There is an air of exclusivity surrounding dirt roads. The best kind of exclusivity. They are the road less traveled and lead places few visit, at least to the extent where paving the way would be a waste of time and money. I am drawn to their rugged authenticity. Even if the destination is known, the road is unpredictable. Downed trees and eroded banks are wary reminders. But if the journey is made, and the road is travelled, the reward can be immense. If you are lucky, you will find untamed wilderness and if you are very lucky, you might even find a river.
Within 100 miles of DC, at least 2600ft above sea level, and next to an excellent trout stream, President Hoover established the Rapidan Camp. That was his criteria (exactly as I listed it); proximity, elevation (mosquito related), and trout. The Rapidan River met the requirements.
From presidential retreat to boy scout summer camp to national historic landmark, much has changed for the Rapidan Camp. Fortunately, the fishing has remained the same. The same river that captivated Hoover is still entertaining anglers today.
This story begins on a dirt road.
A recent storm left the already pothole riddled road muddy and slick. I would say that it is only navigable by a four wheel drive vehicle, but a baby blue Honda Civic hybrid would have made me a liar. Still, a sedan on this road cannot be recommended and I’m sure the driver of that Civic bottomed out on a few rocks along the way.
Miles of road paralleling miles of trout filled river leave no wrong spot to start fishing. Wracked with options my friend, Charlie, and I picked a dirt pull-off at random and began our day. I tied on a #16 Royal Wulff as I often do when targeting small water brook trout. In addition to being a great fly for imitating a number of hatches, there is a classic appeal to the pattern, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful trout flies. Catching trout for nearly 100 years is another good reason to trust this fly.
With trout willing to rise on the Royal Wulff, I found little motivation to alter my rig. The routine was repetitive and anything but mundane. I cast at a pool until the fish stopped rising then rock-hopped my way to the next pool. Soon I began targeting the most isolated seams between rocks or rapids. It continued to surprise me when a trout would swipe at the fly in the most obscure holding water: hanging pools between waterfalls, tiny back eddies, pockets no more than a square foot in size, etc. There are trout everywhere in this river and you needn’t look far to find them.
The air and water is still cool in the mountains and the fish are slowly waking up to spring. For the moment they are sipping dry flies in the most aggressive sense of the word, a subtlety for brook trout. Soon warmth will infiltrate the river and one can expect full aerial displays of trout leaping after flies. Until then, keep on fishing.