Mossy Creek Fly Fishing

One of Virginia’s premiere limestone spring creek offers anglers outstanding trophy brown trout fly fishing year round.

Nestled in the Northern corner of Virginia lies one of the state’s most unique cold water, fly fishing treasures, Mossy Creek. Tucked away in the Allegheny Highlands, this spring creek offers anglers approximately three miles of outstanding public fly-fishing only water.

mossy creek

The identifying characteristic of Mossy, which makes it stand out from other trout streams in the state, is that it is limestone based. Fed by a large limestone spring near Mount Solon, the stream meanders its way slowly through private cow pastures and farm lands. Characterized by clear, aquatic vegetation filled waters, this 15-foot wide stream is reminiscent of the popular limestone spring creeks of central Pennsylvania.

Although Mossy creek is a quality trophy brown trout stream today, it was once a less than desirable fishing destination. The stream had suffered from the effects of the local cattle farms which surround it. During the mid-1970’s, Trout Unlimited took notice of Mossy Creek’s state and began a program to enhance the stream to its full potential. This joint program between land owners and TU included building fences to help keep livestock out of the stream and constructing wooden turnstiles to facilitate anglers crossing fences without harm.

Contrary to the information given in some regional guide books, Mossy is an extremely challenging stream and should not be recommended as a place for beginners. Dry fly fishermen, familiar with Mossy’s moods fish it carefully and slowly, often crouching or kneeling along the bank. Give these fishermen a wide berth.

Hatches

Surface action can take place all year with tiny Olives hatching sporadically throughout the winter. By mid April hatches of larger Olives and Sulphurs become regular. Trico action usually begins around Memorial Day and can last until Halloween. Evening hatches of Sulphurs begin in Spring and last into the Summer.

It is the summer fishing for which Mossy is most famous. Most of the special regs. section runs through open meadows. By late July Trout are used to seeing grasshoppers and crickets, as well as other terrestrial insects and are ready to pounce on them. The average fisherman probably has his best chance of seeing and maybe hooking a big fish in Mossy at this time.

Hatch Chart

MonthFlySize
December-JanuarySculpins
Nymphs
6-10
14-18
FebruarySculpins
Nymphs
Midges
6-10
8-10
18-22
MarchSculpins
Midges
Blue Winged Olive
Nymphs
6-10
18-22
16-20
14-16
AprilSculpins
Sulphur
Caddis
Nymphs
6-10
14-20
14-18
14-16
MayBrown Drake
Sulphur
Sculpins
Midges
12-14
14-20
6-10
18-22
JuneSulphur
Trico
Hoppers
16-18
18-22
10-12
JulyBlue Winged Olive
Nymphs
Trico
Hoppers
20-24
14-18
20-24
10-12
AugustTrico
Nymphs
Ants/Beetles
Hoppers/Crickets
Blue Winged Olive
20-24
14-18
12-14
10-12
20-24
SeptemberTrico
Nymphs
Ants/Beetles
Hoppers/Crickets
Sculpins
20-24
14-18
12-14
10-12
6-10
OctoberNymphs
Sculpins
Hoppers/Crickets
16-18
6-10
8-12
November-DecemberNymphs
Sculpins
Woolly Buggers
16-18
6-10
8-10

The Rules

Mossy Creek is currently listed as a trophy trout stream with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF); thus it only requires a state fishing license and not an additional Virginia trout fishing license. Furthermore, a signed land owner permit is also required, and must be carried in the angler’s possession while fishing. These permits can be obtained for free by sending a self addressed, stamped envelope to VDGIF, Verona Office, P.O. Box 996, Verona, VA, 24482.

Angling on Mossy Creek is restricted to fly-fishing only with a single hook, artificial fly. The creel limit is one fish greater than 20 inches per day. All fish measuring less than 20 inches must be released immediately without harm back into the water. No bait may be possessed on the water, and anglers are not allowed to wade while fishing. Anglers should read and adhere to these rules and all others printed on the back of the landowner permit.

