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Smallies! - South Branch Potomac River
Friday, July 21, 2006

I'd been antsy all week leading up to this trip.  Probably because of the well known fishing fact that the farther you drive away from your own home, the better the fishing has to be.  This is a great ecological benefit to the fish population as the time on the lake is minimized by the drive to get there - hence fewer fish are caught - more fish live.

Like a Lemming heading for a cliff, I schemed all week to figure out a way to get into West Virginia - ideally to go after some trout.  But, the realities of 30 years of marriage and a wife who enjoys bass fishing finally focused me on crafting a trip oriented on that species.  After doing some research on the internet, I stumbled across the Eagle's Nest Outfitters and was enchanted by their descriptions of various canoe trips and the promise of a great day of fishing.  After scoping out the plan, I gently introduced the idea to the Basswife.  She balked at first but then caved in when I promised her a stay at a nice B&B at the end of the day.  I did lose one of the battles.  I wanted to leave on Friday night to be on the water first thing.  Based on her preferences, we drove out Saturday morning - with me in an exceptionally nervous state as I had checked the weather for the target area and it promised some rain in the late morning - the Basswife likes good weather.

It was a pretty easy drive to get to Eagles Nest which is a mile north of Petersburg, WV.  It took about 3 hours with a stop to pick up lunch in Moorefield and a wave to the poor soul who we saw with a fishing rod who must have been driving from WV to fish the Occoquan Reservior just up the road from where we started the day. 

The outfitter was very pleasant.  I had called the day before to reserve a canoe - no deposit needed and no scheduled departure time.  They will haul you to the river whenever you get there.  Nice if you are unsure of your schedule.

Once I expressed an interest in fishing, we moved immediately into a detailed discussion of preferences (quantity over quality, riffles and eddies vs deep pools), the skill level of the canoers (the Basswife likes flatwater), and the distance we wanted to travel (off the river by 1700).  With the gears whirring in his head like lightning, his instant conclusion was that we needed to fish from the Dam located a bit west of Petersburg back to the base camp.  This was fine with me as it took the pressure off having to meet a schedule to be at the take out at a specific time.

After a briefing on safety, we picked up our gear, loaded the van and began the adventure.  Did I mention that the Basswife does not like rapids yet?

It was still pretty overcast when we hit the water and would remain so all day with a few brief bursts of sunshine.  But, that's actually a good thing as it was hot anyway and the clouds would keep us from baking in the reflected heat off the water.  As soon as we put in, we hit a class I riffle and I got an instant dirty look.  I repeated the outfitters guidance that the river would be gentle to us except for a small, gentle waterfall that offered easy passage through the middle - not to worry - as long as we keep the canoe straight, it will do just fine.  Besides, we had the highly accurate and detailed map shown below.  As soon as we negotiated the riffle, I took a hard right and plopped us next to the bank so we could work the deep water at the foot of the riffle.  WOW!  They were hitting!  We caught about 6 fish right there with the largest being a 1.5 pounder. 

After working that spot, we headed downstream, fishing as we went.  The outfitter suggested that we get out of the canoe and walk to hit some of the good spots, but we were generally fine with just staying with the canoe.  I got out and a walked a few points with great success, but the canoe proved to be a great fish catching platform.

The real map of our route.

As you can see from the map below, we had plenty of "landmarks" leading up to the key rapids/obstacles.  We soon came upon a cliff looking feature with a rapid that made the Basswife grab the rails - could this be the "waterfall"?  It was scary enough for her.  She relaxed a bit as we shot it just fine and returned to fishing.  A bit later, another set of clifs came up - whoops - this was the real waterfall - a three step waterfall that sported a drop of about 3 feet followed by 2 feet and then some normal rocks to drop another foot.  Following the guidance from the outfitter, I picked what I thought was the middle and tried to put on some speed and shoot through - only to instantly slam to a stop on the rock ridge at the top of the water.  The Basswife and the front of the canoe hung out over the three foot drop as we balanced precariously.  We had missed the slot! 

Time for some immediate action - remaining confident (or at least appearing that way), I said "no problem", hopped out of the boat and gently pushed it over the drop before it could slam down like an unbalanced teeter-totter.  The front hit the next drop (which stabilized the decent) and I was able to get back in as we slid across the rocks.  The 3rd stage of the drop was a normal riffle rapid - no problem there.  The Basswife was terrified for a few minutes, and then she realized that we had come thru this situation just fine and started to relax.

There were at least two additional "scary" rapids on our decent.  Scary in that the waves were big enough to throw water over the bow and give her a shower.  But, by this time, she was confident in our ability to blast through the rapids (and had confirmed that the river was only about 3 feet deep) - so she kicked back to enjoy the ride.  The rain held off - there were just a few scattered drops - not enough to even notice.

We continued to catch fish all the way down to the bottom.  This is a great fishing river!  The Basswife used a small rapala minnow that was trout colored, I stuck with my GULP Worm - a green color since the water was clear.

As we headed down the river, it was clear to me that while the hand drawn map was quaint, it was not really helpful.  As you can imagine, there are plenty of "trees" in a river.  Also, when we rounded the corner at the left of the map, you would assume that we still had plenty of fishing left based on the amount of space devoted to that section.  Nope.  It's only about 100 yards from the takeout - so don't be in a hurry to get there.

We wrapped up the day - not really that tired - the current kept us from having to do much paddling - but we were ready to head for the Wildernest Inn and kick back with an adult beverage or two.

Getting there:  The Eagle's Nest is located on Route 220 about a mile east of Petersburg, WV.  Just mapquest yourself to Petersburg and you will find it no problem.

The map you will get from the outfitter - nice to know it has not been updated since 1975 except to change the guidance on steering.

Eagle's Nest has plenty of parking - nice and clean - a well run outfit.

The Basswife posing with one of her fish.  Since fish are pretty icky and slimy to touch, she prefers using the net or a stringer.  I do guide duty and take care of everything.

There were a number of places where walking the bank was the right choice - otherwise the current would just blow you by the good spots before you could work them.

Typical bronzeback.  Most of the smallies we caught were about this size.  Also caught sunfish and chubb.

Ok.  it could not have been that bad - the Basswife is smiling.  I guess anyone would smile if they think their life has been spared.

I think she has a new found confidence in the canoe and her boating skills - just have to get her to paddle and help keep the front of the boat moving thru the rapids instead of huddling in the bottom of the boat!

This is the Wildernest Inn B&B.  It is run by a couple who emiigrated from South Africa in the 1990's and really go the extra mile to make you feel welcome.

This is the view out the back of the Inn.  That's South Mill Creek Lake in the background.  There is a canoe at the Inn that you can use - and Stewart will run you to the lake and back.

There was wildlife all over the place.  Deer and racoons were hanging out - as were bears!  The cat at the Inn has a reputation of treeing bears, so we were well protected.

The back deck on the Inn.  We watched a mother bear and her cubs walk by to drink at the pond you can see in the picture right above this one.  Pretty cool.

Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore

Disclaimer and Warning:  The contents of this site reflect the opinion of the author and you, the reader, must exercise care in the use and interpretation of this information.  Fishing is a dangerous sport.  You can slip and fall on rocks and sustain severe injury.  You can drown.  You can get hooks caught in your skin, face, eyes or other sensitive places.  All sorts of bad things can happen to you when to go into the woods to visit the places documented here.  Forests, streams and lakes are wild areas and any number of bad things can happen.  You must make your own judgment in terms of acceptable behavior and risk and not rely on anything posted here.  I disclaim all liability and responsibility for any actions you take as a result of reading the articles on this site.  If you do not agree with this, you should not read anything posted on this site.

Finally, access points may be different or restricted based on changes in property ownership since posting the original article.  It is up to you to make sure you are fishing where it is legal.

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