Monday, October 11, 2004

Trout fishing the river called Roanoke

Richard Formato

Richard Formato is an avid catch-and-release fly-fisherman from Wytheville, Va. When not on the water, he operates a small business there. Formato loves to fly-fish in his native Southwest Virginia because of the great water and wonderful people. He also loves to fish the flats and shallows of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic whenever work and weather permit. He is on the Department of Conservation and Recreation's board of directors and is a trustee of the Shenandoah National Forest and Skyline Drive.

Recent columns

Wednesday of last week the Green Hill Park and Apperson Drive regulated stretch of the Roanoke River received a bountiful stocking.

Saturday afternoon a friend of mine, Richard Smith, and I decided to give those newly located trout a try. Richard and his wife, Elizabeth, are largely responsible for the success of the Virginia Flyfishing Festival held in Waynesboro every spring.

Richard and I decided to fish the Riverside Drive stretch of the stream just above the bend before the Apperson Drive bridge. Both the water and weather conditions were October-perfect that afternoon.

Richard, who regularly fishes the South River in Waynesboro, was impressed with the clarity of the Roanoke as well as its picturesque surroundings. A fair number of weekend fly-fishers were spaced at courteous intervals along the river, and our appetites were whetted by the sight of fish splashing at the ends of their lines.

There were a few rises of fish going after midges and what appeared to be a small hatch of Blue Wing Olives. As these stocked rainbows become more accustomed to the conditions, it’s likely that there will be more surface activity during the coming weeks.

My choice Saturday was a series of streamers, beginning with a Peach Glitter. After half an hour of no action, watching anglers downstream playing fish, I switched to a green Wooly Bugger. Right away I began feeling gentle tugs, and finally hooked up with a sizeable rainbow that broke off after a struggle that put maximum strain on my #2 Diamondback.

Above the Apperson Drive Bridge there’s a series of runs with fairly deep holes below them. I found it most rewarding to fish the seams of rapids before the water deepened. Most of the rainbows I caught were in the 8-10 range, with one going 13, but all were healthy, active fish. I’m sure there are some larger ones around, as there are always some studs included in the Roanoke River stocking. They seemed to favor green that day, but just for variety I switched to a gray Wooly Worm and it netted me one fish after half an hour of lashing it.

We were fishing one of two delayed harvest sections within 20 minutes of downtown Roanoke. One is within Green Hill Park in Roanoke County and the other is in the city of Salem along Riverside Drive. The latter, where we fished Saturday, goes from the Colorado Street bridge down to the Route 419 bridge and covers approximately two miles. Wading is comfortable, with a riverjack bottom containing little silt, and a stream width up to 75 feet in some places. Beginning Oct. 1 and running through May 31 only artificial lures may be used and it’s strictly catch-and-release.

Only one incident marred our afternoon fishing. A concerned Trout Unlimited member stopped his vehicle and called me over. “People are using bait and dropping fish into plastic buckets within the catch-and-release area,” he reported. I suggested he give the state game warden a call when he reached home, and shortly afterward an SUV bearing the VDGIF emblem rolled past as a gentle reminder that this is a regulated area. From June 1 through Sept. 30 general trout regulations go back into effect, and trout may be kept, but only during that put-and-take period.

We’re lucky to have such a fishery within minutes of center city, thanks to much hard work by TU members such as Ron Nemura and many others. On Wednesday, Trout Unlimited members were allowed to assist with stocking the Roanoke River, and it must have been a rich and satisfying experience for them.