Big Run Overnighter 05/08-09/2015

The seed implantation for this trip took place when I read through the Stream section of Harry Murray’s, Trout Fishing in the Shenandoah National Park. My brother worked as a SNP Ranger and stumbled upon a copy of this trout fishing bible while stationed at one of the campgrounds. Having grabbed the book from him and thoroughly read through it multiple times I found, not only the name, and distance from easy access appealing about Big Run, but also the fact that it holds many trout, and mucho large brookies at that.

My interests in making the trip increased with the purchase of, Virginia Blue-Ribbon Streams, another of Mr. Murray’s classics. I picked up a signed copy of the book – as well as a signed copy of Trout Fishing in the SNP for my personal collection – as a Christmas present for my closest fishing buddy, whom also happens to be my brother. Before I gifted the book, of course I did my due diligence – to make sure it was a gift worth giving – and read through the pages. Big Run stuck out like a big builder, with a deep cut, and overhanging branches providing plenty of cover for my little fishy friends. I circled this Stream in the Table of Contents as one which my brother and I must soon visit, like this spring soon. So, we did just that. The actual trip came about in rather quick fashion. I left work early one Friday, – from Fredericksburg – called my brother who left work early – from Charlottesville – and arrived at the trailhead on Skyline Drive.

The beginning of the hike. Less than 200 yards off of Skyline Drive

The plan went something like this: Hike in Friday afternoon, set up camp, maybe fish a little before nightfall, sleep, wake up, fish all morning, then hike out Saturday afternoon. Just like the packs on our backs, the plan moved around, became condensed, and seemingly had a wreck thrown in it from time to time. We began our hike around 7 PM. We figured the hike would take a couple hours but if we hauled-ass (so to speak) we could make it down in less time and get a few casts before the last rays of sun disappeared. We figured wrong.

With plenty of energy and ignorance we began the hike! -Bro in the back, me in the front

The hike down to the stream took quite a lot of time. Although we moved along at a brisk pace, we only arrived at the confluence of Big Run and (insert another stream of which, at this time, the name escapes me) well after the setting of big red. Once we reached the confluence, to our surprise we saw a camping lantern. We thought, “dammit! hiked all this way to have the best fishing spot taken by another”. However, I knew from my studies, Big Run offered plenty of stream and we could easily fish all day tomorrow without bothering this fellow fly-thrower. So, I journey over to his campsite in the dark to kindly ask what section of the river he wished to fish tomorrow. First come, first serve in my opinion. I put on my nice, high pitched, voice and loudly spoke, “hello” to which the person, already in their tent replied with a yelp, scrambling, and a quick click to shut off the lantern. I spooked the poor guy pretty well. After he realized I meant no harm and I asked my question he replied with the best, “I’m not fishing, just camping”. Awesome! So, we would have the entire river to ourselves.

We journeyed a little farther as to not camp right on top of the guy and searched for a campsite, which proved quite difficult with the only light coming off our headlamps. I knew a number of campsite locations were in close proximity to the confluence from a friendly individual’s response on the Fly Fishing Virginia Mountains group on Facebook. However, I lacked the knowledge of their exact locations. In the end my brother and I decided to through the hammocks up in a couple of sturdy-esc trees, eat a few pieces of beef jerky, hang up the food, and call it a night.

The moon was out. The stars were out. The nocturnal creatures of the woods were out. Unfortunately, my brothers allergies were out as well. So, his snoring and sneezing plagued me for most of the evening. However, each time I awoke, I enjoyed the spectacular views of the moon-and-starlit sky shining in a beautiful shade of blue through the old pines. The chirps and calls of the insects and birds respectively provided additional relaxation. I found such comfort and peacefulness in these moments…

Corey, in search of brookies early en la manana.

We rose out of our hammocks around 6:30 AM to the pleasant sound of a humming bird buzzing around our heads. After I retrieved the food bag we ate a quick meal, packed up our campsite, setup our necessary equipment, and made the short 20 step walk to the streamside. I fished a Bead Head Pheasant Tail size 18 off of a 2 foot section of tippet attached to a Mr. Rapidan Dry size 16. First cast; first fish. An early morning 4 incher just below a small, natural dam. I released the little guy and made another cast a few feet farther up the hole.  I landed another little Brookie on the dry. Immediately after I though my nymph stuck on  the bottom only to release I hooked a 6 inch Brook Trout with the Pheasant Tail. My first double haul! This certainly made for a nice way to start the morning.

Hello there, little friend

We fished for about two hours above the confluence on Big Run. Lots of small – 3 inch to 6 inch – Brookies found their way to our flies. Fish broke the surface for the top water as well as searched for the submerged nymphs. Then, we hiked down and fished the section directly around the confluence. Again, Salvelinus Fontinalis everywhere. Larger fish here as well – the 5 inch to 8 inch range. After an hour lunch break we hiked down about a half mile or one mile below the confluence and tried our rods again. Here with the sun shining through the trees and the knee-deep water flowing steadily around our legs, a monster Brookie took my nymph. I gasped at the size of the creature through the gin-clear stream. She (I like to think of her as a classy lady) fought hard as I brought her in close. Then with a quick leap just above the surface I lost her. She was gone… I fell to my knees, put my hands in the air, and made sounds reminiscent of any human being experiencing unpleasantries. Having rushed out of the house the night before, I managed to leave my net behind. I cannot say with solid judgment, however, if that net found its way to the stream, maybe, just maybe the nerve-endings of my fingers and palms would have had the pleasure of feeling the grace and power of that beauty.   

We took the Big Run Portal Trail. While it’s shorter, the incline creates havoc on the hike out. Especially with a 40 lbs. pack

Oh well, a solid excuse for a another trip to Big Run. We fished on for a little longer, then the time came for the return journey. This sucked, plain and simple. I’m in pretty good shape and I needed to take a break or two on the way out. I recommend taking plenty of breaks and staying hydrated. The path out seemed quite a lot longer than the trail in the night before. In fact it was the same path. So, that would simply be impossible…I think. The last mile or so provide the greatest challenge with constant switchbacks and a huge change in elevation. After a few hours of struggling with our packs, we made it the our vehicle on Skyline Drive.

-Mind landed fish, with a gentle and wet-handed release. Really, you should try to keep the fish in the water the entire time. #keepemwet #pinchyourbarbs

All in all, I really enjoyed the trip. We landed a ton of fish, hiked about ten miles, experienced another great Shenandoah National Park stream, and made a nice memory. For sure beats sitting on the couch.

A couple of takeaways:

  • Take your time with packing and go over your list! I really wanted to land that fish and would have gladly arrive at the campsite ten minutes later having checked the net off my list of gear, packed and ready to go.
  • Bring plenty of food and water. Although we didn’t run out of either, I was surprised how much we ate and drink. Hiking, camping, and fishing burn a lot of calories.
  • Big Run is not easy to get to. It’s an awesome stream, but in no way would I take my grandfather. Especially not on a day trip.
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