I had the good fortune to have a day off from work one day after Happy Creek was stocked. I am convinced if I had fished here two or more days after the stocking event, this creek would’ve already been cleaned out. The stocked section of Happy Creek is located in the heart of Front Royal in Gertrude Miller Park. Your biggest challenge, independent of the directions below, would be to find this place based on the woefully inadequate directions available on the VDGIF website. Like much of the stocked water in Virginia, the website merely draws an approximate location leaving it as an exercise to the fishermen to track down the exact road and the exact spots.
From the area maps posted on the website, I knew Happy Creek was someplace off of Route 55. I also knew from doing a quick web search that the local Trout Unlimited chapter had done some work in Gertrude Miller Park. I put the two of these facts together and decided to start my fishing day in the park to see where that led. It turns out that that was the right call as the park is the stocked section. It begins in Gertrude Miller Park and runs downstream for about a mile. Unlike much of the stocked water in Virginia, the stream in the park provides easy access for both the fishermen and the stock truck. I was able to catch fish throughout the entire stocked stretch..
So what’s not to like? This is about as far from a remote experience you would encounter anywhere in the state. As I mentioned above, I fished this water starting early in the morning on the second day after the stocking was posted on the website. There were already five or six trucks in the parking lot. Fishermen had already dispersed throughout the length of the stream and I saw “bagmen” coming back with plastic bags full of fish. Remember, this is a put and take area so that is perfectly legal and you can’t complain about it. In a bit of a mild panic after seeing the pressure, I quickly geared up and began to walk downstream. Given the ever-increasing crowd, I jumped onto the water wherever I saw a pool that I felt would hold fish and worked it until I confirmed that fact. At this point in the day, there were still plenty of fish available to catch. I caught and released about 10 during the course of my several hours on this water.
Assuming you can watch the stocking reports, get here as soon as you can the following morning. The first place you should visit is about a quarter-mile downstream from the parking lot. There’s an obvious cut in the stream where an old road runs across the stream and divides two of the deeper pools. Both of these had plenty of fish inserted into them. Work downstream from there and you’ll encounter a series of other marginally deep sections which also hold fish.
The deepest spot is down near the railroad bridge. I doubt many folks go this far down even though the stocked water extends about a quarter-mile beyond the bridge. I believe the assumption is that the truck can get this far so why bother? However, on the other side of the bridge, there is a wide-open field that provides easy access to the creek. The stocked water extends along that field and I caught fish there as well – confirming that the truck has access even here. The redline marking my track on the map above goes farther than that — don’t bother to fish below the field unless there has been a substantial rainfall which would disperse the fish farther downstream. I did not catch anything once I left the vicinity of the field.
The stream is fairly small and runs about 10 to 20 feet in the widest sections. It is very deep in places and there is plenty of fallen structure to provide cover for the fish as well as targets to cast against. The bottom is generally rocky without large boulders which would make wading difficult. On the day I was here, chest waders were overkill – you can do just fine with hip waders. Even though the stream runs through the park, the banks are extremely overgrown once you move beyond the picnic areas. Of course, with the intense pressure this water experiences, there is a well beaten path down both sides of the stream that allows you to quickly move from spot to spot — something that is necessary as you dodge other fishermen.
Bottom line: I would only go here in the future if I want to catch fish to keep. This water is in the heart of downtown Front Royal and many of the local fishermen clearly regard this as an extension to their kitchen pantry. So, you will not have a typical pleasant day on the water here as you will continually be interrupted by hordes of other fishermen tromping the path on the side of the stream.
If you do go here, you should make the best of it and you can have some interesting conversations with the other guys you encounter. Everyone I talked to was pleasant and excited to be on the water. Finally, you should not plan on visiting this water if you can’t get there within the week after the stock truck does its duty. Given the volumes of fishermen I saw on the stream, I imagine this place is cleaned out quickly.
Getting There: Take Exit 6 off of I66 south on 340. At the point where 340 and 522 split, follow 522 to the left. Turn left on E 8th Street. Follow the road across the stream and turn left to enter Miller Park. The stocked stream forms the western boundary of the Park.
Google Local Coordinates: 38.93017,-78.191328
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a public location that is documented in the Virginia VDGIF stocking plan.
The stream is to the left
Typical wide spot
There are a few sections with moderate gradient that create riffles
Fish hold in the deeper pools
Good tree structure provides good targets
Virginia stocks some nice fish in this creek!
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore