I’ve never fished out west. But sometimes Mossy Creek can fool me into thinking I might be there.
Water - Mossy Creek (Public)
Date - June 2013
Partners - solo
Productive flies - Kreelex, personal patterns
Water - clear, then stained/muddy, a little high
Weather - cloudy 60-65 degrees
It’s been nearly two months since I’d fished it. Dame Spring is slowly packing up and it’s starting to feel like summer although it seems nature is taking its time. If I recall correctly, this time last year there were already hoppers lining the bushes in the cool mornings waiting for the sun to warm them up in time to lunch with the browns. On this recent trip there were several dragon flies skittering about, but no trout looking up.
Two days of rain had raised and stained the water so I decided it a good opportunity to take out the 6wt and try some larger streamers. At the suggestion of Mike and Jeremy, I’d picked up a rabbit hair sculpin pattern in white, brown and olive. I’m learning that some (maybe all) flies have a particular way it’s meant to be fished. In this case, these meaty patterns are to be thoroughly wet and all the air squeezed out to get the fly to sink when it hits the water. Then, strip it back erratically and rapidly.
I also carried a few size 8 kreelex in standard colors. Kreelex can catch fish on a slow retrieve or on a swing but it’s said they do best when fished like the sculpin patterns.
The goal is to get these flies close to cover (moss, weeds, banks) and rip it back. Mostly throwing them upstream with a quick downstream retrieve. Although, I’ve heard, but not had much success stripping them upstream.
Needless to say I was going to need practice and a little experimenting was in order with these and a couple of other patterns I’d come up with. I say this lightly since most flies lean on other patterns. I’d tied up a couple of size 4 cone head streamers with bodies of long crystal estaz and marabou tails and no hackle in black, rusty brown and olive green.
Basically a no hackle woolly bugger. The long marabou tail provides some action on the otherwise streamlined baitfish shape. I’d also tried an articulated fly comprised of a size 4 body/head and a size 6 tail. Both with bodies of black long crystal estaz. The tail was a combination of olive, brown and black marabou much like a thin mint. The head was a black fish skullz. I may have had a black plum of schlappen tied in as a collar. I can’t be sure because the fly now adorns a log in the creek.
Both of my patterns got trout moving. The bugger type flies got some juveniles moving to my surprise. I’m not certain that it is only juveniles that would move for the fly since a kreelex can pull both large and small trout. The olive green bugger type pattern moved no fish. Black and rusty brown seemed to be the best color for the day and conditions in that pattern.
It should not have surprised me that the kreelex pattern got the largest fish moving and netted me my only trout for the day.
At the outset, I’d bee-lined for a particular hole that I suspected would hold larger trout. From the looks of the parking lot at 2pm I was the only angler, but I didn’t waste time fishing water that would be too difficult to cast in to given the grass and trees in full cover. I was looking for deep holes with good moss beds and open banks to get my rod moving and avoid getting my casts hung up.
This particular hole would do fine. It’s not long, maybe 30 ft and 15-20ft at its widest. It’s fed by 2 to 3 good moving currents which narrow and drop off a moss bed that makes sort of head of this ‘pool’. The run dog legs right leaving the deepest but slowest part bowing out to the right. I’m certain there’d also be some fall fish in there which the nymphs found later.
I was on the bank closest to the deepest slowest part and was casting to get my fly (kreelex) into the currents to have it dump it out into the deeper section. That was the theory. My first cast brought a nice maybe 13-14″ brown to the surface chasing but I could not hook up. After seeing him, I’d settled on spending a little time at this hole.
In conversations with the local fly shop staff I’ve been told the following:
- There are just as many big trout in the public section as the private section. The difference is the increased angler pressure.
- The key to fishing Mossy is knowing where the fish are.
- Use the appropriate fly appropriately.
Point 1, I didn’t believe at first, but after this trip, I’m a believer. Point 2 makes total sense but is easier said than done. I’ve probably fished half the length of Mossy Creek, always starting downstream at the iron bridge and fishing upstream. I’ve been told that walking downstream may startled the fish, and I should take note of where I see them and then fish those locations as you head back upstream. Rather than do that I figured I’d use the largest streamers I have delivered with a bad surface plopping cast to scare them out of their holdings. Even if I don’t get to land them I’d walk away with their location noted for next time. I doubt it will be the same fish there, but I will have at least validated that that particular spot is likely to hold a similar sized trout.
