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


Passinthru Outdoors said...

Great post and great way to spend the holiday with family and fishing. Good for you.

Thanks for sharing.
Passinthru Outdoors Blog - Sharing the Passion

Bruce Edward Litton said...

Your knowledge of nature is impressive; it certainly extends well beyond trout and insects. Naturalism contributes to a very well written blog. Bruce Edward Litton:

cottasofia said...

Nice read.I like this post.Great thought.Thanks for sharing.

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Anonymous said...

I think that creek is designated as Delayed Harvest and not open until July.

Matthew Bruen said...

Delayed Harvest means you cannot keep fish until a certain date. In VA that is June 1st. You can fish it any time, as long as you use artificials (lures or flies). I think in VA this means you need a trout license until the 15th of June. For more, see:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. Another good site to add to my to-do list. Though I have to mention that that is a young black rat snake, not a water snake.