Southern Hospitality & Escatawba Rainbows

I was checking the weather forecast every evening last week looking at Saturday and Sunday and hoping it was going to stay dry. Unfortunately, every day that passed, the percentage chance of rain, thunderstorms, and high winds kept increasing.  By Thursday I decided I’d need a plan B for Saturday and I started exploring my options. After an exhausting search I couldn’t find a safe forecast anywhere in Pennsylvania or any state bordering it. State College streams were out, Erie steelhead was out, Pulaski steelhead was out, wild Maryland trout were out, there was no where to go. Then I remembered a place I’d read about a couple years ago. In southern Virginia, nestled in the Alleghany Mountains is a place called Escatawba Farms. This is a privately run trout fishing destination on a section of the Dunlap Creek. The place caught my attention because of the way the owner had kept the stream and property in its natural state. While I was eating lunch on Friday afternoon, I made a phone call to Escatawba Farms. I spoke with owner Derrick Barr and he filled me in on how his operation worked. He said no one else would be fishing the property on Saturday and I was welcome to come down. He mentioned that he did fresh stockings in March and April and that if I wanted to see a lot of fish, that’d be the time to visit. However, he mentioned that the cool water of Dunlap Creek and the fact that he didn’t allow fishing during the warmest months of the year allowed many trout to hold over. I thought about having two and a half miles of private water for hold over trout all to myself, and it was hard to turn down.

Friday evening I was in bed early and I was able to grab a few hours of sleep before getting up early Saturday morning to make the drive to Covington, Virginia. Driving south to Virginia is almost as easy as driving to Pulaski. You take Rt. 81 almost the entire way. As I got further south and daylight started to break on the horizon I saw the mountains of the Shenandoah National Park in the distance.

 Driving on Rt. 81 the mountains of Shenandoah National Park appeared on the horizon.

Driving on Rt. 81 the mountains of Shenandoah National Park appeared on the horizon.

I’d forgotten how beautiful the state of Virginia was. I was born in the state of Virginia and so it was a homecoming. I had scheduled to meet Derrick at his barn at 8:00am and I pulled in right on time. I walked into the office and Derrick and I immediately started talking. Derrick is a really down to earth, hospitable guy and he reminded me why I love people from the south. After getting acquainted, Derrick took me on a tour of his property in his truck. He showed me all of his different access points to the Dunlap Creek and explained how all the fishing runs and pools got their names. Dunlap Creek is a freestone stream that like Penns Creek in Pennsylvania runs through limestone upstream and is fed by various springs along the way. The water has a beautiful green tint to it and runs clear as gin. It turns out the name “Escatawba” is a Native American word that means clear, running water.

 One of the beautiful clear riffles on Dunlap Creek.

One of the beautiful clear riffles on Dunlap Creek.

After the tour and history of his few hundred-acre farm, Derrick knew I was ready to head out and find some fish. He stocks rainbow and brown trout and there is also a wild population of brook trout in Dunlap Creek. When we got back to the barn I rigged up my Winston 5wt with a 9’-6X leader and tippet and tied on a Y2K attractor pattern with a Natural Hare’s Ear Nymph. I tied all of my Hare’s Ear Nymphs with J:Son Sweden Nymph Legs and I was curious to see how they’d work. I started fishing in the middle of the farm. On my very first cast I had a beautiful rainbow hit my Hare’s Ear Nymph almost immediately.

 My first Dunlap Creek Rainbow Trout.

My first Dunlap Creek Rainbow Trout.

After several jumps out of the water, I knew this was going to be a fun day. I spent the morning working my way upstream, taking the time to nymph every good pocket of water and riffle. A majority of the fish I caught in the morning were smaller rainbows that couldn’t resist the Y2K egg pattern tied with fire orange and yellow antron.

 One of the trout that couldn't resist the Y2K.

One of the trout that couldn't resist the Y2K.

By lunchtime I’d worked my way up to the Rt. 159 Bridge. On the other side of the bridge is a large rock outcropping with a giant clear pool known as the Aquarium Pool. Through my polarized glasses I could see a good number of large trout feeding in the soft water on the edges of the pool. I decided to switch up my flies, so I tied on a Golden Stonefly Nymph with the Hare’s Ear Nymph as a dropper.

 Looking downstream toward Rt. 159 at the Aquarium Pool.

Looking downstream toward Rt. 159 at the Aquarium Pool.

After a couple of casts, I started getting hits on almost every cast. The water was clear enough that I was able to see a handful of trout move a couple of feet to take the Golden Stonefly pattern. The next three hours of fishing are what I would describe as epic. I caught so many rainbow trout that I lost count. They were jumping out of the water and headshaking and making a late February Saturday feel like the best day of fly fishing I’d see all year. I had so much fun.

trout3.jpg
trout4.jpg

At one point during the late afternoon as the sun was hitting the far end of the pool, I observed three nice sized trout feeding on small flies on the surface. I decided I’d take off the nymph rig for a few minutes and see if I could fool a February trout on a dry fly. I tied on a Blue Winged Olive pattern that I use on the West Branch of the Delaware. I took two or three back casts and lay the fly on the surface perfectly. I watched a trout turn and swim toward the fly, and then sip, he took it under. I set the hook and landed my first trout on a dry fly for 2017.

 The trout that took my BWO pattern on the surface.

The trout that took my BWO pattern on the surface.

As the sun was starting to lay lower in the sky I worked the riffles above the Aquarium Pool and caught a few more fish. 95% of the fish that I hooked and landed were rainbow trout but I did land one very nice brown trout and that fish in shown in the video above.

 The nice brown trout I caught.

The nice brown trout I caught.

Although it had been relatively mild in temperature during mid-day, by 4:00pm it was getting noticeably colder. The winds were starting to pick up and I felt compelled to start heading back downstream. I hiked my way back to the base of the mountain that borders Escatawba and threw another cast into the riffle I’d started the day on. To my surprise another rainbow took my fly and I landed one last fish. I decided I’d head back to my truck, take my time breaking down my gear and head for home with a bit of daylight left. As I sat on my tailgate taking off my waders, Derrick drove up on his Gator® and asked about my day of fishing. He explained that in a couple of weeks he’d be doing a large stocking and invited me back in the spring. He thanked me for coming and headed down to the house for dinner. I packed the truck and pulled out onto Rt. 159. Escatawba is worth the drive to Virginia and you should go, and if you do, tell Derrick I said hello.

trout8.jpg