The Gear

A good, all-around rod for fishing dry flys, nymphs, and streamers on this stream should consist of a four to six weight rod in the nine to 10 foot length paired with a sturdy reel loaded with plenty of backing. Longer rods are a must to get the casting distance and drift one needs to tempt Mossy’s big brown trout into taking a fly. Jim Finn, owner of Mossy Creek Fly Shop, suggests another alternative by using one of the modern one weight rods when fishing dry fly hatches. Finn commented, “I fish a one weight because the line hitting the water doesn’t hit much heavier than monofilament”.

Leaders should be hefty enough to fight a trophy class fish, as well as long enough not to spook the fish. Anglers should also carry a long handled net since Mossy has a no wading rule, and landing fish can be difficult. Due to high grass and marshy banks, a pair of hip waders are a must when navigating the stream despite the no wading rule.

The Flys

Choosing flies for Mossy creek depends greatly on the time of year you plan on visiting the stream. Due to the cold water makeup of Mossy creek, predictable hatches come off throughout the year. Finn relayed that, “Trico’s begin around Memorial Day and are done by Halloween, Sulfers happen from mid-spring through mid-summer, and small Blue Wing Olives come off just about all year round”. Anglers fishing during these times of year should prepared to match the hatch with size 14 to 24 flys.

The summer and early fall months at Mossy are when grasshopper, and cricket patterns are a must have. Surrounded by open, grassy fields, the stream offers prime opportunities to cast imitation terrestrials amongst the real McCoys. Larger hopper and cricket patterns, especially parachute variations in sizes six to 12 in the 3X length, work well and are easy to view.

Other good bets at Mossy are streamer patterns. “The biggest baits in Mossy are sculpins and crawfish”, explained Finn. Mimicking these baits is a good way to catch some of Mossy’s larger trout. Muddler Minnows, Woolley Buggers, and Crawfish patterns in sizes four to 12 are good choices to fish the deeper pools and channels.

Nymphs can be tough to fish at Mossy due to the plentiful grasses of this limestone stream. When fishing them, focus on open channels, and deeper pools. Productive patterns include small pheasant tails, prince nymphs, and brassies.

The Techniques

A majority of Mossy’s fish range from eight to 15 inches, but the potential to catch fish exceeding 20 inches is definitely there. Anglers should practice up on their dry fly drifts before heading to Mossy. The large grass beds, and no-wading rule make drift quite difficult in places, however, with a longer rod the stream is open to back casts. When fishing Mossy, anglers should look for rising fish on the surface and try to match the hatch. If surface action isn’t happening, try probing the deeper pools, undercut banks, and channels with streamers, wet flys, or nymphs.

Point of View from a Local Angler

Mention East Coast spring creeks to any veteran trout angler and he’s sure to conjure up images of the Letort, Yellow Breeches and other famous Pennsylvania waters. Not Billy Kingsley. The 35-year old guide and owner of Harrisonburg, Virginia’s Blue Ridge Angler, a full-service fly shop, has visited all of those and many more.

When Kingsley thinks of great spring-fed, trout-filled streams, he pictures Mossy Creek. This spring creek flows north through the Shenandoah Valley and offers world-class fishing for huge brown trout.

Mossy Creek, and nearby Smith Creek, carve their way through some of the most scenic country in the state and offer trout-fishing opportunities second to none. Mennonite farmers, still clinging to their centuries-old customs, own much of the land that these streams flow through and keep a tight grip on access. Some sections are leased by clubs and guides, but a three-mile piece of Mossy is open to the public through a cooperative effort between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and landowners. One-and-a-half miles of Smith Creek are open to the public under a similar agreement.

Both streams are stocked annually with fingerling brown trout, but a private fish farm on the upper reaches of Smith Creek sometimes unintentionally adds good-sized rainbows to the mix in that water. On those sections off-limits to the public, clubs and guides stock a mix of browns and rainbows. Don’t be fooled, however. These fish revert to their wild, wary ways soon after they grow accustomed to their new surroundings, and become extremely difficult to catch.

