Words and Images from Ed Felker

Hiking for Brook Trout in Shenandoah National Park

Every now and then I’m in the mood to do a long hike, which for me is anything over five miles. The Cedar Run/White Oak Canyon loop in the Shenandoah National Park has a few different configurations, but last year I did an eight mile loop which is plenty, considering half of that is steeply uphill. So I decided to repeat this very enjoyable and vigorous hike, with one addition: this time I brought a fly rod. Both Cedar Run and White Oak Canyon are home to some of the most beautiful brook trout you’ll find anywhere. And since during my last outing in search of brookies I got shut out, I had a score to settle.

The Cabins at Rose River Farm are an awesome place for any weekend getaway, and a Saturday night stay allowed me to get a nice early start Sunday morning as I was literally just minutes from the trail head.
The Hill Top Cabin offers great views and is an extremely relaxing place to put the work week behind you and focus on the outdoors!

This is the type of water found along both legs of this hike. Falls at the head of a pool, surrounded by great scenery.

In the early morning, I could see trout rising in almost all of those pools, so I just started fishing them and it wasn’t long before this beauty fell for my antics.

Not all that’s beautiful is under water along this hike!

Trout don’t live in ugly places.

I have to brag on this wonderful little 3-weight Scott fly rod of mine. It casts beautifully, and a lot of the casting in these confined places has to be pretty accurate. It’s only 6’6″ long which helps too.

Back you go, little fella!

Nice view of the beautiful White Oak Canyon.

This is, without a doubt, a very large Shenandoah National Park brook trout. My best brook trout by a wide margin.

Another look at the same fish.

This is the payoff for all that uphill hiking!

A three foot black snake sharing the trail.

This one escaped before he reached me, but I was able to get his picture before he got too far.

Life is good indeed. Bringing the fly rod along made for a longer, but much more enjoyable day!

Eight miles = Four Advil. I’ll feel it tomorrow, but the excitement of dry fly fishing for wild brook trout in stunning scenery will have me back very soon!

26 responses

  1. Wow beautiful fish and area. I am SO jealous

    April 15, 2012 at 10:31 pm

  2. What a beautiful record of your day. And those fish are so pretty. Thanks for sharing the great photos, Ed. It serves to remind me that I live like 10 miles from a Skyline Drive entrance and really should take advantage of that proximity to explore more…with a sketchbook instead of a fly rod, though. 🙂

    April 16, 2012 at 9:23 am

  3. That’s a huge brookie for SNP — nice! Looks like a great time.

    April 16, 2012 at 9:33 am

    • Thanks Dave! I knew I had something special on the line, and was extremely glad I had my camera with me! It was a great time. The day heated up later on, but down in the canyons it was shady and pleasant all morning. Just TONS of insect activity.

      April 16, 2012 at 9:40 am

  4. Lee

    Nice article, Great Pics, Beautiful Brookie…We fished the same vicinity Saturday and I know exactly how beatiful that area is with very willing fish!…Good Job!

    PS. that wouldn’t be a murrays mountain trout rod your using? Its is a perfect rod for the park.

    April 16, 2012 at 9:45 am

    • Yes I believe that is the rod. I did get it from Murray and it was many years ago, but that sounds familiar. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed that rod as much as I did yesterday! Plus, silly as it sounds, you kind of bond with a fly rod you carry on a long hike, dropping down into pools here and there to test the waters. It was really fun.

      April 16, 2012 at 9:52 am

  5. Wow, looks like a wonderful day! Great pics too, you are getting the hang of some exposure stuff it looks like. What were the fish shot with? I passed this post on to my brother who fly fishes. Wish I could get my rod going that he made for us, guess I need to look up the nail knot again. Great photos again, looks totally worth the hike too. granted I say that now, and was not the one walking up the hill.

    April 16, 2012 at 11:19 am

    • Anna the fish were almost a photo disaster. Many of the early fish pictures didn’t turn out because I had my aperture set for shooting scenery, so even at 800ISO the shutter was just open too long and they were blurred. But luckily I recognized and fixed that by the time the big fish came! I would have been really mad at myself if those pics didn’t turn out! (I hate nail knots. I have a great animated knot tying site bookmarked, but even with that, it is not easy to me. Mostly I have Sandy do it for me, she’s just better at A) following directions, and B) seeing.)

