A winter camping trip to Shenandoah materialized in the beginning of February. Naturally, I brought my small stream fly rod just incase we ventured along a stream that harbored some of the last pure stocks of native brook trout on the east coast...
Our cabin for the weekend was on the eastern outskirts of the park, halfway up the mountain near Entry Run. Entry Run is small, able to be jumped across, but it had a wealth of aquatic insect life under every rock and downed tree branch that could support some brookies. However, as we began our hike to the top of the ridge, I left the rod in the cabin. I was perfectly content with the company at hand, the fresh falling snow, and an endless view of trees and sky. On the morning of our final day, half our party left to venture home due to a coming snowstorm. The other half, ventured south to Charlottesville, before hopping on Skyline Drive for its scenic views.
As evening approached, we picked out one short hike to fit in before all the light left the sky. Once again, the rod tube sat in the rear of the Subaru untouched, even though I knew of several holes that harbored some of the largest brook trout I've caught in the park. As we made our way to the trailhead, wind drove a mix of sleet and snow that pelted off our down jackets. We descended onto very icy trails that were constructed by the teenagers of the Civilian Conservation Corps way back during the New Deal policies of the 1930s. Being careful not to slide on the ice and snow, I couldn't help but wonder how hard it must have been to toil on the slopes of Shenandoah as a young boy. Surely, after working for the CCC, those young boys not only became men, but also learned the meaning of hard work and an honest day's pay.
As we approached a series of tall waterfalls, the creek dropped into a larger pool where conditions were suitable enough for the indigenous trout of Shenandoah. Sure enough, you could see them suspended in the water column, slowly moving back and forth. At first glance, one or two trout could be seen, but as eyes adjusted, more came into view. The largest neared eight inches which is quite large for the small confines of the hollow where it lived. My eyes shifted to the sixty-foot waterfall immediately downstream. Only half a mile separated the waterfall from the headwaters at the top of the mountain. In that short space, from a trickle of water to the small Volkswagen sized pool, brook trout had taken up residency. I couldn't help but wonder about how they had gotten there, at the top of the mountain and above the waterfall. The mystery brought to mind a passage from a favorite book. One that may leave you pondering more than the mysteries of native brook trout and their habitats…
"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 vermiculate 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."