My bible during this trip, Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia, gave pretty high marks to the section of Back Creek that is on the land owned by Virginia Power. Rightly so. This is an easy section of water to fish – many thanks to Virginia Power for stabilizing the banks and doing a host of other improvements that make this a nice stop on any visit to the western part of the state.
I hit this water fairly late in the day as I was driving from the Maury enroute to West Virginia to get positioned for an early recon of Smokehole and get some smallie action on the South Branch of the Potomac. As I blazed up 600 enjoying the late afternoon September sun, I drove right by the southern entrance and did not realize I was here until I saw the sign marking the recreation area. A quick right turn put me at the entrance to a major public park area looking out over several sparkling lakes complete with picnic facilities and a beach. Wow. Perfect. You could dump the non-fishers in your family here and then walk over to hit Back Creek!
I read the info attached to the unmanned kiosk and discovered I needed to pay $2 for a day pass. I assume that’s mostly for the nice areas that stretched in front of me, but figured I had better pay it anyway and stuffed my 2 bucks into the envelope and pushed it through the slot. Now that I was oriented and authorized, I retraced my steps south, going a bit slower and quickly identified the huge culvert bridge off to the East of the dirt road that marked the southern tip of the special regulation area. This is a delayed harvest deal, but after June 1 you can use anything and keep fish if you like. Probably not a bad idea as the water was pretty warm on the day I was there – upper 70s – surprising for a tailwater, but expected when so much of the stream is shallow and wide. That gives the water plenty of time to warm. Of course, that heat load could be associated with the low water resulting from the drought.
After gearing up, I walked to the center of the bridge over the culverts and observed the large pool below. I could see an active pod of fish – could not tell if they were trout or chubbs scurrying around, so I dropped down and flipped a few terrestrial patterns at them with no luck.
There is a nice, small pool on the other side of the culvert as well, but it produced nothing for me. Given that poor start, I resolved to do better and I walked upstream, noting the shallow water and lack of structure that would shelter trout. There was only one area that was “deep” – a foot or two – at the corner. Worked it and moved on. There was the nice blob of fallen trees as shown in the picture at the lower right, but after working around that, I burst into the flatland where the stream dribbled over a long 25 foot sand bed.
This is where the power company has spent a lot of money fixing the banks – and it showed. You don’t need a wading staff here! It’s easy walking and easy casting as the bank is smooth and the trees are back. Unfortunately, with the shallow, drought induced flow, there was nothing happening here in terms of trout action. I started picking up chubbs, so enjoyed some fish related excitement.
After fishing the bank for a bit, I decided to skip up to the “bridge pool” (shown below). This spot is commented on in several books as the best section. Sadly, the low water had turned this into a 1 – 2 foot stagnant looking pond. There was algae all over the place and it would foul any streamers that you let sink a bit too long. No dumb trout here to fall for my “new fly guy” level of skill. Plenty of chubbs.
Continuing north, the stream starts to look more trouty. The trees begin to hug the banks, casting a nice late afternoon cooling shade, but the water remained shallow. I walked up a couple of hundred yards looking for more of the deep areas that might be cool enough to shelter a trout or two, but failed top find any.
After looking at my watch and remembering that I had an hour’s drive to the motel, I fought my way up through the heavy, sticker laden brush on the Western Bank and staggered up to the birm that separates the creek from the lower lake. Made me wish I had taken my own advice on garden shears. At the top of the birm, a pretty, well manicured lake presented itself; sparkling in the fading early evening sun. I could not resist! This was bass country!
I loaded a popper onto my 4 wt and worked slowly down the bank, picking up a few nice bass who were lurking under some weedy growth. That turned a bad event (anything associated with just Chubbs) into a good one. Being late, I hopped back on the trail and jogged (more of an “airborne shuffle” for those that know what that is) the short 1/2 mile back to the truck.
This map is interesting because I was on the water working upstream from the start. Interesting to see the big bow on the south away from the traditional riverbed.
Remember to refer to my rating explanations – these are based on what I look for – so RED for Physical Fitness translates to easy physically – you do not need to be in shape to fish this section. I prefer terrain that is tough to get into and out of.
Bottom line: This has great potential. You can visualize that this nice section full of water and freshly stocked would offer up a very pleasant day. When done fishing, walk back to the picnic area and have a nice evening barbeque as you watch the sun sink into the west.
Sadly, my day was not like that. The drought had blown this out and if there were any trout left, they were the smart ones – which pretty much defeats me anyway.
Hip waders are fine here. You will spend most of your time on the bank or the edge. As long as the water is low, you will not find many places that need more than that. The chubbs loved the ants and cricket patterns I was using. I assume a trout would be just as happy with that approach… if there were any to be had.
One other point. This is NOT all there is. The fishable portion of Back Creek appears to go all along the lakes and pushes north of the road. So, you may have another mile or two of fishable water – you would have to look as you work north to see if any of it is posted by the power company. Note that the special reg area ends at the north bridge – making the entire special reg section about 1.6 miles long.
I did not realize this was a tailwater fishery until I got back home. Knowing that now, I would not start at the bottom, but at the top. That way, you can work the cold water out of the dam which will provide a more robust environment for the trout. I imagine that as the water warms up, most of them migrate upstream looking for the cold. On my day here, at the end of a long, dry summer, it’s not surprising that I did not find any trout – they were all probably huddled as close as they could get to the tail of the dam.
So, I’ll come back here if I find myself in this part of Virginia again. It’s on the natural trail leading up from the Jackson to take you to good water over in West Virginia. As I thought back on the entire trip, I think a good swing would have been to go directly to the Maury, hit the Jackson, Back Creek Gorge, this place, and then head on to the South Branch. Great several day plan.
Getting There: Pretty easy. From Warm Springs, VA, head west on Route 39. Turn right on route 600 and head north. You will miss the culverts just as I did, no problem. Continue on 600 until you see the sign for the pumping station recreation area. Pay your fee and then head back south on 600 looking for where Back Creek crosses the road. Take an immediate left and you can park next to the culverts.
Down by the lower entrance, the stream looks fairly wild
Typical lower pool with cover
Around the corner and you are into the improved area. Easy walking, easy casting.
The power company has plenty of erosion control in place
The bridge is a famous Back Creek landmark – the “bridge pool”
Looking downstream from the top of the bridge
Looking upstream from the top of the bridge
Farther up from the bridge, the creek takes on some character
A few deeper sections farther up from the bridge
The lakes look great!! I picked up some bass working the banks with a popper.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore