About a week ago, the Basswife announced that she and her twin sister were going to go to the North Carolina to visit their parents. I immediately encouraged that because each of these visits results in several days where I can go fishing anywhere I want -guilt free. The challenge in September is to try and decide where to go; especially in a year where we have been so limited in rain.
I decided to turn this minus into a plus and do a swing up the western slope of the Blue Ridge. That’s far enough from where I live in Northern Virginia to prevent a quick day trip to reach that water. My logic was reinforced by the inch of rain we received the day before my trip was to commence. In addition, in theFlyfisher’s Guide to Virginia, Hart does not give detailed descriptions beyond “normal Shenandoah stream” or equivalent words. One of the things I wanted to look at was how much water would be in the streams at the end of summer as an indicator of whether they would be good to fish at any other time. If you think this logic through, you’ll see why this makes good sense. If there is no running water at the end of the summer, how much can there be to support brook trout survival during the rest of the year? Granted, a few hardy specimens can hole up in stagnant pools that may be fed by an underground dribble from a spring, but you will not find vibrant populations that would normally attract you to Park if there is no year-round water.
I set my sights on Paine Run since the directions were clear on how to reach the Park boundary from below. I followed the road all the way to the end as Hart described and had a good chat with a landowner whose property was at the left of the entrance. It turned out that he was a fellow Army veteran and after we exchanged a few war stories, the conversation turned to fishing. My first question, of course, was “is there any water?” He indicated that he had not had a chance to fish upstream very much because of his young children, but had been told that there are plenty of pools farther upstream. Encouraged by that, I bumped the truck down the four-wheel drive road to the trailhead. Incidentally, you don’t really need to do that since the trail ends only about 2/10 of a mile from the main road.
It did not look good. There was a small stagnant pool and I could hear a low trickle of water feeding it. Under the assumption it would get better upstream and the fact that there was a trickle to indicate that there may be something interesting, I set out on a 1.5 mile waste of time.
There is an improved trail that is an old fire road paralleling the stream. I was profoundly disappointed at the first two stream crossings when I looked upstream and all that looked back at me was a dry rock bed. But, under the influence of the “there will be pools” guidance, I continued to follow the trail. Eventually it moves away from the creek and goes up a hill with a moderate amount of elevation gain. That added some sweat to the hike but also translated to a reduction in pressure. There was plenty of evidence of prior passage of horses, but I did not detect any other footprints. I did see a bear and that was pretty neat. I gave him a bleat with my air horn and he scampered away.
Periodically, I stopped and listened for the stream. I uniformly failed to hear it, but, after 20 years in the field artillery, that’s not saying much. I had a few glimpses of the creek from the trail and continued to be disappointed. Finally, with some sweat dripping off my brow, I reached a final stream crossing and decided to give up the ghost. I was about 1,5 miles from my truck and nothing was in the streambed – absolutely nothing. There was a damp sheen where the moss had overgrow some of the rocks but beyond that, nada.
With head hanging low, I began the long slog back to the truck. I refused to believe that this was a barren stretch. There had to be something – even in the small isolated pools. I tested this theory when the trail intersected the creek. There was a pathetic shallow pool with a small amount of running water entering, so I decided to follow the water up into the abrupt canyon that supported the trail high above.
After walking about 15 yards upstream, I saw what looked like a deep spot and flipped a small grasshopper up into the center of the pool. Immediately, I had hit. And it wasn’t one of the small fingerlings, this was a 5 to 6 inch trout. I missed him on the first flip, but got him on the second. After carefully releasing him, I walked up to see how he could survive in water so skinny. First of all, I measured the temperature and it was a robust 60° – not bad for mid-September. Second, the pool was approximately 3 feet deep at its height; tapering off to a flat rock shelf. Therefore, this guy could survive huddled in the deep; waiting for anything to float by. I also noticed plenty of fry swimming around and assume that those provided the bulk of the larger fish’s diet.
Bottom Line: Clearly, the bottom entrance to Paines Run would not be worth it even in the spring when there is a decent amount of water coursing through the streambed. After all, where would those fish come from? And if they came here, wouldn’t they just die like they must have this summer?
While there may be a different perspective on Paine Run if you hike from Skyline Drive, I, for one, will not come back to the lower entrance.
Getting There: From US 340 either south from Grottoes or north from Waynesboro, turn east on Paine Run Road (SR 614) and follow it to the end.
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia
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Date Fished: 9/13/2010
Trail looking back to the road. You can drive down this.
Initial pool at trailhead
Whoa… first stream crossing
Nice trail parallels the stream. I saw a bear off to the right.
Final crossing where I gave up
The sole fish spotted
This was the “best” water I saw.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore