43 years after first casting a bamboo fly rod, Douglas Graham is still chasing brookies in the Blue Ridge.
Text and photographs by Douglas Graham
In the fall of 1972 my grandfather loaded me up in his pickup truck and drove me from Virginia’s Tidewater region to the Blue Ridge Mountains near Luray with two split bamboo rods — and infected me with brook trout fishing on the fly. I was 12 years old.
I have not recovered from that trip in 43 years.
In the years following that fall trip so long ago, I’ve learned everything I could learn about the craft. I read every book I could find, and I learned about tying my own flies and any technique used in fly-fishing both fresh and salt water. Hundreds of books and thousands of hours on the water, it’s been a life’s pursuit and to this day a continuing education.
Somewhere in there was a career in photojournalism where I witnessed things people should never have to see. But even with that time consuming pursuit, I managed to work in fishing. It kept me grounded and sane in an otherwise insane job.
Often I’d stay an extra day after an assignment and fish the local waters. Places like the Snake River in Wyoming, where I landed my first brown trout, the Deschutes in Central Oregon for my first cutthroat, and of course when I was in Missoula, I fished the Blackfoot River.
Now retired and living slower and closer to the earth, I’ve decided there is no better fly fishing in America than what my grandfather had infected me with 40 some years ago in our backyard of the Piedmont region.
I’ve fished a whole year from my motorcycle, logging in my fishing journal the ebb and flow of the water, the weather, the fish I’ve caught, and the seasons of Virginia. I’ve taught my wife and daughter to fish, and even an Airedale.
My obsession is now with the “squaretails” close to home; I don’t really have any desire to travel to fish. Well, OK, I’d go to Slovenia for marble trout, but for the most part I’m content with the brookies. Our storied brook trout live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love that I can fish mid week on almost any stream in the Shenandoah Park and have the stream all to myself.
As far as the brookie being easy to catch, well yes, some of them are because they are basically starving on our small freestone creeks. The young fish will hit anything that moves. With that said, try and catch 11- to 14-inch brookies that lurk in our waters and see how many you land in a day! The older and larger fish are tricky and very selective. Casting and catching a big brookie in the tight confines of our little streams is perhaps one of the most fulfilling moments for me as a fly fisherman.
In this photo essay, the fish itself will reveal why this is my obsession — from the landscape that this little fish lives in to the fish itself. The brook trout out of the water has bright orange fins with a white as snow under belly. The orange lower fins have a bright white leaning edge bordered by a jet black strip and its sides are green and yellow with pale blue spots surrounding a pink center dot. It’s as if the little native fish was painted by the hand of God.
The colorful fish in the water just disappears.
The brook trout is one of many things Mother Nature has done that is just a little better than perfection.