A Rapidan River Brookie

Fishing the Rapidan River for a native brook trout had been on my bucket list. I am thankful to say that I have recently had the opportunity to fish that famous water.

Given my lack of great familiarity with the Shenandoah National Park, I decided to attend the Mountain Trout On-The-Stream Fly Fishing School that Murray’s Fly Fishing in Edinburg, Virginia offers. The shop (murraysflyshop.com) was founded in 1962 by Harry Murray, who is renowned for his legendary expertise related to brook trout fishing in the Shenandoah Park. In fact, he literally wrote THE book on the subject, “Trout Fishing in the Shenandoah National Park.”

Murray’s offered eleven day-long schools this year, beginning in March and ending in mid-May. According to Harry’s son, Jeff, who taught the class I attended, the window to fish the Rapidan begins in late February and ends before June. At that point, the water usually is too low to effectively fish. Additionally, the brookies spawn in October. As for the session I attended, it was conducted at the Graves Mountain Lodge (gravesmountain.com), a bread and breakfast in Syria, Virginia. It was a beautiful setting as the lodge was on a hill overlooking the Rose River, which guests can fish. It is stocked with trout earlier in the year but the fishing transitions to bass with the warmer weather.

There were five of us at the school and two guides. Jeff Murray showed us a PowerPoint that explained the hatches. He also discussed effective leader length, tippet, flies, knots, and techniques. The session helped improve my understanding of these important subjects. I particularly enjoyed the information he provided about Quill Gordons and March Brown flies, which left me with a new understanding of the differences between “duns” and “spinners.”

After a couple of hours, we drove up the mountain on Quaker Run Road. It is a very rough road and not for the faint-hearted as it is narrow, has very large potholes and protruding rocks, and not much of a shoulder; a low-centered vehicle is definitely not advised. In any case, after about 30 minutes, some white knuckles, and crossing two bridges, we reached a pull-out where we parked.

We spread out above and below the bridge and the guides took turns visiting each of us. I was using size 14 and 16 Mr. Rapidan dry flies with and without different droppers. While fishing alone, I was able to catch a nice native brookie on a brown stonefly I was using as a dropper. Over the course of the day, I missed a couple of brookies who rose and a couple who nudged my dropper. We were blessed with a beautiful day, and I enjoyed the sound of the water under a bright, green leaf canopy. I am thankful that I learned more about how to fish pools and cover all of the potential holding spots as well as the importance of keeping your line off the water to avoid drag.

If you are interested in participating in one of the Murray Fly Shop’s schools, it is advisable to sign up early as the sessions fill quickly. I signed up in August 2021. Classes to teach how to fish the George Washington National Forest are also offered, as are general guide services.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not note that our club is home to some excellent brook trout anglers who can teach interested members a great deal in waters closer to home. For example, I have had the great pleasure of fishing Clifford Branch in the Catoctin Mountains with Peter Ring and he just led an outing to Fishing Creek.

By Mike Holland