      April 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      • Oh I have been there too! That is a downside to shooting digital, and a reason I have been forcing myself to pay better attention to my settings these days. When film is not being “WAsted” we tend to get lazy huh. Glad you noticed and spared yourself the angry fit 😉

        April 16, 2012 at 9:52 pm

  6. Sissy Quill

    Great photos. I was out all weekend thinking, I need a camera with me. Yay, you!

    April 16, 2012 at 11:36 am

    • Thanks Sissy! I considered leaving it behind, but usually I have a little waterproof point and shoot I take fishing and that camera has died. I’m glad that forced me to lug this thing up a mountain and back!

      April 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

  7. I love the honesty of the Advil! Aches and pains well earned! I’m not much for fishing, but I absolutely would love the environment and probably the hike–I think I’d at least like to try! I feel transported to some place quite special! Debra

    April 16, 2012 at 11:53 am

    • Thank you Debra. Last night they felt like aches and pains well earned. Today they feel like old age.

      April 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm

  8. Tad Yergey

    Ed, wonderful article! I will be out there this weekend for a boy scout function at Graves Mountain Lodge. My next foray with my 3 weight will follow your lead. Did you take waders or did you wear hiking shoes and just fish from shore?

    April 16, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    • Tad while there were a few spots I wish I had wading boots to access, you will be able to reach plenty of good spots without getting your hiking boots wet. That’s what I did. It’s certainly a hike that you would not want to do in wading boots, or while hauling wading boots with you. But if you do go that route, waders are totally unnecessary. Wet wading would be fine. If you do both legs of this hike, since you’re starting nearby at Graves, I would suggest maybe hitting White Oak Canyon early before people start to arrive, then come down Cedar Run later as White Oak gets more crowded. Good luck and have fun!

      April 16, 2012 at 4:56 pm

  9. What wonderful photos ! I’ve done the Cedar Run/White Oak Canyon 8-miler. It’s really tough coming back up White Oak Canyon. My quads hurt for days !!

    April 16, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    • Bella I’m glad someone mentioned this because I was going to discuss it in the post but forgot. But the ONLY way to do this hike is to park at the bottom, it’s near the cabins I mentioned. Then no matter which way you go, the hard uphill part is first, and you are rewarded with wonderful views and the peace of mind in knowing the worst is behind you. Grab a sandwich at the top, and smile a wry, knowing smile at all the poor saps who are closing their hike with the worst three miles!

      April 16, 2012 at 9:10 pm

      • Oh no…we started on Skyline Drive and went down Cedar Run, then crossed over and came back up White Oak Canyon. It can be done this way.

        April 16, 2012 at 9:13 pm

        • Oh I know it can be done, most people do it that way. I should have said the only SENSIBLE way to do it is to get the hard part over with first!! Then you know you have enough left in the tank to finish. If I started with the downhill part I’m not sure I could make it back up!

          April 16, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      • I should post the hike and show the gps track…perhaps in the next couple of weeks.

        April 16, 2012 at 9:13 pm

  10. Eight miles for me would have been eight Vicodin! lol

    April 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

  11. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as clean as when I arrived.

    May 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm

  12. Lee

    I usually go for the fishing. Park at top hike down (mainly because I live In the Shen Valley so its closer to access. When I do.White Oak Canyon.sometimes I make it all the way down other days I dont…very hard to resist all the fishing spots on the way down …very tough to resist …very tought to resist (oh, did I say that already) then fish up…by the time I’m tired of climbing the stream / done for the day its just half to 1/4 hike back up. not a too bad a stretch

    May 9, 2012 at 12:36 am

  13. Chris Cerino

    I have fished SNP for over twenty years and that is BY FAR the biggest brook trout that I have seen come out of any its rivers. Congrats! That is a real treasure – the equivalent of a six to eight pound fish anywhere else. White Oak Canyon (and the Cedar Run loop) is as pretty as it gets. The fact that you can catch trout there is just the cherry on top.

    June 11, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    • Wow, thanks so much for those kind words! I knew it was special. And you’re right about Cedar Run/White Oak. We say it all the time, but it truly is one of those places where you really don’t mind if the fish are biting or not.

      June 11, 2013 at 6:38 pm

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