Rising to the surface, the black-spotted brown trout gently sipped in the Blue-Winged Olive mayfly imitation. Setting the hook, the angler was fast to a gorgeous 14-inch trout that had been planted as a fingerling and was now fighting virtually like a wild fish. The trout raced furiously through the aquatic weeds growing in the creek before he was carefully brought to the net and released.
That experience could have been on a spring creek in Montana or a limestone stream in Pennsylvania. But it wasn’t. I was the angler and it happened just down I-81 less than an hour away on Virginia’s Mossy Creek.
Shenandoah Valley sportsmen and women are fortunate to have some of the best fishing in the East at their fingertips. From nearby lakes within a few hours drive to small freestone creeks, some with native brook trout, some with stocked fish, we have a wide selection of terrific waters to sample any day of the year. And that’s not to mention the Shenandoah River, both the north and south forks as well as the main stem are loaded with smallmouth bass, rockbass, redbreast sunfish, walleyes, and even a few muskies.
But one fishing opportunity that often gets neglected by the average local angler is Mossy Creek, near Mount Crawford, just off Interstate 81. This creek is almost like having a replica of the famous limestone spring creeks of south-central Pennsylvania miraculously displaced here in the Valley. It flows crystal clear, with a near constant year-round temperature in the perfect range for trout.
The soil in this area is laced with heavy limestone deposits. This means streams flowing through the area have a high alkalinity content. That in turn means they are rich in aquatic plant life, insects, and crustaceans and are high in oxygen content as well.
It is, in short, a trout fishing paradise. Temperatures remain in the 50 to 60-degree range virtually year-round. That not only provides year-round fishing opportunities, it also means trout can feed and grow 12 months of the year. And grow they do, some to outstanding sizes. To protect this world-class fishery, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has instituted special regulations. Only fly fishing is allowed, and only one fish over 20 inches may be kept per day.
A special landowner permit must also be obtained, either from the landowner bordering the water or from the department. See their website at dgif.virginia.gov for more details. It’s free and lasts one year.
In addition to its underground spring source, Mossy has numerous other springs feeding into it throughout its length, keeping it in the optimum feeding range for trout from its birth place to where it empties into the North River. The four-mile fishing stretch runs from the Augusta-Rockingham County dividing line to the confluence of Joseph Spring.
This is plenty of water for many enjoyable days of angling. Be aware, however, that this type of spring creek fishing is quite challenging. There is vegetation along shore and hanging over the water to contend with when casting. And there are many aquatic plants in the creek that can catch the line or leader and cause drag that makes the fly move unnaturally. The fish are also extremely wary. But the challenges only make the rewards that much sweeter when you do land a beautiful brown trout here and carefully release it back into the crystalline water unharmed.
Most devotees of Mossy Creek would never consider keeping a trout even if it topped the 20-inch minimum size limit. What would be the point? A trout dinner? Go catch some stocked fish specifically put in other creeks for that purpose if that’s what you want.
Wading is not allowed. All fishing must be done from the bank to avoid damaging the stream or its insect populations which the trout count on to thrive.
Top fly patterns to try at this time of year are terrestrials such as black ants, cinnamon ants, beetles, grasshopper patterns, crickets, and inchworms. Some hatches of aquatic insects also take place. When you encounter one, try to imitate it as closely as possible with a mayfly or caddis of the right size and color.
Sometimes streamers work here as well, especially for large trout. The best time for those flies is after a rain or just before dusk. Woolly Buggers, Zonkers, and marabou muddlers are good patterns to try.
Almost all fishing is done by walking quietly along the bank and spotting fish before casting. Then bend low, make an accurate delivery, and hang on tight. You just might be hooked up to a whopper brown on the end of your leader!
For more information on flies, tackle, or guided trips, contact Harry Murray at Murray’s Fly Shop in Edinburg, 540-984-4212; murraysflyshop.com.