Shenandoah National Park Fly-Fishing: Part III

by Jerry Tarbell
Read Part I in this series | Read Part II in this series

Continuing the series on “The Park”, as I said in last month’s article, this edition will take several parts to cover all that you can find to fish in the Central Section of “The Park”. So get out that map and let’s get started!

First off, you will note that going down either side on Rt. 211, you will follow a stream. Going East you have the South Fork of the Thornton River, which goes right thru Sperryville, VA before it joins the North Fork of the Thornton River, discussed last time. Heading West you will see Pass Run. Both streams are worth ignoring. I have found thru my years of pestering Brook Trout that the further you get away from roads, campgrounds and other signs of civilization, the more and bigger fish you will find. I have never bothered with Pass Run, which becomes a larger stocked stream down near Luray, VA. When I tried the South Thornton, the best part of it was a tributary that goes up into Buck Hollow. This is a popular hiking trail and you will always see vehicles parked there. I did not catch many fish in that tributary but the few I got were 8” – 10”. However, I had witnesses to all of them because of the hikers.

As you gaze at your Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) Central Section Map, you will notice that “The Park” is skewed mostly toward the Eastern slope. There isn’t much on the Western slope here. There are headwaters, like Little Hawksbill and East Hawksbill, but they aren’t highly recommended. On Little Hawksbill, I ran out of water after just a couple of hours. Fishing was good for about the first hour, and then tailed off. East Hawksbill doesn’t have a good trail and I haven’t tried it. There are also the two Naked Creeks, East and West. East Naked, like East Hawksbill, is a bushwhack job to get to with no real trail, so I have never gone after it. Both East Naked & East Hawksbill might be worth the effort. West Naked is accessed easily from a road and I found it to be mediocre at best. Your better streams are over on the East slope so let’s see how many I can get to before I run out of space.

I will go down the East slope from North to South in order. The First stream is the Hazel River. Harry Murray does not mention this stream in his book, “Trout Fishing in the Shenandoah National Park”, and when I asked him why, he brushed it off as ‘poor habitat’. I beg to differ. As a Trout stream its fine. The problem is access. The one time I fished it I came in from the bottom. There were houses along the lower section of the trail and when I went past one, a dog came out and followed me up the mountain.
He ended up becoming my fishing ‘companion’ for the day, which I did not appreciate because he wanted to play with my Trout. However, I did catch several nice ones that day. The next time I went back to try the lower section again, parking along the road had been posted, effectively closing the trail. I don’t think it has been reopened, but I haven’t looked for several years now. Hiking down from the top is a long nasty one. I tried it once and didn’t get to a reasonable part of the stream (not enough water) in a reasonable amount of time and gave up. So this one is a gamble at best, but if you can get on it there are nice Trout.

The Hughes Network, as I call it, is one of the “go-to” streams that probably gets over-fished. You park on Rt. 600 near Nethers, VA at the bottom where the Park Service has put in a large parking lot complete with a Check-in building where you will have to buy a Park Pass and they may ask to see your fishing license if you’re carrying your gear when you buy it. Then you hike up the road past several houses before you come to a trail off to the right that will take you over Brokenback Run, a tributary, and then the Hughes River itself. The road/trail you started on continues up into another lot which nobody is supposed to use anymore because it was too small. Then it goes up into Weakly Hollow, which was once a small town. There are still ruins in there. In Weakly Hollow you will find that tributary I mentioned, Brokenback Run. I’ve never done very well in it. Probably suffers from being too close to all the commotion. This is a VERY popular hiking area! You are going up the back side of Old Rag Mountain, one of the most popular hikes in The Park. Warning: that parking lot I mentioned can and does fill up, particularly in the Fall and on weekends. So if you want to fish the Hughes, get there early in the morning!!!

The Hughes River is worth a try. I hike out at least a mile before I put in. On one occasion, my first cast brought in a jumping brown trout, one of only a couple I have ever caught in “The Park”. This is understandable. The Hughes is stocked about a mile downstream in Nethers, VA. There isn’t much to keep them from moving upstream to where I was. If you continue on the Hughes, you will eventually see a couple of tributaries enter from your right. One of them is Hannah Run. The first time I ever made the right turn onto it, I kept right on going on it. It was better than the main stem. I have had great days and not-so-great days on it, so consistency isn’t there but don’t let its small size fool you. It can be worth a day’s fishing all by itself. Past Hannah Run, the Hughes River goes thru what I call its drop zone: the trail gets steep and you start seeing some waterfalls. It levels out some after that and can be worth it up there. Both the upper Hughes and Hannah can be accessed from the top off the Skyline Drive; at Pinnacles Overlook for Hannah Run Trail at Mile Marker #35. The Hughes can be had at either Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail, just before Mile Marker #38 or Nicholson Hollow Trail just past Mile Marker #38. You will go past Corbin Cabin, one of several rustic cabins managed by the PATC on a fee basis. If you want to try one, you do have to call them for reservations. PATC members have priority. But at Corbin, you will be right on the stream. All day – fish your brains out.

In my next installment I will take us to the other side of Weakly Hollow – White Oak Canyon. Start exercising. You’ll need to be in shape for that one!