American Fly Fishing

By Anne Mitchell

Marlinton, West Virginia, is a quiet mountain town at the confluence of the Greenbrier River and Knapp Creek. Happily, this region sits within the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, where cell reception is spotty at best. If you are up for a scenic trip on the road less traveled, with generous roadside fishing access and semi-mandatory digital detox, get out your topo maps, because it is time for some fun.
   Wedged between George Washington National Forest on the east and Monongahela National Forest (MNF) on the west, Pocahontas County boasts the highest average elevation east of the Mississippi. Its winding roads reward somewhat unnerved mountain travelers with spectacular views, spring-fed streams, and access to the headwaters of eight major rivers. It is no wonder that Marlinton was the place chosen by the first nonnative settlers west of the Allegheny Mountains, in 1749.
   Even nonanglers who have driven the 10-mile stretch of West Virginia State Route 39 in the narrow valley along Knapp Creek fall under its enchantment. The creek’s headwater stretch follows SR 92 south out of Frost and combines with Douthat Creek in the mineral-rich land around Minnehaha Springs. Anglers enjoy roadside access to long stretches of riffles and slate-bottom pools, with several gravel turnouts along the rhododendron-covered banks. As Knapp Creek enters Marlinton, the banks become gentle and grassy, lined with river birch and sycamore. On this stream, ideal for anglers new to small mountain creeks, short casts and stealthy upstream approaches are key.
   The area has many affordable lodging options, but Knapps Creek Trout Lodge is an excellent base for fly anglers, located in Marlinton along the banks of the stream. The lodge offers local guiding in the valley and MNF, beginner fly-fishing lessons, and B&B-style accommodations. Though you may not see many fly rods on the water, most locals are friendly, avid anglers and fellow trout enthusiasts. The local outdoors store, Appalachian Sport, (304) 799-4050,, provides licensing, fly-fishing essentials, and local insight from the nearly ever-present owner, Chuck Workman.
   Water flow can vary greatly throughout the year. Spring brings heavier flows from high-elevation snowmelt, typically heaviest the day following a rain event, but the high flows subside quickly. When the water clears, it’s a great time to fish a size 8 green Molted Sculpin pattern around rock formations and swing it through tailouts. If the creek remains a bit turbid, try nymph patterns tied with Hareline Dubbin Crazy Legs. 
   Summer flows usually begin by late June. Knapp Creek then runs low and clear—ideal for a supple 3-weight rod, dry flies, and wet wading for sunfish and bass, or head into MNF for backcountry brookies. From the one-lane Fifth Avenue bridge downstream to the old Train Bridge, which is just a five-minute walk south on the Greenbrier River Trail from the town proper, Knapp Creek’s larger rapids and deeper pools are good places to check out when the water is low and slow.
   Knapp Creek’s clear, clean water and freestone bottom don’t support dense hatches, but between April and October, “small-batch hatches,” as I call them, occur consistently, with the heaviest hatches occurring during early June and early October. If you find yourself on the water at sunset when the caddisflies launch from the foliage, you may realize that West Virginia is as far west as you need to go for outstanding trout fishing in truly beautiful country.


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