I made a run into West Virginia a few weeks ago and, after reviewing the options listed in the Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia, I was fascinated by the opportunity presented by the Cranberry River. One of the things the author recommended was to use a bike to move quickly down the smooth, improved road that parallels the river. After lamenting the fact that I did not own a bike to Lon, he recommended that I drop by a thrift store and pick up an inexpensive bike to see if I was compatible with that mode of transportation. A quick visit to the local thrift store on the weekend before the trip resulted in my purchase of a purple girl’s bike for 20 bucks. I had to swallow my pride, but, hey, it did have 10 speeds. After a little tune up, it worked just fine.
Richwood, WV at 5:30 AM on a weekday is a dead city. The only thing open was the gas station and I pointed the truck in that direction; hoping to get some coffee prior to starting my biking expedition into the Cranberry Wilderness. Thankfully, they were – the coffee was hot and provided the required lubrication for the accompanying big, fat bear claw that probably had 1,000,000 calories. Juggling both, I headed into the wilderness. It’s amazing how dark it can be this early in the mountains. Even with my brights on, I had to drive carefully over the gravel covered road to avoid hitting deer or skidding off at a sharp turn. The turn onto FR 76 is not obvious in the dark! Be alert for it – it will be on your left as you come up on a sign indicating residential property ahead. I recommend you look at the map prior to heading down this road to learn the names of the various campgrounds since they become critical landmarks as you blindly feel your way through the thick darkness.
Eventually, I saw the bright black and yellow striped sign on the gate marking the entrance to the wilderness area. I pulled into the parking lot next to it and unloaded all my gear. I had to pull the bike out of the back of the truck and reassemble it. Then, I had to stuff my Shenandoah rod into just the right corner of my day pack and add basic bike tools in case I got a flat, needed to adjust the brakes or fix the chain. With daylight providing more definition to the river whose roar I could only hear echoing on the other side of the thick bushes that lined the edge of the parking lot, I finally had everything together and headed the bike up the slight hill that marked the first stretch into the wilderness. It took all my willpower to ignore the river that I could see on the right, but I was determined to put at least 2 miles between myself and the parking lot before I looked for places to fish.
The first thing I noticed was that the muscles I use for running and walking are not the same used for biking. Soreness started to creep into my legs as I pumped the pedals and shifted in the seat to find the right amount of leverage on a bike that was one size too small. I was grateful for the downhill stretches that provided the opportunity to stand up on the pedals and stretch. Thankfully, the gears worked fine and I quickly re-mastered how to use them — it had been years since I’ve been on a bike — but, just as they always say, you don’t forget.
Two miles in, I couldn’t stand it any longer as the light had come up enough to where I could see the full glory of the river. It looked like the North Branch! Rocky bottom, boulder strewn, clear fast water with deep and shallow spots interspersed — I could not ask for anything better. I parked the bike and waded into the water; flinging nymphs in every conceivable direction. Nothing hit the Copper John with a hares ear dropper, so I switched to a prince nymph and dropper. Still nothing! Maybe they wanted dry flies. The previous evening, I had had good luck with an Adams pattern that matched the hatch I saw over on the North Fork of the Cherry. After I switched to it, I started to pick up some trout.
I decided not to get too far away from the bike, so my tactics of the day were simple. I would find a section to fish, work up and down the hundred yard stretch of river near the parking spot and then move on. As I climbed back out of the stream at the first place, I ran into another cycling fisherman who had to be pushing 70 and had a chat with him. He recommended that I stick with dry flies although he was using spinning gear himself. He said that the good stretch actually started at mile three and continued up river from there. I asked him how far it would be from where we were to get to the junction of the Dogway and the Cranberry as that is where the special regulation area began. He said it was about 5 miles and I immediately decided that the put and take section would be good enough for me.
I continued to fish off and on, penetrating almost 5 miles from the parking lot. I did not catch anything to brag about but did catch enough to make it an interesting day.
The trip back was painless. Over the course of the day, I had gotten into the swing of using the bike and was shifting gears smoothly to propel myself with the minimum of effort. Interestingly enough, I saw at least 10 other biking fishermen and concluded that this is the preferred means of transport to fish this river. One point to note, my bike had 10 speeds. The first biker — the old guy — had a 24 speed. He proudly told me that even at his age with 24 speeds, he could go anywhere.
Bottom Line: The Cranberry is a sweet river. I know there are monsters who live here someplace and with that in mind, I am sure to return. The only negative to this river is that it is so far away from Northern Virginia that requires an overnight stay. And the girl’s bike? I dropped it back off at the thrift store when I got back.
Getting There: Head north out of Richwood, WV and turn left onto Country Road 7/6 (Cranberry Road) at the turn marked by the sign for the Cranberry Wilderness. Continue on this road and turn left onto PR 76. Follow it to the Cranberry Campground. The entrance to the wilderness area is at the east end of the campground.
Google Local Coordinates: 38.323309,-80.439448
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
Date Fished: 10/13/2009
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Easy riding on the access road
The bike in all its embarrassing purple glory
Typical shots of the river
The fall trees provided a great fishing backdrop
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore