With only a few hours to fish on a recent May morning, I had to find a place that was both good and close… or at least had the potential to be good. After a quick review of the Virginia stocking table, I noticed that the Hughes River had been stocked the preceding Monday, so I set my sights on it as my destination. The great thing about the Hughes is that it’s fairly close to northern Virginia and it only took me about an hour and a half to reach it.
The first thing that I noticed as I turned onto Nethers road which leads to the Old Rag Mountain parking lot was that the stocked trout water signs that were prevalent in 2006 when I was here last were spotty or missing. I knew that the entire stretch from the bridge all the way up into the Park was put and take water and I could only assume that the signs had been removed by anxious residents eager to protect this fishery for themselves. However, I am a cautious fisherman and always sensitive to private property, so I did look to verify that there were a number of signs still posted to confirm that the stocked section and the public access associated with it had not changed.
After making that turn at the bridge, I drove all the way out to the Rag Mountain parking lot to do a quick visual recon of the river. I was impressed. Unlike last year, there was no evidence of drought. The river was running strong and full. This made it simple. All I had to do was to pick one of the many parking turn offs and begin my morning of fishing. I made my choice based on where I thought the stocking truck would visit. Granted, this is not always the best approach, but this is stocked trout water. After gearing up, I walked down to the stream and was surprised to see that it was fairly deep in most places. The river was running a foot to 2 feet with even deeper pools huddled next to the bends in the river. I was glad to see that it had a rocky bottom which would mean that there should be plenty of insect life and make nymphing the technique to use.
I tied on a tandem pair of nymphs with a larger pheasant tail at the top and a size 18 midge pattern at the bottom. I began working my way upstream and immediately ran into a number of nice looking pools and cuts. Clearly, I had parked in the right place. Even though the water looked great, I did not get any action on the nymphs. It was only when the trout started to attack my indicator floating on the top that I realized they were not interested in subsurface patterns. I quickly changed and put a terrestrial pattern. My luck changed in an instant.
I was getting a hit every fourth or fifth cast with anything floated on the top. Granted, as a new fly guy. I continued to jerk the fly away from the trout too soon. After telling myself to calm down, I began to get more hookups on beetles, ants, and attractor patterns. At this point, I had moved upstream into densely forested section of the river. The trees closed in over the top of the river; making casting difficult except for throws directly upstream or downstream. I regretted having my 9 foot, 4wt rod with me. This was clearly a place for a shorter stick. No matter. I worked through the challenge and started to pick up more fish. In fact, I had my best luck right next to a rocky bank that bordered the road above it. Obviously, the stock truck had been here and used this as a dumping point for a pod of fish. No complaints from me — I needed action and the Hughes delivered.
In early 2006, I had done a drive by recon of this section of the Hughes and was not impressed with how it looked from the road. I now realize that my hasty approach led me to the wrong conclusion. In those days of my fishing life, I was obsessed with getting away from the road, being away from other people, having an intense physical experience to reach the optimum fishing location. While I still am passionate about all of the above, I now realize that you can have a good time next to the road if you get there at the right time. Sadly, all things being equal, the right time is two weeks after the visit of the stocking truck. It’s a shame to have to watch and wait for that event and it connotes images of a line of cars following the stock truck from location to location. That is not me! But I have learned to pay attention to the stocking reports as it does you no good to get there either too soon or too late.
Anyway, with the action at hand, I was not about to complain about my day. I fished for three hours,and then had to pack it in and head back to northern Virginia
In summary, the middle part of the Hughes is okay. The river winds its way through the valley sheltered by trees with deeper runs near the bends as you would expect. The rocky bottom produces nice riffles that hold trout looking to chomp on a nymph. Most of the river is a foot or two deep, or a least that’s the way it was on the day I was here. The challenge for us “new fly guys” will be the tight tree cover that shelters the river from the summer sun. If you come here, bring a short stick or more patience. Better yet, bring both.
Bottom Line: Not bad. Close to the DC area, good looking water that seems to hold a decent number of fish. I am sure that there are some holdovers here as the river is fed by the cold water boiling out of the Shenandoah National Forest. However, last year, that boil was a mere trickle with the drought that probably wiped out most trout life in the lower, hotter section.
Getting There: Mapquest yourself to Sperryville, VA. From there, head east on 522 and then turn right to go south on 231 (Fort Valley Road). Follow this until it crosses over the Hughes. Right after the crossing, turn left (west) on Nethers Road. Nethers Road follows the Hughes all the way up to the dead end just west of the Old Rag Mountain parking area.
If you want to go after the wild trout in the Park, leave your car at the Old Rag parking area and walk across the street, following Nethers Road until you see the trailhead on your right. Here is the trip report on that section of the Hughes.
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
Looking downstream from the start point
Working upstream from the start
Even though we are close to the road, this gets scenic
Good pocket of trout in this spot – but look at the trees in this picture and the one to the left!
The rock wall bumps up against the road. This must be a hot spot of the stock truck as there were plenty of fish here
The trees present a challenge to the new fly guys!
Upstream from the bridge at the turn – caught chubs here.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore