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.