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Obsession in the Stream

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

United States - 080114: Fly fishing on the hawksbill creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Here is a brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), is a species of fish in the salmon family of order Salmoniformes. It is native to Eastern North America in the United States and Canada. In many parts of its range, it is known as the speckled trout or squaretail. A potamodromous population in Lake Superior is known as coaster trout or, simply, as coasters. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a char (Salvelinus).  (Douglas Graham / Wild Light Photos)

Fly fishing on the hawksbill creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Here is a brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), is a species of fish in the salmon family of order Salmoniformes. It is native to Eastern North America in the United States and Canada. In many parts of its range, it is known as the speckled trout or squaretail. A potamodromous population in Lake Superior is known as coaster trout or, simply, as coasters. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a char (Salvelinus). (Douglas Graham / Wild Light Photos)

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.

UNITED STATES - May 21: All the things needed for a day fishing for rookies in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Photo By Douglas Graham/WLP)

All the things needed for a day fishing for rookies in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Photo By Douglas Graham/WLP)

United States - 080114: Fly fishing on Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.  (Douglas Graham / Wild Light Photos)

Fly fishing on Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Douglas Graham / Wild Light Photos)

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.  

The Rapidan River ranks #38 in Trout Unlimited's Guide to America's 100 Best Trout Streams. In 2000, the upper Rapidan River was nominated for EPA designation as a Tier III Exceptional Waterway. The Rapidan River, flowing 88 miles (142 km) through north-central Virginia in the United States, is the largest tributary of the Rappahannock River. The two rivers converge just west of the city of Fredericksburg. The Rapidan River begins west of Doubletop Mountain seen here in Shenandoah National Park where the Mill Prong meets the Laurel Prong at Rapidan Camp, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Big Meadows. (Photo by Douglas Graham / WLP)

The Rapidan River ranks #38 in Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s 100 Best Trout Streams. In 2000, the upper Rapidan River was nominated for EPA designation as a Tier III Exceptional Waterway. The Rapidan River, flowing 88 miles (142 km) through north-central Virginia in the United States, is the largest tributary of the Rappahannock River. The two rivers converge just west of the city of Fredericksburg. The Rapidan River begins west of Doubletop Mountain seen here in Shenandoah National Park where the Mill Prong meets the Laurel Prong at Rapidan Camp, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Big Meadows. (Photo by Douglas Graham / WLP)

 

 The Rapidan River ranks #38 in Trout Unlimited's Guide to America's 100 Best Trout Streams. In 2000, the upper Rapidan River was nominated for EPA designation as a Tier III Exceptional Waterway. Here Campanulaceae, Cardinal Flower blooms along the banks of the lower reaches of the Rapidan. Fly-fishing on the Rapidan River is a real challenge because of spooky and well-educated fish in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Photo by Douglas Graham / WLP)

The Rapidan River ranks #38 in Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s 100 Best Trout Streams. In 2000, the upper Rapidan River was nominated for EPA designation as a Tier III Exceptional Waterway. Here Campanulaceae, Cardinal Flower blooms along the banks of the lower reaches of the Rapidan. Fly-fishing on the Rapidan River is a real challenge because of spooky and well-educated fish in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Photo by Douglas Graham / WLP)

 

Dawn Graham fly fishing for native brook trout on the Hughs River in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Dawn Graham fly fishing for native brook trout on the Hughs River in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

 

UNITED STATES - May 21: A brooke trout sits on a feeding station on the Hawksbill Creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), is a species of fish in the salmon family of order Salmoniformes. It is native to Eastern North America in the United States and Canada. In many parts of its range, it is known as the speckled trout or squaretail. A potamodromous population in Lake Superior is known as coaster trout or, simply, as coasters. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a char (Salvelinus). (Photo By Douglas Graham/WLP)

A brooke trout sits on a feeding station on the Hawksbill Creek in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), is a species of fish in the salmon family of order Salmoniformes. It is native to Eastern North America in the United States and Canada. In many parts of its range, it is known as the speckled trout or squaretail. A potamodromous population in Lake Superior is known as coaster trout or, simply, as coasters. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a char (Salvelinus). (Photo By Douglas Graham/WLP)

 

Fly fishing on Dry Run in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Fly fishing on Dry Run in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Congratulations to our 2014 photo contest winners!

Congratulations to the winners of the  Piedmont Virginian’s annual photo contest for 2014. We received many stunning photos that captured the beauty of the Piedmont. Thank you for your submissions. Start shooting photos for next year’s contest!

All photos are property of the photographers. Please do not download, copy,  crop or edit in any way.

 

Classic Piedmont 

Old Waterloo Bridge, Fauquier/Culpeper Counties by Coy Ferrell.

 

The Great Outdoors 

Hazel River, Rappahannock County by Gary Anthes.

 

Pets *Grand Prize Winner* 

Boundless Joy, Free Union by Grace Elliff

 

Conservation and Farm Life 

Dawn Suprise, Castleton by Gary Anthes

 

New Autumn Issue Available

covers for slideshow

 

Pick up a copy of the Fall 2014 issue, on newsstands now! Click the following link to find the closest location to you: http://www.thepiedmontonline.com/page.cfm/go/pick-up-a-copy

Our newest issue includes our annual fall art guide with artwork from around the Piedmont.

Featured stories include Virginia’s Moonshiners, Hot Air Ballooning in the Blue Ridge, lamb recipes, two local art clubs: The Loudoun Sketch Club and Firnew Farm’s Artists’ Circle, photo contest winners and more!

Take a peak at other featured articles on our homepage: http://www.thepiedmontonline.com/index.cfm

 

On newsstands now—the Summer 2014 issue! The Castleton Festival, history, hiking and more.

Pick up a copy of the Summer 2014 issue, on newsstands now!

Our newest issue highlights the sixth annual Castleton Festival with the full program published in the back of the magazine.

Featured stories include the Alvictus Spy House, the history of Hurricane Camille, five great hikes in the Piedmont, beautiful summer landscape paintings, poetry, photo contest semi-finalists and much more!

Take a peak at other featured articles on our homepage. http://www.thepiedmontonline.com/index.cfm

Click the following link to find the closest newsstand to you: http://www.thepiedmontonline.com/page.cfm/go/pick-up-a-copy


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