Words and Images from Ed Felker

Herbert Hoover and I Caught the Same Number of Fish Today


Today I loaded up the dogs, camera and fly rod and headed down to Madison County, Virginia to explore the upper portion of the Rapidan River. The source of the Rapidan is located where two streams come together high on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That spot is also the site of President Herbert Hoover’s summer retreat built in 1929, Rapidan Camp (or, as it is also called, Camp Hoover). You can drive much of the route up the mountain, but high ground clearance is a must, and four wheel drive is recommended. Once you turn off the main road, it’s a rough drive up an extremely rugged and steep road. I drove to the end of the accessible road (seven miles that feel like twenty), not passing a single human, and parked at the gate marking the last stretch up the mountain on foot to Camp Hoover.

I’ve done my fair share of exploring around the Virginias, and I can’t recall ever feeling as remote, as far removed from any other person anywhere in this region as I felt today. I hefted the backpack weighted down with drinking water for the dogs, and we crossed the gate and headed uphill, surrounded by crisp air, brilliant sunshine and total silence but for the soothing nearby rush of free, clean and infinitely abundant drinking water for dogs.

This portion of the Shenandoah National Park is so remote, I broke my Always Keep My Dogs Leashed In Public Parks rule (okay that’s not just my rule, it’s actually the park’s rule too), and let them run ahead and explore. However, the terrain was so remote that I started feeling the real possibility of a bear encounter. The last thing I wanted was for the dogs to spook a bear, or come between a bear and her cubs, or to piss off a bear and then run back to me, leading that pissed off bear back to me. So I decided it was best if we all just walked together.


We (okay, I) took a wrong turn at one point, adding a couple miles to the hike. But exercise was a goal for the day, and besides, if I had not made the error, I would not have seen these cool icicles.


Camp Hoover, currently closed for the season, gives tours of the three remaining and restored cabins during the warmer months.


This fireplace was mainly used for photos of President Hoover and his distinguished guests. Heads of state, era icons such as the Lindberghs, Mrs. Thomas Edison, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Finn and Winnie have all been photographed here.


Mr. Prime Minister? You’ll be happy to know we’ve done a security sweep of the entire grounds, and assure you there are no skwerls on the premises.

Source of the Rapidan located and historical photographs secured, we headed back down the hill, our sights now set on the wild brook trout that populate the river. If I was a brook trout, I would love this spot right here. I am, however, not a brook trout. Nor do I have much of an idea about where they live or what they eat.

Dogs, as it turns out, are not particularly helpful when it comes to fly fishing. But they are genuinely good company, and it was fun having them along.

When I found a spot to fish, I needed the dogs to just stay in one spot so they wouldn’t come in the water and disturb the fish I was not catching, and also it’s critical to know where your dogs are at all times when you are casting a fly line. They were really great today. Winnie is fascinated by the casting of the fly, she follows it with intense focus, and watches it drift along the current while it is not being eaten by a trout. She, it seems, would make a great fly fisher.

After a good hike and some fishing, I like to stop for lunch. Ideally, a local place with some character. The Pig ‘n’ Steak, complete with NASCAR legends laminated into the bar top, fit the bill nicely. I drank this delicious brew, wolfed down a burger, and split the fries with Finn and Winnie. Total tally for the day, Fish caught: 0, Humans encountered: 0, Bears encountered: 0, Awesome day had: 1.

13 Responses

  1. Neat post. Possibly we passed you at some point on Rt 29 since we were down in Madison Sunday as well.

    Great photos, but of course the ones of the dogs are the best!

    February 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

    • I bet so, because I did some driving around afterwards as well, scouting a place for lunch. Early afternoon. Thanks for the kind words, as always!

      February 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

  2. Love your dogs!

    February 27, 2012 at 6:46 am

    • Thanks so much! They’re pretty special, and fun to be around. I’m sure people get sick of seeing pictures of them, but I try to take different shots all the time.

      February 27, 2012 at 6:02 pm

  3. James Romanyak

    You have a “voice”, Ed, and it’s an attractive one. Keep it up.

    February 27, 2012 at 11:20 am

    • Thank you James. I can’t tell you how much feedback like that means to me. Much appreciated.

      February 27, 2012 at 6:03 pm

  4. You were right to be afraid of the bears along that river. Almost exactly one year ago, my dog tucker and I were fishing the stretch of the river as it exits the park near Grave’s Mill. My buddy and I were walking up the trail, I saw a black flash to my left, look up and see 2 bear, and one looked smaller. I haven’t run that quickly downhill in a long time.
    Here’s a shot of tucker from a previous trip, with the rapidan in the background
    http://boryanaj.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/img00255.jpg

    on all of my four trips, I have done as well as you did today. In terms of the fish count that is!

    Great historic shots.

    February 27, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    • Thanks for sharing that picture, boryanaj. It makes me realize how much I enjoy fishing in the snow, and how that just isn’t going to happen this year. But yeah, the bear thing, I don’t know what made me think of it, but the thought jumped into my mind so quickly and clearly, I fully expected to see one right then and there, as if the feeling was triggered by a sight my eyes had seen, but my brain had not yet processed.

      February 27, 2012 at 6:06 pm

  5. Love this journal of your trip. Your words along with the pics made me feel as though I was with you.

    February 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm

  6. Love these, beautiful dogs : )

    March 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm

  7. Pingback: Hiking for Brook Trout in Shenandoah National Park « Dispatches from the Potomac

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