Saturday, April 25, 2009

Maps and Mazes...

Shenandoah National Park is a short two-hour drive from Baltimore so my girlfriend and I drove down for a quick get-a-way during the 2nd week of April. I took my new 3wt and was eager to hook into some wild brookies. I strung up my 5wt for Stacy, hoping these two days would provide her with some willing trout.
We decided on an 8 mile hike along the White Oak Canyon trail. The stream we encountered began as a literal seep from under a car-sized boulder. Within a half mile it joined another miniscule stream and plunged over an 8ft slide into the first reasonable plunge pool. We stopped and strung up.

The temperature was around freezing and it was pretty early in the AM. Some tricky casting around overhangs yielded 3 takes but no fish brought to hand. We had a long hike ahead and decided to move on.

The stream slowly grew in size and soon we were into an amazing stretch of waterfalls and boulders and slides and pools. We landed our first tiny fish by kneeling on approach to a small hole.

We kept moving downstream, stopping at each attractive spot and taking a few casts. We began to land brookies from each and every pool. The farther we moved downstream, the larger the fish became. At about this point they topped out at around 6 inches.

We soon came to the reason this trail is one of the most heavily traveled in the park. A combination waterfall-slide with a combined length of about 130ft. We hiked to an overlook and stared for a while at the rushing water. We then spied a small car-sized pool formed by the waterfall about 30ft from the top of the falls. We hiked down to it.

Stacy took a few pics while I cast into the boiling water. In two casts I landed a 9 inch brookie. It might have been the prettiest fish I've ever seen.

I then brought in 4 more from the same pool. I was stunned how the entire existence of these fish takes place in a 3ft deep pool sandwiched between a 100ft near-vertical slide and a 30ft waterfall.

We doubled back around and climbed down to the bottom of the slide and made our way towards to main pool at the bottom. I missed 4 fish and called Stacy up from a lower pool to try her luck. On her 2nd cast she hooked into a genuine slam-pig. She deftly played the fish as I took a running leap over the torrent of water to help her land it. I hoisted the 12incher from the water, we stared for a few seconds, snapped a pic, and released it.

The wild brookies of Shenandoah are a treat. Easy to catch and ridiculously pretty, streams that harbor them deserve total protection. It was a great day catching them with Stace and I'll never forget the slammer she pulled out of the giant waterfall's plunge pool. After that fish, with the sunset approaching and a long, uphill hike to the car, we packed up and headed up more than 1,000 vertical feet to the parking lot.

There is something about catching a fish in the place it evolved to inhabit that renders all thoughts of stocked hatchery fish an insult. Especially brookies with greens and oranges that exist nowhere else on Earth beyond the backs and fins of the fish in this particular stream. With their perfectly formed fins and amazing patterns, I am reminded of Cormac McCarthy's closing paragraph in his novel, The Road; "Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and Mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."

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