Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Little natives strike in Ramseys Draft

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.

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When I was organizing my book on Trout Streams of Virginia, I asked various people for recommendations of worthwhile locations.

Larry Mohn of Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said, “Why don’t you try Ramseys Draft?”

So I drove out U.S. 250 from Highland County and turned in at the stream sign. Brook trout hits that day were sparse and besides I thought the stream too shallow, so I didn’t bother to include it in my book. Well, have things ever changed! For one thing, that day 14 years ago, I went there in mid-summer when the flow drops dramatically. Last the spring rains had transformed it into a Shenandoah Park-type stream.

Fourteen years of storms and floods have done miraculous things for Ramseys Draft, as often happens. In the parking area, I met a bearded giant and asked him about fishing here. He wasn’t a trout aficionado, but reported seeing a number of minnow-size brook trout under the low water bridge. Walking up the Wilderness Area trail a few yards from the parking area, I waded into the stream, and found myself sinking into water that would have been over my hip boots, had I been wearing them. Already I could see that drastic changes for the better had taken place here.

Observing some small white flies hatching, I put on a No. 18 Light Cahill and dropped it into the pool next to a large rock outcropping. A series of such casts all along the edge of the pool produced nothing. Then I moved my casts up into the riffles and right away hooked a brilliant little jeweled pin of a brookie.

One thing I have learned over the years is that each stream has its own particular lesson to teach you. And Ramseys Draft was telling me to fish its riffles, no matter how shallow. I did so, fishing upstream with 4-second casts that consistently produced strikes. Half an hour of fishing at this pace put more strain on my rotator cuff than a full morning of streamlashing on the Jackson. I was to pay for it later with an arm too excruciatingly painful to lift above my chin.

On a gravel shoal below a pool formed by a downed tree, I found a neat ring of rocks containing just enough water to hold a dozen brook trout alive. Some enterprising poacher had figured out how to keep the little trout fresh until he could cook them up like French fries. A regulated stream like this, with a 9-inch keeper limit seems to act as an open invitation to some scofflaws.

This stream offers around 10 miles of quality native brook trout fishing, if you count its tributaries. I found the best fishing opportunities in the Ramseys Draft Wilderness Area, although the stream also flows through the George Washington National Forest. There wasn’t another angler anywhere in sight the day I was there, and for someone looking for solitude in a remote location I would recommend this one.

Regulations here require the use of single hook, artificial lures and any trout less than 9 inches in length must be returned to the water. I would bet that Ramseys Draft hasn’t produced enough 9-inch trout lately to count on the fingers of one hand. What it does produce is a multitude of hungry little natives running below 7 inches, and most of them 4 to 5 inches. It’s microcosmic fishing with a No. 2 rod, but offering plenty of action and color. The water level drops dramatically in the summer, so I would suggest spring or fall fishing on Ramseys Draft.

To get there, drive 15 miles west of Churchville on U.S. 250 and look for a sign reading Mountain Home. Turn right and drive to the parking area, where a clear hiking trail parallels the stream.