I now know where good size trout (good size for me since the largest I’ve pulled out was 10-11″). Or where good size trout can find good cover and feeding lanes. There is at least two in this hole. The 13-14″ I’d missed a hook up on. While I was attempting to entice the first trout out of his keep, another flashed at the head of the pool from under the moss bed. I immediately cast my attention there and stripped the kreelex back. I got a quick glance at the trout as he fought against the hook, but given his weight and fight, I estimated him to be 16-17″. It would have been my biggest brown to date had it stayed on that hook.
Several casts, pattern changes and even nymph attempts didn’t bring sight or strike of either the rest of the day. Even after returning an hour or so later. In the time between I’d landed the only trout for the day on a kreelex that was barely stripped through a shallow pool. If I were to say it was skill and not laziness that hooked him, I’d be lying.
One surprising and note worthy event became the turning point of the trip. I’d worked my way upstream to the culverts and decided to cast a few kreelex into the rapids. Fortunately, I had to take pause to relieve a fence of my back cast, or I’d have walked right into the snake. There he was sun bathing on the grassy jumbled concrete. Patiently we sat staring at one another wondering what the other would do next. I took a few steps back, zoomed in and took a picture. Mostly to get a better look at the pattern and head. This is the second snake I’ve seen at Mossy Creek, but this one was most definitely alive.
My initial assumption, given its color, girth, length and size of the scales was that he/she was a copperhead or timber rattler. After the excitement receded, I rejected the latter since the environment wasn’t right for that kind of snake. The only other poisonous snake in Virginia is the cottonmouth but they haven’t been observed further west than east side of the Blue Ridge. Their range is typically in the Tidewater area. That left copper head as an option.
Commonly photographed in their rusty yellowish brown variety, most people will mistake an adult mostly brown/black faint patterned copperhead with the northern water snake. However there are some slight (ever so slight) differences to note. Since it’s hard to tell the age of snake by it’s length and girth, one can’t assume that a northern water snake is not an adult copperhead. Better to assume it is and step back. Because the only other ways to tell require close examination aside from the pattern. I would not want to get close enough to examine whether the pupil is vertical (copperhead) vs round or see the heat seeking pit under the nostril common on venomous pit vipers. And I definitely do not want to handle a live snake to get a look at whether the post anal plates are a single or double row.
From a distance (or from a safely zoomed camera) you can see that the pattern on the back and sides of my new found friend are the opposite of the copperhead. The former’s bands are not hourglass shaped. They are narrow on the back and wide on the sides vs the other way around.
I was relived to learn this after I got home. I had my suspicions it might have been a water snake when I was standing before it. Given that we were both next to a creek and maybe even how it jumped, straight as an arrow, into the water after I tossed a rock near it. Poisonous snake or not, I was determined to fish out that culvert.
It’s important to note that all snakes in Virginia can swim, even completely submerged. But the cottonmouth which loves water and is very buoyant swims with most of it’s body on the surface while other snakes swim with just a small part of their neck (neck?) and head above water.
After that chance meeting, the afternoon changed. I started seeing deep, wet, thick grasses less a home and more a hunting ground for other snakes. I decided to fish out the way I came, in shallower, safer vegetation.
On a side note, if you’re fishing in Virginia, you should frequent the following web site. http://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com Heck, I’d even save some of those photos on your phone.
These scales, I like.
The parting glance
Sometimes it’s good that the fishing is slow. It leaves time to take in the scenery and the fauna in a way that you can’t when you’re laser focused on hooking trout. This day was a particularly eventful and educational trip. I didn’t rack up a huge count, one landed and one hooked and two chasers, but the education was well worth it. I learned some of my patterns work. I learned how to better fish some flies. And I learned that not all things appear to be what they are. But, most importantly, I learned to stop and look around. Beauty is there. Sometimes so close it might jump up and bite you.