With a week to go before the wedding, a group of guys convened in Shenandoah National Park for the bachelor party. This place is an absolute gem and never disappoints, even if the weather is something less than cooperative.
On the first night, we hiked down a well worn trail in search of a few brook trout. We found them, and took turns fishing the pools. Two friends received quick lessons and each was rewarded with an eager and beautiful fish on a dry. No matter where you are, the mood at a bachelor party is always thick with camaraderie and laughter. In the woods, this was no different.
We may have stayed down in the valley slightly longer than we should have, for the light was leaving the sky by the time we turned uphill. Half a mile from the trailhead, and it was full dark under the canopy of the trees. The forest floor was thick with bear-shaped shadows that kept us on high alert. Then, there was the scraping sound of claws on bark and one of those bear-shaped shadows began to lurch towards us.
A yearling scrambled up a tree not 20ft from us, while the mother bear at the base made her presence known, ears forward, neck outstretched, alert. With her cub in the tree, Skyline drive on her left and us on her right, her options were limited and we knew it.
Spot the brookies?
We ran back down the trail but kept the bear in our sight. It was too dark to take your eyes off of her, or you’d lose her. She walked towards the road, cutting off our planned escape, but began to circle back behind us. This forced us up towards the trailhead and out of her way.
It was too close for comfort, and the shot of adrenaline peppered the mood for the remainder of the night. We made for camp, started a fire, seasoned some juicy NY strip steaks, soaked some corn in their husks for the embers, and started in on the drinks.
Just as the steaks approached medium-rare, it began to rain. I tried to shield the steaks using a rain jacket, but was soon overwhelmed. We took shelter under the rain fly of my brother’s hammock, thoroughly buzzed and soaking wet, in the dark.
It began to rain harder than I have ever seen it rain in this part of the states. It was like a tropical storm. Our downhill campsite was quickly overrun with ankle-deep water, and our tents were inundated with muddy runoff. Someone ran out for a steak and came back drenched, passing the steak between hands like a hot potato. We passed one steak around at a time, taking a bite passing it on. It was the best steak I’d ever had.
We took turns going on steak runs until we put all four of them down, still huddled under the rain fly. After 2 hours of keying in on the frequency of the raindrops, hoping for a decrease and not hearing it, we surveyed our utterly ruined campsite and decided to abandon hope. We made for the truck, uphill through shin deep runoff. Flipflops were torn off in the torrent never to be seen again. Foolishly untied Chuck Taylors were swept away into the darkness. It was unbelievable. By the time we reached the truck, we’d been swimming and not been as wet.
Two of us slept in the cab, while two huddled in the covered bed of the truck. We had no dry clothing left, and it was cold. Condensation dripped from the dashboard knobs and puddled in the window seams. The night passed fitfully, and when we awoke in the morning, it was still raining.
We resolved to tough it out, only because the campsite had working laundry facilities. A dry change of clothes changed everything.
The high water wouldn’t last, so we waited a day for it to drop to fishable levels and went in search of some bigger fish that might come out to play in the higher flows. We found a few, but no slammers.
A day later, more people arrived for the climb of Old Rag. At about 9 miles, it’s an uphill slog ending with an impressive rock scramble before you summit to 360 degree views of the Virginian Appalachians.
On the last day, we realized we were close to some fabled waters; The Rapidan. We scouted a trail and decided to hike down to the presidential retreat at the headwaters from Skyline Drive.
It was pretty interesting to see the information on display about the history of the place. The river was not very accessible below the retreat, but we bushwhacked our way to the stream.
We’ve heard the Rapidan receives quite a bit of pressure, so we employed stealth and longer, lighter leaders of 7x. We landed a few gorgeous fish and fished a lot of nice looking holes without success before turning uphill and returning to the truck.
This was not the Rapidan I had envisioned in my mind. I was expecting a larger stream, and maybe it becomes one further downstream, but we didn’t have the time to explore more than a mile down from the headwaters.
We split the fish caught between dries and droppers pretty evenly.
Those few days in Shenandoah will be unforgettable. From the deluge that ruined our campsite, to the incredible campfire food and drinks, to the rivers and the wild trout that reside in them and the great friends and my brother that spent those days there with me, it was one hell of a time.