“You can catch fish out of Smith just about all year, but it does slow down in the winter. It has some freestone stream influence,” noted Kingsley. “Mossy Creek remains good even in the coldest parts of winter. That’s why I think it’s better than Smith. It’s a true spring creek and stays at a constant temperature nearly all year.”

Water temperatures in Mossy fluctuate only about four to six degrees throughout the year. Expect it to range between 52 and 58 degrees. In some sections, aquatic vegetation remains green and vibrant in the harshest part of winter.

Kingsley also prefers Mossy because it is more fertile than Smith, which lies on the other side of the Valley. In other words, of the two, Mossy is Kingsley’s favorite. And thanks to tighter regulations, an angler has a good chance of doing battle with some monster brown trout in Mossy Creek. Five-pounders are common in the sections not open to the public, and biologists, as well as a few anglers, have landed fish up to seven pounds in the public stretch.

Smith Creek, on the other hand, receives less pressure than its sister stream. Kingsley will seek refuge there if crowds become a factor on the public sections of Mossy.

In those private areas open to the public on both streams, anglers are restricted to fly fishing tackle and single-hook, artificial lures only. The limit in Mossy is one fish per day over 20 inches; in Smith Creek, anglers may creel two fish per day over 16 inches. Most anglers, however, release all fish. Clubs and guides who lease parts of Mossy generally restrict their clients or members to fly fishing tackle and enforce a no-kill policy.

Like any spring creek, the summertime vegetation can cause the best angler to chew his fingernails down to the nubs and pull his hair out by the roots. Both shoreline grass and aquatic vegetation are thick. Of course, that’s exactly what makes Mossy Creek so good. The fish have plenty of places to hide and insects are never in short supply. Watercress and elodea make up the bulk of the wet salad. Tall shoreline grass, weeds and crops planted near the water’s edge add to the mix and sometimes make casting a challenge.

Livestock used to be a problem all along its course, but concerned anglers, VDGIF workers and landowners have erected exclusion fences. Now, cows are kept away from the streambanks.

Patterns

Like fish in most other spring creeks, the trout in Mossy Creek are extremely fussy eaters. If it isn’t a near-perfect replica of the insect of the hour, they probably won’t touch it. Hatches are sometimes phenomenal, and the variety is staggering, but a few key patterns, used at the right times, will do the trick.

In early spring (mid-March through April), size 18 blue-winged olive hatches are in steady supply and trout will rise even on the coldest days. Typically, hatches begin in the afternoon, but can occur throughout the day during warmer periods.

“Actually, we have blue-winged olive hatches just about all year long,”noted Kingsley. “They are at their peak in early spring, however.”

Sulphur hatches come on strong in April, with late afternoons and evenings the peak times. Spinner falls occur right before dark and dry-fly fishing is absolutely superb. Skilled anglers can catch one fish right after another during times of high fish activity.

Try size 16 Compara-duns and sulphur duns, and as April fades into May, switch to size 18s. In mid-May, trico hatches begin and at times can blur your vision and cause difficult breathing.

“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve sucked in a trico or gotten them stuck in my eyes,” said Kingsley. “There are clouds of them up and down the river on calm mornings.”

The hatches are short-lived, though. Be there from about 7:00 to 11:00 A.M. and use either a size-22 or -24 trico. Fortunately, they continue throughout the summer months and into autumn.

As summer approaches, terrestrial action picks up. Thick shoreline grass and weeds produce an abundant supply of crickets, hoppers and beetles. Like any stream, this type of fishing is best on breezy days when insects are knocked into the water. A wide variety of patterns, including Japanese beetles, will work.

The trico hatch continues into mid-October and blue-winged olives make another appearance in October and November.

As the grass dies off and winter takes a firm grip on the region, switch to minnow- and crawfish-imitating patterns in sizes 4 through 8 and concentrate on undercut banks. That’s where the big browns like to hold and ambush passing prey. Zonkers and sculpin patterns also work well during the winter months.

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