May 12th, 2003

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Conversations With A Mink
By Richard Taylor, Fincastle, VA

Gathright Dam

The lower Jackson River, in Alleghany County, Virginia, flows clear and cold from the outlet at the bottom of the Gathright Dam emanating from the Lake Moomaw spillway. There is a prime public fishing area for about a mile below the dam. Also, interspersed along the river are other public access areas; but, a few long distance casts would probably cover most of the public water. They carry the fanciful names of "Johnson Springs," Smith Bridge," "Jack's Island," "Indian Draft," and "Petticoat Junction." Long touted as one of the possible premiere trout streams in the state, it has been reduced to a "no stock" status by the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries and a "no fish" policy in many areas. This was occasioned by lengthy court battles, to the highest levels, resulting in a verdict in favor of a few land owners claiming a "Crown Grant" right to the land, water and all within, originally bestowed by good King George; not to be confused with good King Wenceslaus.

From the road

It has been my good fortune to have fished these areas and, especially, the access area from the dam spillway down to the first land owner posted section. The river here is fast, very deep in places and the slick rocks are just waiting to gobble another felt-less boot footed wader.

From the road

To access this area you must first stop at the Visitors Center which also houses the Facility Manager, Gathright Dam and Lake Moomaw Project, Norfolk District, U. S. Army Corp of Engineers, and fill out a permit form to enter the downstream area of the Gathright Dam via Stilling Basin Road. The permit contains your name, address, phone number, vehicle license tag number, state, vehicle make, year and color. The permit is only good for a specified time (last year good till September 30th.) and you must have it with you if you are in this area.

The Stilling Basin gated road opens at 5:00am to one hour after sun down. The Visitor Center and maintenance roads are locked by 3:30pm. A phone number is available to call for lake and stream information or changes to the closure of the area.

A quiet stretch

There are camping, picnicking, boat launch, grill and fishing access areas available and it is a wonderful place to share with family, friends or a solitary respite in pursuit of the wily trout!

On the particular day, captioned in the title to this rambling prose, I had arrived fairly early after a one and a half hour drive from home. It was a cool morning, with fog still hugging the river, and the refreshing smell of blooming flowers and trees. No one else had yet parted the currents and I counted myself lucky to have the river all to myself; knowing that it probably wouldn't last too long on such a beautiful day.

Wading out into the shallow area just upstream from the "standpipe," I made the first few casts with high expectations. Even if these were later dashed, a trip to this sparkling jewel is more than worth the time and effort to be there.

The soothing rushing water makes it almost impossible to hear much other ambiant noise although the raucous cry of angry crows can be heard above the currents. Looking skyward, as you are at the bottom of a long gorge, I spied a hawk being harassed by a much smaller bird. How come it is that these sharp taloned hunters don't turn around and skewer their tormentors?

Another angler

Within an hour, also spied was a bushy tailed red fox, nose to the ground and ambling along at a goodly pace up the opposite bank towards the heavily wooded hillside.

Still no cooperative trout to hand; but, a gorgeous day was unfolding and I was heavily involved in yet another unproductive nymph drift. As I lifted the line from the water a slight movement caught my eye and I looked up from the task at hand to see a small dark creature on the far bank. It was weaving it's way along the rip-rap rock that lines the banks on both sides of the river and paused every now and then to survey it's chosen path.

My first impression was that of an otter; however, it didn't appear to quite fit the profile. I couldn't discern webbed feet or the broad tail you would associate with it and this animal looked slimmer and it's tail was of the same ilk.

I hoisted my rod into an underarm at rest or "let's change the fly" position and decided to more closely observe the critter. Stopping directly across from me, it paused, sort of stood erect and looked straight at me.

Heavier water

I said, not too loudly, "Good morning Mr. Mink. I'm glad to see that you also seem to be out and about on this most grand of days. That's a mighty impressive fur coat you have on today. If you had come by a little sooner you could have spoken to a wily red fox, also out for a morning stroll. I only have a small digital camera with no close up lens; but, if you would stay still for just a moment longer I'd like to take your picture. However, I see that you've given me enough of your time and you must return to the morning's ramblings. It was a privilege to have made your acquaintance, if only for a short time. Maybe we'll cross paths some day when I'll be better prepared to record your handsome profile and add it to my collection of fishing trip photos. Well, I see that you have underwater business and so do I. Perhaps we can share the bountiful trout that inhabit this beautiful place. Till we meet again..." ~ Richard A. Taylor (aka Grn Mt Man)

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