Sunday, February 5, 2012

Passage Creek Expedition

Its been two years since I wet a fly line... crazy work schedule + wife and two little kids will do that to an avid outdoorsman.  One of my New Year's resolutions was to go out and fish new water, both fresh and salt.  Hence my first outing to Passage Creek on a very warm January day.
Sign greeting anglers at the Mountain Road (State Route 619) bridge that bisects the special regulation area of Passage Creek.
Where to begin with this.  First... the facts.  Passage Creek, the 1-mile stretch known as the Special Regulation area, is a slate rock bottom creek stocked and managed by the VDGIF in cooperation with Trout Unlimited.  In total Passage Creek runs 38 miles and is a tributary of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  The special regulation area I fished is a mile long strech located parallel to the Front Royal Fish Cultural Station.
A short hour-long drive from the Washington, DC metro region.
(Map provided by Google Maps)
The Front Royal Fish Cultural Station is classified as a state run warm water hatchery used primarily for walleye and bass.  It is also utilized as a distribution point for a number of fish fingerlings deposited throughout Northern Virginia.

A map reference of the special regulation area near the Front Royal Fish Cultural Station.
 (Maps provided by Google Maps)

Fingerling channels on the north east side of the property.  You can see the station house in the background.

In short this creek sucks for fly fishing.  Its pretty with very accessible water and lots of runs and small pools but it is poached big time.   The VDGIF stocks this water five times a year, usually before three-day holiday weekends.  This brings out everyone with a cooler of Busch light and tackle boxes full of power bait and trout magnets.  I have nothing against these anglers as we are all brothers in the outdoors.  I just get pissed when said fisherman venture over to the managed fly fishing side and poach that water too.  I've heard rumors that VDGIF rangers are indifferent to the poaching as it is too much trouble to police a location so close to civilization.  I guess its also true that all politics are local.

View south (upstream) from bridge parking and put-in point.  Its pretty with good water flow but its poached over.
View north (downstream) from bridge and put-in point.  I am told that next to that hatchery overflow pipe is a favorite spot of the Busch light crowd as it has nice ledge-seating overlooking one of the deepest pools that the trout hid.... I mean hang out at.
What makes matters worse is that this is the first "natural" trout water in VA for suburban commandos like me.  Every lover with a TU membership and fly rod swings by this creek to wet a line while driving along Route 66.  This means that it is often crowded and over-fished. If you are serious fly fisher-person its better to keep on trucking and drive another 40 minutes into the Shenandoah valley where you can find 20+ trout hotspots.

The start of the special regulation area (upstream).  Its a pretty spot with promising runs but due to the overfishing if you do anything other than birdwatching its a waste of effort.
This stream has good water flow with little to no submerged vegetation.  The stream banks make an easy wade but around the bridge (on both side) are thorn bushes that can make casting tough.  A good roll cast is needed for this water but its not too wide so it should be manageable - even in the warmer months.

Shallows just past the falls (down stream).  As you can see the water clarity is very clear.

I am not sure if this is slate or shale but its all over this creek and can make spotting fish even more difficult.  Its also slippery as hell so make sure you have your ninja wading boots on or you'll be on your ass in no time.

Some of the flies I used.  I mostly tried bead head nymphs in the pools and then tried the CK Kreelex on the right in some of the runs. 
The Kreelex is a bad mofo as far as streamers go.  It was designed by the fly tying guru Chuck Kraft.  I first used them fishing the Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, NC a few years back.  If you are interested in learning how to tie check out the Mossy Creek You Tube channel.

There is posted land at the end of the special regulation area (North end) so be careful not to trespass as it is patrolled heavily.  VA is going through some serious court battles regarding fishing and trespassing so its better to leave well enough alone when you see signs like this.  Plus...I think this guy is serious as there were 8 other trees posted like this along his property!
Getting there: the directions to the special regulation are very easy.  From Northern VA take Route 66 West towards Front Royal.  Exit onto Route 340 South headed towards Front Royal.  Turn right onto Route 55 West towards Strasburg.  Less than a mile after crossing Passage Creek on Route 55 (there will be a sign) turn left onto Route 678 (Fort Valley Road).  Turn left onto Route 619 (Mountain Road) - easy to spot as you'll see a sign for the fish cultural station.  Park on either side of the bridge that crosses the Passage Creek special regulation area.  you can fish either side of the bridge (both banks) for about a half mile in both directions.

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