On The Fly Freshwater
Small Stream Brook Trout in Virginia
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs.
Considering all the fabled trout waters found in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, it’s easy to see how a small stream like Guys Run can get overlooked. Located roughly 15 miles north of the city of Lexington, virtually all of the creek flows through the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Despite having this public access, the stream doesn’t get pounded by anglers.
Guys Run’s valley is bounded on the northwest by Bratton Mountain, while to the southeast it is bordered by Forge Mountain. Between these crests, the creek valley lies at roughly 1,300 to 1,400 feet of elevation.
As with much of this part of the Old Dominion, the siren call of wild brook trout is Guys Run’s attraction. For the most part it flows along a relatively flat course in northwest Rockbridge County, but with enough riffle water and bend pools to provide holding water for those native fish. Flowing in a northerly direction, it eventually adds its water to the Calfpasture River, which in turn shortly empties into the Maury River.
When the On The Fly South crew ventured onto Guys Run early last May, it was following several days of battling high water on other creeks and rivers in nearby parts of the state. Fortunately, the water in this creek was only a bit high, having apparently drained off quickly from the recent heavy rain. Also, the stream was flowing clear.
We entered the Goshen portion of the WMA off Virginia State Route 39 at the Guys Run Access and drove along the gravel road that parallels the stream’s flow. This road continues upstream to Mohlers Loop near the creek’s head waters, however, you still have to walk a bit to reach the water from the roadway.
Once parked, we bushwacked through the stream side forest to reach the creek. For its size, Guys Run was surprisingly open. For the most part, the creek was 10 to 15 feet wide, and probably a bit wider than you would find it in drier periods. Since it was a fairly warm spring morning and the size of the stream being small, we dispensed with waders. We did wear wading boots for when fording the stream’s slick rocky bottom was necessary.
Starting at a ford where a trail crossed the stream, we began working upstream, having opted to toss dry flies. On any small stream from spring through fall, my first choice is casting buggy looking attractor patterns. Very few small, highland trout streams in the South are fertile enough to produce dependable and sizeable hatches of single varieties of insects. As a result, floating a big morsel over a brookie can draw a lot of attention. It took just moments for that scenario to play out for us on Guys Run.
The first pool Associate Editor Polly Dean dropped her fly on produced a 7-inch brookie. Not a particularly impressive fish, until you take into consideration that many such creeks yield average fish of just 4 to 5 inches. Chasing wild brookies in the southland is not a lunker quest!
In the next several runs and pockets we targeted, a few smaller trout took the fly, but most were in the 7- to 8-inch range. It seemed that every place there was any dept to the water held a fish.
At a point the creek made a 90-degree turn, the run coming into the bend had a good current sweeping over some deeper water. In that moving water the expanding rings of a rise appeared a couple of times. After studying the current, I dropped a Parachute Adams several feet upstream. When it reached the spot, it was sucked in by a fish. This one proved to be the first of a couple of 9-inch brook trout that were added to our count. Over all, the size structure of the population on Guys Run seemed to be above average for a stream its size.
One of the 9-inch brook trout taken from Guys Run.
When it comes to gear, anything larger than a 3- or 4-weight rod and reel is overkill. A weight-forward floating line works well for roll casting in tight spots and leaders don’t need to be any longer than 6 to 7 feet.
A landing net is one piece of gear you can leave at home. It’s a simple matter to just slip the hook out of the brookies lips with forceps – or even better just use barbless hooks. If you do take a net, it mostly serves as something to get tangled in the stream side foliage.
With regard to flies, some locals recommend caddis patterns in sizes 16 to 18. Those undoubtedly work, but in turbulent areas under the shade of the tree cover, you may have trouble tracking them.
My preference is for larger flies in the 12 to 14 sizes. These fish see so little in the way of forage that they are not shy about grabbing these larger patterns. Also, I favor easily visible and buoyant flies, such as Royal Wulffs and Trudes, or Adams and Blue-Winged Olive parachute patterns.
A Parachute Adams fooled this Guys Run brookie.
The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resouces has a map of the Goshen-Little North River Wildlife Management Area on their website, which shows the access to Guys Run.