By Camille Corum | Photos by Griffin Harrington & courtesy of Brian and Colby Trow
Not all sports are inherently competitive. Fly-fishing is one. Harrisonburg is home to Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, Virginia’s largest fly-fishing school and guide service. The co-founders, Brian and Colby Trow, consider fly-fishing a lifestyle.
“For our clients fly fishing is an escape,” says Colby. Colby and his twin brother, Brian, opened Mossy Creek Fly Fishing in April 2003, one year after graduating from JMU. For the brothers, fly-fishing is an escape from phone calls, emails, social media, work, bills, and drama. It’s also a rewarding activity the brothers enjoy teaching their clients.
“Once you are on the water, surrounded by nature, focused on that fish that is casually sipping insects off the surface just in range of your cast, the entire world melts away and your brain shuts down and all your cares and worries are gone,” Colby says.
“We were tending bar in Georgetown, and wrote our business plan while sitting in traffic in Northern Virginia. It inspired us,” Brian says.
Fish are in the same spot, eat certain foods, and can be caught using baits and lures. Fly fishers use extremely light lures called “flies” that can’t be cast using the typical fishing gear that most people are familiar with. “Flies” are made with natural materials—fur and feathers—to imitate the food sources fish eat.
Historically, people imitated flies and other aquatic insects, but now people also imitate minos, cray fish, and even mice. Using the fly rod, the angler casts a weighted line, which drags the lightweight fly to its target in the water.
“Casting a fly rod is more enjoyable and interactive than baitfishing or spincasting,” Colby says.
Mossy Creek specializes in fly-fishing education. The staff recommends that first timers attend a half day class before heading out on the water. The school offers casting classes for novice and expert anglers.
“Our staff can get folks started from scratch and have them confidently casting and fishing on their own in just a matter of hours,” Colby says. Similarly, some expert anglers, who have been fishing for years, might only have experience catching one species of fish. Mossy Creek provides larger tackle and gear and even lessons for these experts. Fly fishers can enjoy their sport year round in Virginia, which is one reason why Colby and Brian have created such a successful business. Most of their clientele come from out of town or out of state. These clients book multiple day fishing trips and stay in the Harrisonburg area for up to a week.
“A day trip or long weekend in the valley is an easy, affordable break from life in the cities,” Brian says.
Mossy Creek guide staff offer half day and full day trips, which last four hours and eight hours on the water respectively. They lead an average of 35-60 trips per month during the colder months and around 100-150 trips per month during the warmer seasons.
“Virginia is wonderful with its variety of water and close proximity to home,” Colby says.
Brian explains, “The mountains in the Western part of the state provide the cold water conditions that create wonderful trout waters. The large warmer rivers and lakes of the Piedmont in central Virginia provide excellent largemouth and smallmouth bass opportunities.”
Mossy Creek guides lead trout fishing, world class smallmouth bass and musky fishing trips 12 months a year. Locally, the staff fish in the freestone mountain streams of the Shenandoah Valley and George Washington National Forest wherethey target spring creek brook trout.
Anglers cast off on foot or by boat. Usually, fly fishers wade in creeks and rivers, but anglers can also fish from rafts, skiffs, or bass boats—small boats with swivel chairs that allow the angler to cast off in any direction. Locally, the staff uses large whitewater raft boats with custom built hard bottom floors to target smallmouth bass, musky, and carp.
Mossy Creek Fly Fishing also helps keep JMU’s fly fishing club afloat. The club was founded in 2006 by Dr. Tom Benzing, who is still the club’s advisor. His vision for the club goes beyond simply baiting, casting, and reeling.
“It’s not just learning how to fish,” he says. “It’s also about learning to appreciate the habitat necessary to support fish, the natural resources, and the experience of being in nature.”
He’s been fishing for 35 years but continues to learn about the sport and the fish he targets. “What makes [fly-fishing] a challenge, is that you have to understand the biology of the fish and what they’re used to eating,” Dr. Benzing says. Neil O’Dell, a JMU fifth year senior, has been the club’s president since 2009. He says Dr. Benzing got him interested in fly-fishing and has helped him learn about casting and finding the best waters to fish.
“The most enjoyable part of fly-fishing is the places that you get to do it,” Neil says. The beauty around the streams and rivers where they fish is extraordinary.
The club organizes about two local fly fishing trips each month in the fall and spring. During the winter months when fishing is slow, the club hosts casting clinics for the less experienced anglers. Each February, the club fishes in the beautiful waters of the South Fork Holston River in Bristol, Tennessee.
Dr. Benzing hopes to increase the number of non-local trips the club takes each year.
“It’s not just about throwing bait out to a fish. There’s an art to [fly fishing] as well,” he says.