I could not help but be excited about the prospect of fishing on North Creek after reading in Harry Sloan’s book that “one frequent customer of the Orvis store in Roanoke, Virginia, fishes only North Creek, out of all the waters available to him.” In addition, Murray says “North Creek is one of the finest trout streams in the Glenwood Ranger District of the Jefferson National Forest.” Even Hart lauds North Creek as an island of catch and release sanity amidst a number of put and take waters. With all that praise, I knew this place had to be a great destination.
Since the North Creek is a year-round fishery, I rolled in there in early October after visiting a number of other creeks in the area — Jennings Creek, the Smith River, and the Dan River. I was primed for some good wild brook trout action in this protected catch and release area. I was a little concerned as I drove up to the trailhead as I observed the low water in the put and take section of North Creek which parallels the road from its junction at Jennings Creek all the way up to the trailhead. But, I knew this was going to be pocket water fishing and the brookies would hold in the deep pools that the various authors claimed were frequent.
I became even more worried as I left the truck and crossed the bridge over Cornelius Creek to see a dry stream bed. This was the stream Hart suggested fishing if the water was too high in North Creek. Cornelius is supposed to contain about half the volume of North Creek. I’m not sure what half of nothing is, but I’m sure I was looking at it as I gazed down at the damp rocks of the streambed from the bridge.
Since I was here anyway, I proceeded and followed the well defined trail farther into the National Forest. The trail runs along a ridge line that overlooks the Creek. You can go directly to the Creek at the first turn or stay on the trail as it rises along the ridge and then dodge down to the creek when the trail takes a sharp turn away to climb up the hill towards Apple Orchard Falls.
This is really rough country!. It seems like every tree in the National Forest has either fallen across the creek or along the bank; making for an almost impenetrable barrier. The first thing I noticed was that the pools were both small and infrequent. Granted, autumn is always is challenged with low water, but I questioned whether anything could survive in water at this skinny.
I tied on a small Adams and began to flick it at the deeper part of any pools I came across. Immediately, there was a significant amount of surface action as tiny fingerlings attacked the fly with abandon. These guys were so small that they could not get their mouths around the size 18 fly and I didn’t really want to catch them anyway. It did prove that there were trout here even if they were very small. I walked upstream for about a mile and a half without encountering anything larger than the small fingerlings. The higher up I went, the tougher the hike became without the accompanying payoff of better water.
If you look at the map above, you can see the problem by looking at the blue lines which designate the stream. Upon close examination, you see that the blue lines are dotted; indicating that they are intermittent streams. This means there is not a consistent flow in North Creek to merit the status of a full-fledged stream. The authors all comment that there are numerous spring seeps along this track and I’m sure that’s what keeps the Creek supplied with the little water that is there. The fact that it relies on seeps helps to explain the fact that the water seems to come and go.
I did not hike all the way up to Apple Orchard Falls and there may be better fishing up there. I decided to turn around where the Creek entered a deep gorge. It seemed to me that once I walked in there, I would have to commit to fighting my way back out to the same dense brush as opposed to cutting uphill at this point to catch the trail for a quick run back down to the truck. Since I had not encountered any evidence of other fishermen, I could not blame my poor luck on pressure. Either the larger fish were just not there or they were more picky than their smaller cousins.
Bottom line: The scenery is great here and if you are a fan of small water and wild brookies, this may be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for you. Based on the water that I saw, I would recommend that you move quickly to get farther upstream in the hopes that the water gets deeper and better in the vicinity of Apple Orchard Falls. According to the signs the trailhead, the waterfall is about a 2 mile hike from the parking area.
My bottom line is that I will not return to North Creek even though it sports some of the best scenery I have seen outside of the Shenandoah National Park. The reference books by Sloane and Murray were all written prior to the year 2000. In the eight years since the publication, maybe the character of this water has changed. I certainly did not see the attraction both of them wrote highly about. Hart’s book was updated in 2006 and he is less enthusiastic about North Creek than either of the other two authors and merely comments on patterns to use and how to get there.
Getting There: Take exit 168 from I81 onto Rt 614 and follow it east towards Arcadia. Once you go through the small town, you will cross Jennings Creek. Be alert and take your next left onto Forest Service Road 59. Follow it all the way to the end; it will parallel the creek. You can actually fish the lower section as well – it is put and take water.
Google Local Coordinates: 37.529944,-79.553847
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
The Flyfisher’s Guide claims you can fish up Cornelius Creek if the water is too high in North Creek. What water?
Parking area. The trailhead is to the left of the sign/kiosk
Creek where the trail first meets the water
Typical pool – these are widely spaced
Tricky casting to get into some of these places
One of the few wider and deeper pools
This is not an easy hike – you have to work through stuff like this most of the way up
End point of my hike. The creek goes into a gorge at this point. Moving farther in would commit to a longer walk out than I had time for.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore