Monday, April 25, 2011

Trout in the Old Dominion: Fly Fishing Northern Virginia's Accotink Creek

Over the weekend, my wife and I traveled to northern Virginia to celebrate the Easter holiday with her family. Being who I am, I decided to look into that region's fly fishing options. A quick web-search revealed that a section of the Accotink Creek, from Little River Turnpike to Braddock Road, is a specially-regulated, artificials-only area. The state supports this stretch of water with spring and fall trout stocking, and enterprising fly fishers can land pretty rainbow trout right near the infamous Capital Beltway.

Before heading down to the river alone, however, I went on a walk with my wife and her parents. This perambulating trip took us along the celadine-covered banks of the Accotink. Along the way we spotted a red fox, some deer, a great blue heron, two snakes, and a host of wildflowers, including lesser celandine, Virginia bluebells (in Virginia, too!), mayapple, wild blue phlox, chickweed, and dwarf ginseng. I, of course, kept an eye on the water, and what I noticed helped me when I returned to the river, rod-in-hand, after the conclusion of our walk.

The Accotink is a typical east coast, piedmontian waterway. That is, its long, flat, and shallow pools are punctuated by gently cascading sections of rapids. It maintains a healthy riparian environment, replete with ground covering plants, towering sycamores, and hardy ironwoods. Mud predominates in many streamside parts of the river, but the riverbed features a mixture of silt and small rocks. The water temperature, as many readers probably guessed, becomes too warm for trout by June, and any holdover activity is extremely unlikely. At some point in the past, long before the time when parking lots, deforestation, highways, and strip malls came to dominate NoVa's landscape, the Accotink likely held wild trout. Those days are long gone, but the thrill of catching a salmonoid a few miles from Washington DC is still alive and well.

Using the scouting knowledge I had attained during the walk, I quickly zoned in on some spots I thought would hold fish. One such area was the top of a long pool, where the rapids began to diminish, and a large sycamore extended its roots into the water. I tied on a small wooly bugger streamer, and softly dead-drifted it to the root system. I then stopped the drift, and flicked the streamer in the current, quickly moving it across the thalweg and into an area of slack water. This technique worked like a charm, and I landed a number of Old Dominion rainbows.

My quick success was due, in part, to the streamside walk I had taken with the family. I was able to look for insect activity (there wasn't much), identify potential trout holds, and become familiar with the terrain, all before ever offering a cast. This kind of foreknowledge is useful, especially when the river is completely unknown to you. Without the temptation of the fly rod in your hand, you notice things that you might have otherwise overlooked.

The next time you head to a new river, consider spending an hour along its banks, sans fly rod. Take in the stream, observe it, learn something about it. Because a little bit of knowledge might be the difference between a great day on the water, and a frustrating, no-trout experience.

Image #1 - The Accotink Creek
Image #2 - An Accotink rainbow
Image #3 - Our friend, the northern watersnake.

(As always, thanks for reading, and be sure to check out my new guiding website at

Friday, April 15, 2011

Knowing a New River: Fly Fishing Southeast Pennsylvania's White Clay Creek

What does it mean to "know a trout stream"? Although this vague and strange grammatical construction is well known and often muttered, it nevertheless raises a set of epistemological problems: how can you really "know" anything?, can you even "know" a thing like a river? if you can, how long does it take? one trip, four trips, years? does it mean having success catching fish? does it mean you are no longer taken by surprise at any given moment on the water? do you have to know the entire layout of the waterway?

I don't have the answers to these questions. In fact, it seems that each person would define "knowing" a river in a different way. For me, it's about comfort: can I go to a river, with no planning, at any time of year, and still catch trout on the fly? If the answer to this question is yes, I probably "know" that river. It takes me quite a bit of time, though, to arrive at this state. I need to see the stream in low water, in flood stage; I need to see it on 90 degree days when the sun pounds down on the water; I need to see it when it snows, and when ice blocks out different sections; I need to be there when it rains and when it sleets; I need to have success and failure even out, creating the expectation of trout on the fly; and, finally, I need to write about it.

That being said, I'm "getting to know" southeast Pennsylvania's White Clay Creek. Three branches of this Delaware Bay watershed flow near my house, and over 10 miles of the stream are stocked by Pennsylvania and Delaware. Driving distance isn't a factor; indeed, a short half-mile walk brings me to the stream's un-stocked West Branch. And in the last few weeks, I've visited various stretches of the White Clay over 10 times.

