Turning east off of Interstate 77 at exit 100 in Surry County, it was only a short drive to the nostalgic town of Mount Airy. It was hard to not look for references to the fictional TV series town known as Mayberry that was based on the life of the program's star Andy Griffith. While the laid back images of the fifties and sixties were not readily visible, the charm and character of the little country way of life that the show depicted were at every turn.
At midmorning Joe Street, owner of Rivers Edge Outfitters of Spruce Pine and I are making our way through the middle of town. We soon spot our first stop of three before we swap our shoes for a pair of chest waders. Just on the outskirts of downtown Mount Airy is “Riverside Park”, the upstream boundary of the newest stretch of “Delayed Harvest Trout Water”. Pulling into the parking lot of this beautiful riverside park the first person we spot is an elderly gentleman sitting in his car looking at a map. It turns out that he is from Raleigh and is here for his first trip to fly fish as well. A short time later, he decides to go to a stream he is more familiar with as we drive to our second stop and access point to the river only one mile away. Here at the Rowe Environmental Park, we again find a couple of vehicles that appear to be anglers as well. Moving another mile downstream, we arrive at our starting point, the Tharrington School Park. Since we want to fish upstream, this lower end of the new two mile stretch of special trout waters will be our starting point as we prepare to spend the day on the Ararat.
Deriving its name from nearby mountains of the same name, the Ararat River flows from the Blue Ridge Parkway Mountains of Virginia southward to the Yadkin River. Picking up size and oxygenated waters from its downhill tumbles, it makes its way through the historical town of Mount Airy. Thanks to the recent efforts by many state, local and county individuals and agencies, a 2.2 mile stretch of the historical Ararat River got a much needed makeover. As a result, the river was added to the immensely popular “Delayed Harvest” trout water designation and is now one of the state’s most eastern stops for anglers wanting to improve their fly casting skills.
According to Mount Airy officials, the Ararat River Restoration Project was initiated because of the sediment and erosion problems as well as improving water quality, sewer line protection, and landfill safeguarding, along with fish and wildlife habitat enhancement and protection, canoe and kayak accessibility, environmental education, greenway/exercise opportunities, alternative transportation, community connectivity, economic development, and conservation for future generations.
Wildlife Resources Commission fisheries biologists Ken Hodges of Mount Airy, advises that “the improvements to the river are just short of amazing”. “Before, the greenway enhancements were added to this section of the river, it was not satisfactory for trout water. Now it is a very robust part of the program and attracts a lot of anglers”, Hodges went on to say.
Besides simply loving to fish, and especially for trout, Joe and I had our own reasons for this trip. Joe wanted to look at adding the two mile stretch of water to his guide list. While an avid fly fisherman himself, he runs a specialty fishing shop and guide service in Spruce Pine and Cherokee as well. Only using one vehicle, the plan was to start at the bottom entry point, fish together a short distance, then I would bring the vehicle around to the middle entry point while Joe continued fishing.
Sitting in the grass only feet from the water’s edge, we both slipped into our chest waders. These would keep us dry, warm and wet proof up to our chest provided we didn’t fall in. Unlike most of the bigger and rockier mountain streams, the shoreline and river bottom conditions were very accommodating for wading. We both were surprised by the clear water quality of the stream. Joe had brought us both fly rods which were rigged for fishing this time of the year in the North Toe River. Walking along the greenway, which parallels the river, we entered a short distance above another angler. He had landed about eight fish in his first hundred yards of fishing, one of which was a four pound rainbow. After fishing unsuccessfully for a short stretch, Joe decided we needed to switch to a lure that would resemble a single salmon egg rather than the imitation little piece of worm we started with. A couple casts later he had a nice little rainbow putting an arch in the long flexible fly rod. The trout was quickly released unharmed to be enticed by another angler.
Between us, we landed several more trout as we maneuvered between and around several more anglers. Thanks to the size of the stream, its many good holes of water and the amble abundance of trout, there was plenty for all. Walking along the greenway which looks like it was tailored made for anglers, we spotted a hole of water that looked to be full of big trout, some going over twenty inches long. While I manned the camera, Joe eased to the water’s edge at the lower end of the hole. Having a better view than he did, I guided his casts to the awaiting trout. While finicky at first, one of the trout finally couldn’t resist the fake egg. After putting on an aerial acrobatics display, Joe landed the big rainbow which quickly swam back to the waters depths after being released.
The next stocking date for the Ararat River will be on Monday April 2nd which is no April Fool’s joke.
Tony Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org