Holmes Run, Falls Church, Virginia, October 22, 2010
"Smell that? You smell that?"
"Holmes Run, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of Holmes Run in the morning. It smells like...trout."
(Possible dialog if the movie Apocalypse Now were a fly fishing movie)

When you fish in a metro-stream, one located inside the Beltway, you have to learn to put up with a lot of--things. I've fished at Holmes Run Stream Valley Park for years and while it's a very pretty tailwater that begins at the base of the Lake Barcroft dam on Colombia Pike it also comes with reminders that you are fishing in an urban setting. There are discarded tires and building debris scattered along the banks, overgrown with weeds or semi-camoflaged by layers of dirt and moss. Not much, but enough to notice if you stare hard enough. And the occasional cigarette butt or discarded nightcrawler container doesn't bother me but the time I watched a discarded prophylactic slowly snake its way downstream was sort of disturbing. What does get to me is the smell. For those who fish at Holmes Run a lot it just blends into the background and becomes part of the overall environment that envelopes the stream--that sweet, cloying sweet sewage stench that wafts from manhole covers and vents that dot the banks along the upper parts of the stream. On some days there is little or no odor but on the bad days you sort of wear it around you like a coat as you fish your way along the deeper runs and slots.
I arrived at the parking lot just off Colombia Pike and there were already a few cars parked there. Evidently the news that Holmes Run was recently stocked had gotten around. I followed the trail down to the stream, passing a few other fly anglers who were fishing above and below the first crossing, and began fishing at the first open spot I found.

The pool was full of trout. The water was running low and clear, so they stood out clearly as they schooled up and down the pool. I rigged the three weight for nymphing, threw a short cast upstream and watched as the trout rushed the fly and rejected it. It was as if they hit a wall. All of them stopped as a single unit and turned away from the fly. I tried two more flies and got the same result until I finally found something they liked, a size 18 Pheasant Tail. These were fish fresh from the hatchery so they weren't very educated about natural food. I was trying to approximate their hatchery meal and the fly was probably the right shape and size as a food pellet. I proceeded to catch every dumb fish in the pool, which turned out to be brown and rainbow trout between eight to 14 inches long.

Another fly fisher, Brenadan, showed up with his young son and his mother and father. They were killing time before heading up to Pennsylvania and he wanted to hook a trout for his son to crank in so I pointed out the fish and a spot where he could get a clear shot at them from shore (no waders). After a few casts he hooked a rainbow then gave the rod to his son who quickly reeled it in. The kid did well and hopefully he'll get into the sport when he's a bit older. We exchanged a bit of information about what was working and what wasn't before they moved further downstream. I stayed at the pool and began to experiment with flies--I knew what they were biting but I wanted to know what else they'd hit. For the next hour I swapped out lots of flies and watched the fish. The group would rush the fly as it drifted down on the current but if it wasn't what they liked, they'd stop about six inches away and swim off. If they wanted it, one of them would beat the others to the fly and hit it. This experimentation told me what size, shape and color the fish were interested in eating and I used this information when I fished the other pools along Holmes Run.

I also noticed a few injured fish. Several had massive head or body wounds and I assume this was the work of Blue Herons or some other woodland predator. And there was one large trout sporting a serious gash swimming sluggishly near the surface at a deep pool further downstream. This one looked like he wouldn't survive for very long. A few of the fish were obviously caught and released before, sporting pinprick wounds in the corner of their mouths.
I called it a day by early afternoon. I guess a lot of toilets were flushing because the sewage smell was getting pretty strong. Although fishing was good, the trout still had not settled in. Most of them were clustered in schools that swam up and down deep pools along the stream. I'm sure they'll eventually settle and spread out along Holmes Run but with the water level low and expected to stay that way there will only be a few spots were you'll find trout.

UPDATE: A few days after I posted this report other fly fishers told me that they found a dead deer lying in the stream and the smell was horrendous. They also said they found numerous dead, sick or dying trout in some of the pools along Holmes Run.

EQUIPMENT: I used a three weight rod rigged for nymphing with a short leader and fluorocarbon leader. I used a variety of flies.

DIRECTIONS: The upper section of Holmes Run Stream Valley Park is located just off Columbia Pike ( Rt. 244) surrounded by apartments, residential housing and strip malls. As you drive on 244 towards Leesburg Pike (Rt. 7) the road will slope downhill. To your right you will see a large apartment complex and on your left will be the face of the Lake Barcroft Dam. You will cross a bridge with a covered pedestrian walkway. At this point SLOW DOWN and get in the right lane. The road will begin to slope uphill. To your right is a small, paved road that looks like a bike path. This is the entrance. It's a sudden right turn so make sure the car on your tail knows you're turning. Park and follow the path to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park.