Earlier this summer, at the start of the heat wave, I resolved to take one last trip into the Blue Ridge in pursuit of mountain trout. Looking through my notes, I realized that I had never fished the Conway River upstream of Devils Ditch. With that, I rounded up Lon and his son Sean, pointed the truck towards the mountains, and bounced over the rough dirt road to pull to a stop at a likely looking spot upstream of the junction where you would normally park to walk downstream to access Devils Ditch and the lower part of the Conway.
There was plenty of water in the stream in mid-June. Thankfully, the water was still running cold at just over 58°, the pools were deep and filled with anxious fish. I was pleased to see that it was fairly easy to walk along the stream bed. The vegetation does not hang closely over the top of the water; making casting easy without having to deal with obstructions. Of course, I was using my Tenkara rod and didn’t really have to worry about that. Instead, the biggest challenge I faced was spooking the fish.
With the water still, calm and clear, a slow methodical approach is the ticket to success. I fished upstream to take advantage of any drop in elevation to shield my approach. I hunched down as I approached each pool and was grateful that I was wearing knee pads to keep the assault as painless for me is possible. We used Adams and Mr. Rapidan dry flies with great success. In the deeper sections, I tied on a small nymph and floated ir back down through the channels. While I did not have a spectacular day, enough small brook trout were active to make it a good trip.
Do not leave this post with the impression that the upper Conway is full of the pools. Rather, it’s a narrow section of river that is mostly a marginal dribble tying together the “larger” pools that hold fish. You will spend a lot of time walking and even a good deal of time throwing at water that you think is deep, but when you finally get abreast of it, you’ll discover it is shallow — inches deep — and that you wasted of your time trying to coax nonexistent fish from marginal water.
As I fished up the stream, I realized that if I were still spin fishing, this would’ve been an exceptionally frustrating day. With the rare exception, few of the pools were deep enough or featured large enough fish to make throwing a spinner or a spoon worthwhile. Most of the fish were clustered in small, deep cracks protected by rocks that would snag anything that did not float on top. The only reason nymphs were successful was that they are light enough to bounce off the obstructions on the bottom rather than snag. If you prefer to spin fish, focus your attention on the lower Conway instead of the upper section.
Bottom Line: From Devils Ditch to the north, the Conway grows smaller and smaller. I’ll discuss the upper section in a different post, but the skinny water reduces the pressure. You do have to walk to find a fishable pool and the exertion associated with that contributes to the lack of pressure in this stretch of the river.
Getting There: From Rt 29, turn west onto Rt 230. Follow Rt 230 to 662 and follow it to the right. It will take you to Graves Mill where you can access the lower Rapidan. Bear left on 615 and follow it over the mountain.
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
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Date Fished: 6/18/2010
Typical small mountain pools
Easy walking, for the most part, over the rocky bed
Several sections of good runs
Every turn holds a pool
The higher you go, the skinnier the water
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore