After the time on the Gathright section of the Jackson, coming to Hidden Valley was the difference between night and day. Here, the pendulum swings back to the public with miles and miles of open water begging you to float a fly. The crown jewel of the section is the 3 mile long special regulation area that requires a 1.7 mile hike to reach. Perfect!
My bible for this extended fishing trip in September was the Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia. It understates how great this part of the Jackson is – even though it characterizes it as “wonderful”. I guess I am so high on this section because if its beauty – it is just pristine. The hike must separate the folks who don’t think twice about trashing an area from the rest of us. In fact, as I think back on the trip, I do not recall seeing on bait container anywhere!
Did I mention there was a hike? Yes, it is a very easy, flatland stroll of 1.7 miles to the special regulation section. As you wander up the right side of the river on the wide path, your hand will start twitching as you see the great looking water. I skipped over this, and now regret that – just because it was so nice and so full of fish. I could see pods of trout swimming around, but I was there to reach the special section and meet my reporting obligation to you, so I pressed on. Now, pause and think about this in terms of physical preparation. It’s 1.7 miles to get to a 3 mile section of river. You need to be prepared to walk at least 6 miles or so during the course of the day assuming you want to work a chunk of the special regulations. So, bring water and chow and do smart things with the load. I realized that I would be ready for a drink at the conclusion of my trip so I left a few bottles off the trail near the bridge. That way, I did not have to haul them with me all day – you may want to consider doing the same.
After the uneventful walk, you enter the forest that leads up to the river and cross the bridge over Muddy Run. Muddy Run is another fishable section of water – I’ll put a trip report up on it later – but on this day, after a summer of drought, it really looked pathetic. In fact, it was totally dry under the bridge on my day there. Press on another 2/10ths of a mile and you reach the boundary – the bridge over the Jackson. I took a pause here to enjoy the sun bursting through the trees and was amazed at the jewel-like quality of the sparkle on the water. This was going to be a good day – with or without any fish.
There is a good trail after the bridge, but the first steps are on a very indistinct path. You need to be careful and pay attention or you will lose it. It pops back up as a pretty wide path a bit later. I followed it for about a 100 yards and then cut east to get to the river.
The river was wide and calm with clearly visible deep areas in the obvious places – at any turn, after the riffles, and around the bigger rocks. I loaded up with terrestrials – hopper patterns – and started work. The bluegills were on duty! They hammered my fly without mercy. Then the rock bass joined the fight! I switched to streamers – my old standby – the Patuxent Special and normal woolly buggers. This caused the smallies to wake up and chomp freely. The battle continued even when I started floating nymphs – mostly my favorite copper johns and pheasant tails.
What a great day! No real quality, no trout, but plenty of quantity action.
Speaking of trout, I did see some huddled deep, but could not convince them to come up and play. I think this is because I was totally faked out by much of the water. It was so clear that it looked shallow. As I worked my way up, I would move fast through the shallow sections to get to the next spot only to find myself up to my thighs a few times with torpedo shaped blasting away from me. Dang! Be careful here.
One thing about the fish in the Jackson that surprised me was that they were not reluctant to be in the open areas. Even with the crystal clear water, you could see nice fish doing fish stuff. It was only when I realized how deep the water was that I understood they had protection just based on the depth of the water. Knowing this now, I would fish the Jackson much more carefully and use sinking line or at least multiple split shots on the streamers or nymphs to get them down deep.
At low water, the Jackson was very easy to walk. I packed up my wading staff and jammed it into my belt. The rocks here do not seem to have the same thick layer of snot as they do over on the North Branch or the Yawk. Maybe Virginia is more genteel than the rough and tumble waters of Western Maryland.
I did not see another soul on the Tuesday I was there. Not surprising, given that timing, but I have been told that this river gets busy after stocking. However, I proved you do not need to focus on stocking to have a good time here. If I were a more skillful fisherman, I’m sure some of those trout I saw would have been captured in a picture or two. The water was cool enough on my September day at the end of a tough summer to support trout.
I also want to come back to the 2 miles of regular water you will walk past to get to the special regs. From what I could see of it, this is pretty open, still deep and still full of fish. On my hike back, I had to divert over and work a pod of trout I could see swimming around. Geez. This river is alive with fish. A word of caution! They are smart fish… or at least they are smarter than my level of fly fishing expertise. BUT – I’m going to get better and I’ll beat them like a rented mule on my next trip to the wild west of Virginia.
Bottom Line: This is as close to a perfect river as you can get. While the Wallman section of the North Branch is still my favorite water, this is a close second. If the Jackson were closer, it probably would be at the top of my list.
Getting There: Mapquest yourself to Warm Springs and head west on Route 39. There is a sign directing you to the Hidden Valley section (Rt 621). Turn right and follow 621 a mile or so to the next Forest Service sign that points you to the left. Go past the campground and continue on the road. It leads to the parking area. If you cross the river, you have gone too far. The parking area is well marked. The trail to the special reg section is at the far end of the parking lot – you will walk with the river on your left.
I was a little concerned about walking so far with my waders on, but the walk was so easy that I did not work up much of a sweat. BUT. I was here in September. If you do this in the summer, you may want to stuff your waders into your pack or just decide to wet wade. That would be a pretty sweaty hike in chest waders!
I arrived early in the morning – what a great sight as the sun was coming up. This is the trailhead. It’s a well marked path.
The bridge marks the beginning of the special regulation section
Looking downstream from the bridge. Also, I could see trout right under the bridge.
Upstream from the bridge
The water was low as a result of the dry summer, but even with that constraint, there were still plenty of deeper holes. This was my view when I popped off the trail to start fishing.
Every riffle section spilled into a deeper section with a center cut that would hold the fish
This was a killer deep pool. It was really deep at the top of the picture near the rock face
View upstream from where I had to turn back
Plenty of bass!
Plenty of feisty smallies!
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore