The Lady, Elk River & West Virginia Mountains

Will someone please stop these thunderstorms on the weekend! It seems as if this summer is shaping up to be one of the wettest on record, but actually, it is not. In fact, this summer doesn’t even rank in one of the top ten wettest summers in the past thirty years. Perhaps it’s just that the rain keeps making an appearance on Saturdays and Sundays. This past week I was disappointed to find just that, a weekend with another high percentage chance of thunderstorms in Pennsylvania. I decided I was going to take a road trip and find better weather. I also decided that this would be the weekend I’d ask my girlfriend to be a part of my fly fishing adventures. Some guys might read that and say I’m crazy, but I’ve always wanted to share all the amazing places I go with someone.

Early last week I asked Janelle if she wanted to find some adventure over the weekend by heading south into the mountains of West Virginia. The state of West Virginia has several great stocked and wild trout waters. There's the Cranberry River and there's the Slaty Fork too. And then nestled deep in the mountains, not far from the town of Snowshoe, is a river that flows all the way to Charleston, the Elk River. And what better river to share fly fishing with my girlfriend than one that Pennsylvania native Dave Breitmeier so eloquently nicknamed, “The Lady.” In the small town of Monterville, West Virginia lies a small getaway called the Elk Springs Resort. I’d come across this place a year ago when researching fly fishing in West Virginia. They offer rustic and affordable fishing lodges on their property, as well as stream front access to the start of the public catch and release section of the Elk River.

 Looking through the trees at the Elk River.

Looking through the trees at the Elk River.

On Friday Janelle and I made the six-hour drive into the mountains of eastern West Virginia. After several coffee stops and a sit down dinner, we didn’t pull into Elk Springs until almost 2:00AM on Saturday morning. It wasn’t five hours later and I was telling Janelle it was time to get up and head out to catch some morning action on the fly! Welcome to my crazy world! We got our gear together and drove down to the restaurant and fly shop to park and access the river. The Elk Springs Resort maintains a small trout hatchery on their property and it is fed by natural springs that bubble out of their grounds. They have some absolute giant rainbow trout in the natural run way that winds around the access to their small restaurant, giving guests a reason to want to wet a fly line.

 Janelle and I on our first morning on the "The Lady."

Janelle and I on our first morning on the "The Lady."

I geared up my Winston fly rod with my Abel reel and decided to use a 9’ft- 5X leader with 5.5X Trout Hunter tippet. Knowing at the Elk River was stocked with large rainbow trout; I decided we’d start out prospecting with my green dot Squirmy Wormy pattern. We tried fishing several riffles and pools with no success and slowly worked our way upstream. Just outside of the resort’s restaurant, there is a beautiful riffle and large tailout and pool. As we walked up on this area we could see several trout swimming near the surface, occasionally taking a small bug off the surface. I got Janelle set-up and started explaining to her how to cast the fly rod and to remember the three most important parts of nymph fishing; cast, mend, and drift. On her very first cast, the indicator darted under the surface. As Janelle set the hook, the line suddenly broke and I watched my indicator start moving across the surface. The indicator had been positioned over the top of the first leader to tippet knot. When Janelle set the hook, the friction of the indicator must’ve been enough to break the line at the knot. For the next 30 minutes we watched a trout drag the indicator around the Elk River. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much we could do except for continue to fish. On the next cast Janelle was finally able to hook up with her first trout. She was excited and attempted to reel backwards and after some coaching, she got the fish to the reel on her own and was able to maneuver him to my net. She was thrilled to catch her first trout.

 Janelle with her first trout on a fly rod.

Janelle with her first trout on a fly rod.

For the rest of the morning we took turns casting the rod. By lunchtime, Janelle had hooked and landed three trout and I had caught a handful as well. It was special to be able to share the experience with my girlfriend. Around lunchtime I noticed that there were quite a few trout that were swiping at bugs on top. I moved away from the squirmy and the standard nymphs and started trying a variety of terrestrial patterns. I was successful in coaxing a few trout to the surface to take a black ant pattern with a white parachute. It is awesome to watch trout come up and inspect flies.

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After grabbing some lunch, Janelle decided to relax on a rocking chair while I went back to find some more trout. I worked my way upstream towards where the Elk River bubbles out of the ground above the resort. I found some beautiful rainbow trout hiding in the shade of the trees that hung over the bank. Along the way I ran into several fly fishermen. I met two brothers, Matt and Wilbur from Virginia. They were two of the most well spoken young fly fishermen I’ve ever met. It gave me hope for Generation Z. I watched both of them catch quite a few rainbow and brown trout throughout the afternoon. Cheers Matt and Wilbur, watching the two of you reminded me of Norman Maclean writing about fishing with his younger brother on the Big Blackfoot River in Montana.

 Drifting nymphs in the limestone infused water of the Elk River.

Drifting nymphs in the limestone infused water of the Elk River.

Later that afternoon as storm was rolling in over the mountains that surrounded the catch and release area. Most people had left the stream and a few individual from the resort were watching me drift nymphs in the large tailout. Suddenly my indicator dove under the surface and when I set the hook, a giant rainbow trout exploded from the depths of Elk River. As soon as I saw this fish I knew it was a giant. I’d estimate this fish was 30+” and was probably in the 8-10lb range. On 6X tippet this fish was almost impossible to control and I had to settle for trying to tire him out. As I did my best to put side pressure on him, the skies opened up and I was instantly soaked. A crowd gathered outside the lodge and I had at least five people standing under a pine tree as I attempted to fight this giant trout. Three times I came very close to landing this fish and each time he saw my hand he tore off across the river. Finally one of these runs broke my 6X tippet along a rock and the fight was over. What a memory! One fish I certainly would’ve liked to have shown to the camera. As the skies cleared after the brief thunderstorm, I joined “my Lady” on the porch in a rocking chair. We watched the sky turn to dusk and appreciated the peace of the mountains of West Virginia.

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