On my swing through western Virginia in September, I worked my way up the border from Covington. Based on the discussion on Back Creek in the Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia, I drove over to the Blowing Springs Campground to look for the trailhead. As you can see from the map on the right, the campground was pretty easy to find. I drove in and stopped at the bulletin board to see if there were any restrictions I needed to know about and was surprised to see a bear warning! Apparently, some bear had raided a campground over at Lake Moomaw and gotten into a tent after some campers. The warning was that it had been a bad year for bears with the drought producing a limited berry crop… so, the message was, don’t be an alternative food source for the bear.
Well, no problem. Not only did I have my bear spray but also had my .45 with me. How did that come to pass? I was going to fish the Jackson area and had heard about all the wacko landowners down there who take pot shots at folks whether they are on private land or not. While I fully respect posted areas, sometimes it’s hard to tell from the river where the posted section starts, so I was not going there unprepared. Since I have a CCW permit, it’s not a problem.
But, on a tangent, carrying a weapon with you fishing is a HUGE hassle which I do not recommend and is something I will not do again. Not only is the thing heavy, but you have to keep it clean, have to be aware of where you go with it when you are off the stream and be extra cautious and alert for safety – far more so than just going to the range. Jumping ahead to the Jackson where I fished the tailwater below the dam, there is absolutely no problem identifying the posted stretch. It’s marked with a huge sign that even I, who can’t see from one eye, could not miss.
Sorry for the diversion. Anyway, armed with the spray and the pistol, I set off down the trail. We are in the middle of a drought and this stream is showing its bones. There are deeper spots that were still holding water but they are widely separated by wide, shallow runs where the water flattens out, warms up and desperately pushes its way downstream.
Since I like to fish upstream, my plan was to walk in for about 2 miles and then fish my way back out. Lo and behold, at 1.5 miles into the hike, I slammed into a big posted sign. Now, I don’t get it. The map shows that this is the middle of a National Forest, yet here is a posted stretch of land. You can’t miss the sign on the trail and it is even harder to miss down in the creek. When I walked down there, the Rod and Gun Club who posted the section has a cable stretched across the creek with another sign hanging from it. So, that was as far as I could go. It’s a shame, since the water downstream looked like it bunched up more that the section I hiked down and probably produced more deeper sections that would stay cooler in the heat of the summer.
But, posted is posted, so I started fishing my way back out. I don’t know what it is with me on new water, but I always pick the wrong side of the stream to work up and immediately splashed into the deepest section of the hole at the turnaround point. Trout and bluegills scattered – I could see ’em run. Dang. After trying some casts anyway, I gave up, got to the correct side of the stream (the side nearest the trail) and slowly started working my way back up.
Happily, there were plenty of fishing spots. The water does pool up and if you hang to the side by the trail, get away from the stream, you can do a visual recon of the water before you approach it. In that manner, I quickly skipped by the dead spots of 4 inch deep water and focused on the stretches that held fish.
The fish were visible! I could see them podded up, anxiously looking upstream for the next morsel to float by. This was going to be shooting monkeys in a barrel. I worked nymphs, I worked streamers, I worked terrestrials in several different flavors and sizes… nothing worked. It was a hot summer afternoon, but still! The water was a nice 60 degrees, so the trout would not be that stressed. And, I had to be the only guy to hit this stream in a few days – there were no new tracks. Despite that, my day ended up being a day of casting practice.
At about 0.5 miles downstream from the parking area, the water became just too shallow to bother with and I called it a day and headed back to the truck. No fish, no bears – but it was a glorious sunny day outside with the creek to myself, so I am not complaining!
Bottom line: I would go back here. The scenery is just like a western setting. The best time to go would be when there is more water and after a stocking or two. Clearly, at the end of a long, hot summer is not the best time to try for trout, but it’s when I had time off. The path is nice and well marked, it’s easy walking with only one tricky spot where it gets steep and you need to be careful walking.
Getting There: Take Route 39 west from Warm Springs. You will pass by the turnoff to Hidden Valley (Jackson). Keep going over the ridge and you will see the Blowing Springs Campground on your left – it’s well marked, you can’t miss it. Drive all the way through the campground and you will hit the trailhead.
Comment on private property: As much as I think that the Kings Grant stuff on the Jackson is total baloney, it is the law. Obey it. Hopefully, that law will get changed someday. It seems like Bath County, where Back Creek is as well, is obsessed with posting water – so be careful. If you do not know explicitly that the water is public, avoid it. No need to get into a firefight over a fish.
Trail head at the parking area.
The horrible sign that indicated the end of the road
Looking upstream from the boundary of the posted area
There are a lot of sections like this as a result of the drought. Just skip by.
A little farther upstream, the water starts to get better…
and you run into pooled up sections like this where the water can be 5 feet deep
Another nice section. Not how clear the water is. You need to use sneaky tactics on these fish – I was not sneaky enough
This looks so western!
But, there is plenty of evidence of pressure. This is a well beaten trail down from the path to the water.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore