Escatawba Adventure

This farm in Virginia’s Alleghany Highlands offers a crop of great trout action!

On The Fly Freshwater

February 2023

by Matt McGraw

Escatawba Farms is a fishery as unique and beautiful as its name. I rarely use the word “beautiful” as an adjective in conversation or prose, but the word is intentionally chosen here because it is the most appropriate. Everything about Escatawba is beautiful: the location, scenery, sunrises, sunsets, people and, of course, the fish.

Escatawba has been offering great trout fishing for a quarter century. Photo by Matt McGraw.

Escatawba Farms is a private, western-style, fly-fishing only destination in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, in the Alleghany Highlands near the city of Covington. The stream, Dunlap Creek, comes from a source of underground springs in nearby Sweet Springs Mountain. The name Escatawba, is a Native American word meaning “clear running water.”

As is nearly always the case, the Native American words for natural features are far more expressive and harmonious than the names given by Western European settlers. A glance at a map of the area will show many words with such origins: Kanawha, Alleghany, Shenandoah, Roanoke, and so on.

The water of Dunlap Creek runs clean and clear. Photo by Matt McGraw.

The stream and three fishing ponds are loaded with trout with many bruisers lurking. These fish may have been stocked in the past, but many are hold overs from previous years and are as wise to the trade and tricks of fly anglers as any wild trout. They can be exceedingly finicky and only interested in very specific food sources. Other times they can be downright hostile toward a streamer.

The fish can be huge, but my favorites are the rainbows in the 15- to 19-inch range. These fish are in their prime: intelligent, strong, and ready to fight. They will jump, run, dive and make your reel squeal for mercy. When you land one, there is a feeling of both pride and accomplishment. When you lose one, the feeling is not disappointment, but rather knowing that you were bested. Your fish-fighting style had a weakness and your opponent exploited it. All you can do it tie on another fly and make another cast.

Rainbows of 15- to 19-inches are the author’s favorite.

The land surrounding present day Escatawba has been cared for by only three families since 1792 and has been in owner Derrick Barr’s family since his grandfather purchased it in 1952 to be run as a Gentlemen’s Farm. It operated as a Black Angus operation until Derrick and his wife Karen realized their vision of creating a western-style private fishery for fly anglers in the east on the 485 acres in 1999.

For nearly a quarter of a century, anglers have been catching and releasing heavy trout in pellucid waters on an immaculately groomed property. There are 19 named pools, runs, and riffles with creative and apt names like the Treasury, Fat Man’s Misery, the Aquarium, Poss’ Mirage, and the Leanin’ Tree. A feature I especially appreciate is the solitude, which easy to come by as the property is limited to only eight anglers a day.

Derrick and Karen Barr epitomize Appalachian hospitality. I have visited Escatawba at least twice a year for well over a decade and I always feel at home. Derrick greets his guests at the parking area with a wide, genuine smile. He is the type of person who will ask how you are because he really wants to know. He will give a short fishing report on what has been working for his guides, the water conditions, or what is currently hatching. Furthermore, he is a wealth of local history and knowledge, proudly explaining the history, geology, geography, flora, and fauna of his life-long home. His enthusiasm and excitement is evident and contagious. Derrick’s guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and approachable and have the fishery absolutely dialed in to a science.

Escatawba Farms owner Derrick Barr. Photo by Matt McGraw.

Whether you want to land a personal best, learn a new technique, or are new to the pursuit, the guides are ready to help. I appreciate how Derrick and his guides talk about their trout with a certain dualism. At times, it is as if you are hunting tigers on a safari: stay low, avoid excessive movements, be intentional and exact, or you will spook them. Other times, the conversation is about avoiding unnecessary harm through good practice. Barbless hooks are required, rubber-basket nets are encouraged, and proper fish handling techniques are taught and expected.

There are “personal bests” to be caught at Escatawba. Photo by Matt McGraw.

Escatawba is a three-season fishery, closed in the summer to protect the fish as water temperatures become dangerous and potentially fatal to the trout. However, the other three seasons are unique experiences. Varying hatches, water flows, temperatures, changes the fish behavior, which in turn change our techniques as effective anglers.

The experience is always different, fresh, challenging, and fun. Escatawaba is located just off of I-64. It is about 30 minutes from the Greenbrier Resort, the Omni Homestead Resort, and is a convenient day trip from Richmond or Northern Virginia.

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