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Potomac River. South Branch, North Fork.
When you're heading to a river you've never fished or so much as seen before, the looming prospect of several inches of rain isn't a welcome one. When that rain actually materializes, drenching the watershed with steady rain for over 24 hours prior to your arrival, your expectations are lessened -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing as far as fishing trips go.
Still, when we arrived to steady rain at Harman's North Fork Cottages in West Virginia's Potomac Highlands, with two inches of rain already on the ground, we found a river that looked no worse for wear. The river, the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River, was running relatively clear and at a normal flow. Things were looking up. Well, at least temporarily.
After far too many botched hooksets on a pod of steadily rising rainbows (which for some reason seemed intent on taking sulphur patterns that were at least 2-3 sizes larger than the naturals on the water), the river began to cloud and rise perceptibly. Within a couple hours, as the day's light ran out, the river was running thickly brown and had escaped its banks. The following morning, though the rain had subsided found the river higher still. Brisk riffles of the day before were now churning rapids. As the trip was an impromptu one, each day needed time to allow for work to be done via the cabin's WiFi signal, so the fishing began late, with the hope that the river would fall and clear as the day worn on.
But it was not to be, and in fact, it would be over a full day since the river clouded and rose on that first evening before there were any signs the river had even begun to return to normal. And in the end, it mattered little. The high, discolored water hadn't discouraged the appetite of the fish in Harman's nearly 2 mile private stretch of the North Fork, it had only relocated them along the banks. Add in the breathtaking scenery and the long runs and leaps of the big, feisty trout that occupy Harman's waters, and it was easy to forget we were fishing for predominantly stocked fish.
With the sun shining and the trout happily feeding on the third day, it was losing the last inchworm pattern amongst the group that finally sent us packing. Several hours later, as we crawled along the D.C. beltway, it was imminently clear that the short walk to Harman's fly shop for more inchworms would have been the more prudent course of action.