Continuing Brook Trout Education

Vince Leon-Guerrero, Andy Mekelburg, and Mike Holland in the George Washington National Forest

On May 1, 2023, I attended the Murray Fly Shop’s Advanced Brook Trout School in the George Washington National Forest. I was joined by PVFF President Andy Mekelburg and member Vince Leon-Guerrero.

We spent the morning learning about hatches, tippets, knots, leaders, and flies and then went fishing. Harry Murray and his son Jeff are leading authorities on fishing for trout in the Shenandoah National Park; Harry authored the seminal work on the subject, “Trout Fishing in the Shenandoah National Park,” which I highly recommend. 

While I have read Harry’s book, I learn best visually and audibly so the session was quite impactful. One key learning was the Double Surgeon’s knot and how to use it to facilitate loop to loop connections with your leader and fly line as well as your leader to tippet. Another takeaway for me was their instruction not to make tippet to tippet connections and to avoid simply tying new tippet to the end of your leader. 

It is important to know that a new leader typically has about eighteen inches of tippet; Jeff Murray recommends marking that point with a marker. As you change flies, you lose and eventually run out of the tippet that was provided as part of your leader. At that point, you will want to connect new tippet to the leader. Jeff suggests that the best way to do so is with a loop-to-loop connection.

Jeff also suggested tying your hopper/dry-dropper and double-nymph rigs ahead of time to save time while you are on the water. While I had heard that advice before, it resonated and is something I will try to do going forward. Aside from saving time, another benefit is the intentionality and the decision-making you will have to do. You will have to decide what size and type of dry fly to use as well as what nymph and its size. You also will likely want to ty several rigs with different combinations of files and sizes. Jeff also recommended using fluorocarbon tippet to connect your dropper to the first fly or nymph because fluorocarbon is heavier than monofilament tippet and will help you get your nymph down. Conversely, you will want to avoid using fluorocarbon tippet to connect dry flies to your fly line because the fluorocarbon will drag them down.

The learning continued for me once we got on the water. After some recent rain, Little Stony Creek was higher and cold so the brookies were just not that interested in dry flies. They did take some nymphs though. I focused on dry flies and casting, or more accurately, dropping it in various places to cover the water in a fashion that was least likely to disturb fish in other lies. Jeff stressed to me the need to have a straight up and down casting action, like a spring. I also took the plunge, so to speak, and worked on getting as low as possible when approaching pools. In more than one instance, I literally found myself kneeling to stealthily approach a pool, and that is a technique I plan to employ more frequently going forward. 

Similarly, Jeff showed me how to tie a clinch knot using the tip of my forceps; you (1) thread the fly, (2) create a loop to hold with a tag pointing out to the right, (3) put your forceps in the loop, (4) twist five times, (5) grab the tag with your forceps, and (6) pull the tag and your forceps down out of the loop.

It was hard fishing. I was able to hook into three and land one while managing to lose a fly box (which is why I always carry more than one). I sure did enjoy my Redington Butterstick, and I had fun.

Most importantly, I was able to enjoy the company of a couple of PVFF members and several other anglers as well as the incredibly beautiful scenery. It seems to me that the more I learn about fishing, for brookies and otherwise, the more I need to learn and the more I want to fish.

If you want to learn more about fishing for mountain brook trout or fishing in the Shenandoah and/or George Washington National Forests, I recommend Murray’s basic and advanced fly-fishing schools which they conduct every spring. You can sign up at

— By Mike Holland