On one of my trips, it was cold, wet, and dreary. Five minutes after I got there, it started to rain. I could literally watch the water getting muddier by the minute. So I got out my fly box, picked out a cone-head muddler minnow, and tied it on. The fly's gold wire, wrapped tightly around its mid-section, cut through the murky water, and trout after trout smacked it. It was a wonderful time (I've always loved fly fishing for trout in the rain). On another trip, however, the sun was bright and the temperature was nearing 70 degrees. A perfect day to head to the river, right? The trout, though, were not quite active, and they were skittish of any shadow I cast on the water. After nymphing for awhile, I ultimately tied on a light colored dry fly, and blindly drifted it down the current. I tend to fly fish underwater, so I was thrilled when a smallish brown trout rose from the bottom to strike the dun imitation. Immediately after catching that trout, I left the White Clay, content and satisfied.

Other trips to the White Clay featured Delawarian fly fishing, enticing trout with small wooly bugger streamers, and a few bald eagle sightings. Now, as I contemplate driving to the special regulation, delayed-harvest area near Landenberg, PA, the process of "knowing" the White Clay Creek is coming to an end. I've experienced the river in different conditions, gained familiarity with all of its various branches, and learned its hatch patterns for the summer, fall, winter, and, finally, spring. I think I can say, I know the White Clay least a little bit.

Image #1: Catching a trout in Delaware
Image #2: Stonefly nymph!
Image #3: White Clay brown trout

(Remember to check out my new guiding website at and follow me on Twitter by clicking the following button: Follow Slippery_Trout on Twitter )

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Now Officially Guiding Fly Fishing Trips in the Poconos and Northwest New Jersey

For those of you who have loyally followed this blog, my decision to formally create a fly fishing guiding website likely comes as no surprise. It's something I've been doing for a number of years now, and I've decided to consolidate that part of my fly fishing life in a professional way. So please visit to learn more about my "new" guiding services.

This new website will in no way impede the nature writing that I do on this blog. Guiding and fly fishing blogging are two distinct aspects of one wonderful sport.

In addition, this blog now has a Twitter account. You can access it by clicking on the following button:
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Monday, April 11, 2011

Trout in Unexpected Places: Fly Fishing Northern Delaware

Northern Delaware is a diverse and pretty region. Indeed, it boasts some of the finest museums in the country, beautiful parkland, stately colonial homes, and the DuPont industrial complex. It is known for many other reasons, too, and people have been enjoying its wild scenes since the native Algonquians hunted along the Delaware Bay and the Dutch, Swedish, and English colonists settled the area in the early 17th century. And, somewhat surprisingly, it contains miles of trout-stocked waterways.

The cool waters and clay-bound shorelines of the White Clay Creek, Wilson Run, Pike Creek, Mill Creek, Christiana Creek, and Beaver Run receive annual stocking regimens, and the season takes off in the month of April. Because these streams become quite warm in the summertime, the state only provides trout in the early spring, and it actively encourages participants to keep their catch. In addition, the state is not shy about stocking big fish, and many large rainbow, brown, and golden rainbow trout patrol the deep pockets of the aforementioned rivers.

Over the last few weeks, I've been driving south down Pennsylvania's New London Road (PA Route 896), turning left onto Chambers Rock Road, and parking along the banks of the pretty White Clay. The Pennsylvania-Delaware borderline is not far upstream from this spot, and it cuts somewhat perpendicularly across the creek. This geographical quirk is known as the Twelve-Mile Circle, a demarcation that takes New Castle as its center and extends outward 12 miles in all directions. Because of the difficulty of surveying this type of border, Delaware has had disputes with a number of states throughout history, including Pennsylvania (over an area known as the Wedge, where the Twelve-Mile Circle and Mason-Dixon Line overlap), New Jersey (a small part of the New Jerseyean peninsula is technically Delawarian land, and the two states have argued in court over this issue as recently as the late 2000s), and Maryland (where the Arc Line and North Line of the Mason-Dixon Line are not congruent). Because of these strange delimitations, the state border on the White Clay Creek is not confined to the shoreline, nor is it drawn down the middle of the stream. Instead it arcs, ever so slightly, across the river. Enterprising anglers can thus cast their fly lines over a state border (if you are a history/geography obsessed person like myself, you'll appreciate the novelty of this undertaking).

During my fly fishing expeditions, I've found that muddler minnow streamers and stonefly nymphs produce in many of these Delaware streams. For fishermen that prefer lures and spinning tackle, I'd suggest Rapalas fished deep down in the current. Always remember to fish underneath any clay cliffs and sycamore root systems you might see.

Although Delaware is not necessarily synonymous with excellent trout fly fishing (shad and saltwater options are other stories for other days), it nevertheless offers some pleasurable and eye-catching trout opportunities. If you live in Newark, Wilmington, or any other spot near New Castle County, I strongly encourage you to give the nearby rivers a try.

Image #1: The White Clay Creek near the Delaware-Pennsylvania border.
Image #2: The White Clay Creek south of Chambers Rock Rd.
Image #3: A field of lesser celandine in bloom at the White Clay Creek in Delaware.