Big Nasty Bows on Cripple Creek

Pennsylvania fly fishermen were collectively pulling their hair out this past week as the state saw another week of heavy rains. A majority of popular spring trout fishing streams were well above their banks heading into Saturday. While frustrating, remember that April showers bring May flowers, as well as a healthy population of stocked trout that will hopefully last well into June with a high water table. Early last week I figured I was going to have to formulate a game plan to find fishable water on Saturday. I decided to pull out my little black book of trout streams south of the Pennsylvania border. Cross referencing streams with the path of last week’s rain storms I was able to find some water in Virginia that was minimally impacted by the rain. I targeted a small stream in southwestern Virginia named Cripple Creek. 

 Looking upstream on Cripple Creek.

Looking upstream on Cripple Creek.

I was able to find information on a family owned farm near Rural Retreat, Virginia where the owner allows for access to their portion of Cripple Creek for a small permit fee. Portions of the creek are stocked and there is also a naturally reproducing population of rainbow and brook trout. If you haven’t spent much time fly fishing in the state of Virginia, one thing you’ll find is that many of the waters that support trout are private. Some are connected with resorts and others are simply private landowners. From what I’ve been able to find during my research, the entire Cripple Creek flows through private properties.

The drawback of fly fishing southwestern Virginia on the weekend is that it is a six and half hours drive one way. I left early Saturday morning and arrived at Cripple Creek at 7:30am. When I arrived at the farm gate, I met the owner, got my paper permit and parked near the creek. It was a chilly start to the day as the temperatures were in the low 40s. I was glad I brought my heavy socks and knit beanie. Having no idea what I was getting into, I decided I’d fish one of my 9’-5wt rods and use a 9’-5X fluorocarbon leader. When fishing a new stream in the early spring, I like to prospect with attractor flies and I decided to use a rabbit fur based Walt’s Worm with a San Juan Worm dropper. When I’d arrived at the farm there were already a few other fishermen there. The owner told me that there were no special regulations and that bait could be fished on this portion of Cripple Creek. Many of these fishermen were concentrated on a few deep pools that I could see below where I was parked. I decided to head the opposite direction and start a few hundred yards downstream. When I found some water that looked promising, I started drifting flies. It was a good 30 minutes before I hooked into my first Cripple Creek trout, a small wild rainbow that was 10” long.

 My first Cripple Creek trout. I believe this was a wild fish.

My first Cripple Creek trout. I believe this was a wild fish.

It was a beautiful fish. I started working my way upstream and fished a lot of incredible looking runs and riffles but with no success. By 11:00am I was second guessing my six and a half hour drive to Virginia. When I finally had reached the area where’d I’d previously observed a group of bait fishermen, I finally hooked up and landed another small wild fish. In fact, a gentlemen and his son came running down to the water and couldn’t believe I’d just caught a wild trout.

 The other wild trout I caught that strangers asked to take a picture of.

The other wild trout I caught that strangers asked to take a picture of.

They took a picture and marveled at the fish before I released it back into the creek. I moved upstream another 50 yards and found a nice deep run with soft currents that had water depths of approximately 3 feet. With the sun hitting the water, I could see well into the stained water with my polarized glasses.  I could’ve sworn I saw a large shadow move. I cast my pink San Juan Worm upstream and watched my indicator work its way downstream. On my third drift my indicator suddenly shot under. I set the hook and immediately saw a big flash of silver. Line started ripping off my Able and the same father and son duo that’d taken a picture of my previous fish shouted, “that’s no native trout.” I agreed and watched a big rainbow launch out of the water. A couple of bait fishermen below me were nice enough to net this awesome fish for me. What an amazing bow that was close to 20” in length had some good weight to it.

 The first of several large rainbows I caught.

The first of several large rainbows I caught.

After catching this fish I continued my way upstream. There were several areas where I hooked into and lost some very nice rainbow trout. It was very frustrating. I especially started having luck when I switched out my San Juan Worm for a #10 Olive Wooly Bugger. I dead drifted this streamer under a Psycho Prince Nymph. Over the lunch hour I walked back to my truck and had a sandwich. While I was eating I kept thinking about that big rainbow I’d caught in that run. I figured if one large fish could hold in that run, I’m sure there were others. I decided after lunch I was going to fish that section of water again with the olive bugger.

After lunch I headed back to the run and dead drifted my olive bugger, dropping it from a Frenchie. For one hour on Saturday, I had some incredible fishing. It was as if someone told the fish to start eating. I hooked four solid rainbow trout in that section of creek in the span of one hour, and I was the only one fishing there.

It was a lot of fun and I love catching big rainbow trout. They are beautiful fish and their headshakes are nasty. They put my 5wt Winston to the test. After one last fish, I decided that I’d head home with plenty of daylight left. I had fun exploring Cripple Creek. Virginia is such a beautiful state and I’m proud to say I was born there. By 3:00pm I was packing things up and getting back on the road with warm temperatures and a beautiful view of Virginia’s blooming Eastern Redbud trees. As much as I’m learning to love Virginia, I can’t wait to get back on Pennsylvania water. It’s only a matter of time.

 The Eastern Redbud trees in bloom along Rt. 81.

The Eastern Redbud trees in bloom along Rt. 81.