heard a shout from Dave that he had a big one on. I ran back up to the head of the pool and loosened my net for the first time. Dave had dead drifted his Hare’s Ear through the main current seam and hooked into a very healthy brown. Lately we have been catching a lot of rainbow and brook trout and I commented on the ride over the mountain that I hoped one of us got into a nice fat brown.
The next words out of Dave’s mouth were the funniest of the trip. “Quick get a picture to send to my Dad to prove that I can catch monster trout all over the globe!”
That fish was the climax of the afternoon. I hooked in to a couple of big fish in that same location, but couldn’t land them. I had one on for a while, but I think he may have been foul hooked as the fight was a little strange and he shook himself off with a strange flash below the surface. Dave pointed out that my rig may have been set up a little incorrectly. I was using a large bead head prince nymph, but in an effort to get the fly down quickly I used a large split shot, much bigger than my beadhead. Dave’s rig had the beadhead and then a small piece of split shot. He thinks I was missing some strikes because the fish could feel the pull of the weight on the line before I sensed any change in the indicator. I will be borrowing his Czech nymphing book shortly.
We never met up with Jared and Matt until it was time for us to leave. They had somehow hiked past us without seeing us and continued hiking downstream.
Driving out of Bath County I wanted to show Dave Hidden valley and the spring bath houses, but we were on a time crunch. I have very fond memories of time spent fishing in Bath County with my early mentor Dr. Dan Downey. Hopefully he and I can meet to fish there soon! I think next trip we will hit Back Creek.