Fly Fishing the Seneca Creek Backcountry

For the third year in a row, I spent a weekend fishing and camping in the Seneca Creek Backcountry, part of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.  It takes just over 4 hours to get from Washington DC to the trail head, a distance I’ll gladly drive to experience some of the best small-stream brook trout and rainbow trout fishing in the east.

Unlike years past, I had a group with me:  Friends, family, and (as always) the dog.  We trekked out to Cumberland, MD on Friday, giving us a two hour head start Saturday morning.

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Sunset over Cumberland, MD.

The drive out to the mountain is itself fun.  Driving through the West Virginia countryside, windows down, is good for the urbanite’s soul.  After stopping at Yokum’s in Seneca Rocks for local firewood and sandwiches, we went the rest of the way to Briery Gap road, and up county road 104 and 112.

The weather was fantastic, with temperatures hovering in the mid 50’s, and not a cloud in the sky.  We split up the firewood, each member of the team taking a log or two, and began the three mile walk into the forest to the camp sites.

The creek was low, and the feeder creeks almost dry.  It looked like the area hadn’t seen much rain for some time, and I worried that the fishing would be poor as a result.  Of course brook trout are resilient, and would prove it later on.

We set up camp, spreading out over the meadow at the junction of the Seneca Creek Trail and the Judy Springs Trail.  This area is large enough for large camping groups, and also has the best view of the night sky from the creek valley.

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Collecting more firewood at the camp site.  We would need it.

After we set up camp, I rigged up my Redington Classic Trout 3wt, and set out to fish the creek.  The water was low and crystal clear, covered with leaves – not the best conditions for fooling spooky trout.  That said, no one told these trout they were supposed to be picky:  Concentrated in pools as a result of the low water, the fish were competitive and hungry.  They ate with abandon, crushing my small black beetle pattern if it was within a couple feet of their lies.

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A nice Seneca Creek brook trout.  Those colors…

After catching a half dozen by the camp site, with most in the 3″-5″ range, I worked my way through the pools downstream of the meadow.

Each pool had a few fish, and most were willing to pounce on a beetle softly presented.  I was using a shorter leader due to the size of the pools – 7′ in total, with a section of 6X tippet connected to the fly.  The largest pools generally had the largest fish.

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More pretty colors from a brookie showing a kype.

Over three hours, I caught upwards of 25 brook trout, with the largest a whopping 10″.  For these small creeks, that fish was a monster.  Surprisingly, I did not catch any rainbow trout, which were common in this same area over the last two years.

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Releasing a beautiful brook trout.

The fish were feeding on a variety of bugs, and I saw midges, flying ants, scuds, mayfly nymphs, and adult mayflies in and around the stream.  I used a beetle and a Griffith’s gnat with great success, but a moth-imitating elk hair caddis was completely ignored.

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Natures way of saying I was using the wrong fly.
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A large white nymph.

While I was fishing, my group was off hiking a trail nearby, enjoying the meadows and waterfalls that make this region so beautiful.

We all met at the campsite around 6PM, started the fire, and cooked dinner on camp stoves.  We all knew it was going to get cold that night, and we had collected a huge amount of wood to keep us warm for as long as possible.  And from sunset to 10:30PM, we used more than half of it.

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Bitchin’ fire.  Nice job Ian.

We went to bed after I handed out surplus wool socks and fleece pants to those who were underdressed, and settled in.  The night was frigid – below freezing temperatures enveloping the mountains.  In the tent, I wore my fleece hat, two layers of thermals, and a high quality nano-puff jacket, and cocooned myself in the sleeping bag, closing it as tightly as possible while still letting some air in.  I was comfortable enough to sleep 5-6 hours with no discomfort other than cold toes, but others in the group were not so lucky.

The next morning, we woke to a landscape of frost, deer feeding on crispy grasses next to our tents.

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A heavy frost covered all the plants in the valley.
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The dog asking me for her (now frozen) breakfast.

The group slowly assembled around the fire, worn and numb.  The fire brightened spirits and brought feeling back to fingers and toes.  We ate our breakfast and warmed ourselves over the next few hours.  As the sun began to light the valley, we walked the two hundred feet to warm ourselves in the light – one of those small pleasures that nature teaches you to appreciate.

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Warming ourselves in the sun.  It took an hour for it to cross the meadow to our frozen tents.
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Still cold at 9AM.

Once we and the tents had thawed out, we packed up, and trekked out to our cars.

While everyone was tired, we all wanted to see the top of Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.  We drove up to the observation tower at the mountain’s peak, and enjoyed amazing views of the valley we had just hiked through.

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View down into the Seneca Creek valley from the top of Spruce Knob.

We assembled on the tower, and managed to get a great shot of the group.

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Seamless photoshopping from this talented crew.
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US Geological Survey marker giving the height of Spruce Knob.

After saying our goodbyes, we left the mountain and began the long drive back to DC.  I was happy to have been able to catch some of the prettiest fish in the world with friends and family by my side…and this girl.

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A majestic mountain dingo.  As of this writing, she is still recovering from the fun she had.
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