Why haven't I fished this water before? That was the question I asked myself as I strolled along the well beaten trail to the left of the river. But, I get ahead of myself.
It's easy to miss the trail that leads to the entrance to the Park at the Hazel River. As you drive down Rt 600, recognize that the trail is not a trail at all - rather it's the road immediately after the bridge over the river. What irked me the first time I saw the road was that there was a sign posted that said "residents only." Since I was driving, I did not see the qualifier that restricted access to resident vehicles -- not just residents - the public is allowed to walk up the road to access the park. After figuring this out, I addressed the next challenge which was finding a place to park. There are a few parking places scattered around the trailhead. If you get here early, grab one of them and walk up the road. It's a third of a mile before you reach the Park. Please remember that it is private property on the right and you should not begin fishing until you reach the Park. Bear left and follow the arrow for the Hazel River Trail. It will put you on a nice improved trail that parallels the river. You can start fishing immediately in any of the good pools you see. In fact, it will be a little bit of the torture to walk by them without jumping in the water right away.
Under the assumption that after a third of a mile hike just to get to the entrance, those pools would experience the most significant pressure, I headed on into the park for a significant distance before I cut over to the river to begin my day. At just under 0.7 miles from the intersection, you'll see a well beaten trail leading down to a large pool on the right. Skip that and move up and cut over to the river above that pool. The trail begins to move away from the river since the river enters a small canyon at that point. Unless you want to slip down some fairly steep cliffs, start fishing in the canyon or skip it altogether.
However, the canyon is not long and you can stay on the trail if you do not want to rock hop. Eventually the trail rejoins the river and you can use it to move quickly upstream to see where you would like to start to fish. Given this was my set second stop of the day, I decided not to push onto the headwaters, but rather fish up the middle section from the canyon upstream to the third crossing. I'll leave the headwaters to another day when I'm fresh and can walk directly up to the higher reaches of the river.
Upstream from the canyon, the river becomes schizophrenic. It doesn't know which channel it should follow. This results in a wide distribution of the water across the entire narrow valley; reducing the amount flow in any particular channel. It took some trial and error, but I eventually found the main stem of the river and began fishing. Like the North Fork of the Thornton, the Hazel is an assembly of small pocket water from the canyon up to the crossing 1.6 miles from the trailhead. This is highly technical fishing without much room for a backcast and no need for an extended amount of forward cast distance. In other words, it was perfect for the Tenkara rod that I bought from Mossy Creek.
The Hazel River trout were a little more wary those over on the North Fork of the Thornton. I attribute this to the fact that I was fishing closer to the trailhead and these fish have been schooled by generations of anglers who do not have the energy to walk 2 miles up the marginally steep hillside. Speaking of steep, the total ascent in the first 1.6 miles to the third stream crossing is just under 400 feet. So it's not that much and most the trail is on an extremely gentle slope; making it an easy hike if you are in moderate shape. For most of its run upstream from the canyon, the trail hugs the river and you can expect to get attention from the hikers who pass by. The good news is that the presence of the hikers does not impact the catchability. As long as you get a clean presentation and a good drag-free draft, you'll hook up with these brookies.
There are only one or two significant pools after you leave the canyon and you'll find those if you walk up the river bed. Beyond that, it is unknown. I have heard from other people at the best fishing on the Hazel is in the upper section. I did not reach that section on this trip.
I was getting good hits on Blue Wing Olives and Mr. Rapidan in size 16 and 18. I switched to nymphs off and on to see if the trout were more interested in an underwater attack and failed to get any action other than consistent strikes on my small orange indicator. Given the attention to the indicator, I abandoned the nymphs and stuck with dry flies for the rest the day.
Remember to refer to my rating explanations - these are based on what I look for - so RED for Physical Fitness translates to easy physically - you do not need to be in shape to fish this section. I prefer terrain that is tough to get into and out of.
Bottom line: I'm not really sure why I have not visited the Hazel before. This is a really nice river and deserves repeat business to uncover what lies up at the headwater. The closer you get to the steep section, logically, there should be more plunge pools, deeper water and larger fish. If you do not enter the stream bed at the entrance to the canyon, you will be on the trail where it gets steep and not be able to access the river without a significant amount of effort down the steep slope until you get to the second crossing. As you walk by, the roar of the river will drive you crazy so unless you're making a beeline for the headwaters, you may as well fish your way up through the canyon.
Getting There: From Sperryville, VA, head southeast on US 522. Turn right onto Rt 231 south and follow it for 1.6 miles. Turn right on Rt 608 (Ashby Rd). At the "T" intersection, turn left on Rt 600 (Woodward) and follow it to the river. When you cross the bridge, look for parking.
Google Local Coordinates: 38.614976,-78.256624
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
Flyfisher's Guide to Virginia
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Date Fished: 5/15/2010