Monday, August 6, 2012

Mossy Creek Quick Strike with Tom Sadler

Spring-fed Mossy Creek in the middle of the worst
drought in 50 years
In the midst of a bunch of things going all wrong, I found myself in the Shenandoah for a few hours.  Luckily, I knew I'd be there a few days ahead of time, and I dropped Middle River Dispatch blogger Tom Sadler a line.

Tom and I work in the "conservation industry," I guess, such that it is, and while we've had some great conversations and passed links back and forth on conservation and hunting topics, I hadn't met the guy.  I sent him an email, describing some basic plans to fish the area just northeast of the Shenandoah Valley, and he said he'd get back to me.  The continued drought and heat wave were making fishing on anything but spring-fed creeks a virtual waste of time.  His suggestion? The Shenandoah's famed Mossy Creek.

Mossy Creek is a largely privately owned spring-fed creek that is open to public access at no fee.  If you have ever fished, hunted, or hiked in Virginia, I know how impossible that situation sounds, because everybody wants to be paid for everything, and to simultaneous prosecuting you for looking crossways at their real estate, or breathing their air that was supposedly granted to them by King George in 1745.  

But I digress. While numerous special regulations apply, and a free permit is required, it is a place that people can actually go fly fishing in high quality habitat without being harassed by riparian landowners.   Access and stocking efforts began over 20 years ago, first finding major success about 10 years ago with a few big landowner access agreements and one genetic strain of brown trout found to be compatible with stream conditions (which include a bit of cow manure).   Mossy is a special place - good for fish, and for fishermen, and the place gets hammered by fly anglers.  Yet, there are always more fish.

I first fished Mossy Creek in 2010 with a staff member of Trout Unlimited, and didn't see a single trout.  My fly casting has improved a lot since then, but that honestly is more of an indicator of how bad it was back then. I've not fished many spring creeks, so it was really strange to be fly fishing for trout on muddy banks with no shoreline rocks or sandbars.

As the day grew nearer, plans grew more firm, and I was excited to meet Tom and possibly get back on Mossy Creek.  My office at work had been nearly empty for two weeks, and some real changes needed to happen for me, internally at least.  Finally, the day arrived.  I left work on time - hooray for half days - and headed west, out of the Maryland coastal plain, into DC, into Virginia's red rolling piedmont and then suddenly, up into the top of the Shenandoah.  Placed a call to Tom, and our final meeting time/place were confirmed.

Tom met me as I was singing to myself and walking out of a gas station with two handfuls of low-carb energy drinks, peanuts, and probably some peanut M&Ms.  Like I said, it had been a long few weeks.  Tom's energy and enthusiasm were a welcome change to virtually everything else going on in my life at the moment, and it was easy to see why he works as a strategist for outdoor and conservation organizations.   We were quickly on the road and down the slope to the cold, clear springs of Mossy Creek.

It was kind of funny how differently we geared up - Tom with a 13' whippy Tenkara rod, and my with a 6' uber-stiff Cabelas TQR rod and a large arbor Redington reel.  Now, I have to say here, while I admit that Tom's fly fishing skills vastly eclipse mine, the man IS a part time professional fishing guide on Mossy Creek, which put both of us at a significant advantage, but (I'm laughing as I type this), him more than me.  He struck brown within 5 minutes.

Unlike the last time I fished Mossy Creek, I actually fished with a decent amount of confidence.  I was able to place flies where I wanted them....sometimes with a bit too much effort....but they got there.   One water whipping resulted in a massive trout moving out from under cover and shooting downstream.  Oops.  That's one more fish than I saw there in 2010!

I fished with #10 and #12 olive hoppers the whole time, while Tom switched between hoppers and beetles.  Note to self: procure Japanese beetle flies for Summer 2013.   Soon, Tom had his second brown trout.  I had several rises by 6-8" trout, a few missed bites, but no hook-ups.  It was frustrating, but I think that was mainly the culmination of everything else going on, and the reminder that fly fishing is almost never easy.

Bastard plant
Fishing in close proximity to cattle is always an interesting prospect.  Unlike my 2010 visit, the cows didn't get too close this time, but their grazing had left behind a closely shorn stream buffer with the exception of these giant thistles (not palatable to cows, a good evolutionary move), and I found several outstanding specimen thistles with my back cast.  That was frustrating, too.

Dude, they are really sharp.  That's all I'm saying.

After about 2 hours of chucking feather hoppers into Mossy Creek, I knew I had to move on.   And in some ways, I was ready to move on.  I was headed southeast to Charlottesville, to see my wife and son, who I'd seen only 3 of the prior 15 days, and who were headed to Charlottesville from the south.

I took one long deep breath, tried to absorb the beauty and the quiet of Mossy Creek for just one more moment, and thanked Tom for his time, his tips, and what could be, 10 years from now, any possible combination of professional or personal partnerships, relationships, or shared experiences.  Here's to good people.

Mossy keeps rollin', despite the drought


Steve Zakur said...

A beautiful stream. I find spring creek fishing about as frustrating as you do. Give me a freestone stream any day of e week.

Do you know if those thistles are native? I saw the same ones on the top of Signal Mountain in the Tetons last week.

Kirk Mantay said...

It's bull or canada, can't remember and didn't pay attention while my fingertips were getting annihilated by got wrapped around on several occasions, 5 yards behind me.

Neither thistle are native here, as far as I know!

walt franklin said...

Thanks for the nice account of your visit. Maybe I'll try Mossy again next week when I'm in the area. Last time, it was a weekend and the shops were closed so I couldn't obtain the free permit. I did get a permit to successfully fish neighboring Beaver Creek. Those thistles are iconic summer items there!

Kirk Mantay said...

Walt, the permit is now available online, so if you are at a hotel with a printer, you can still make it happen!

Devin Angleberger said...

Ahhh, good ol' spring creeks, don't you just love (hate) 'em. They are hard, never fished Mossy, maybe sometime.

No Video Content For You

Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...