This is a story that is both an old one and a brand new one as it always has occurred here and occurred recently.
How do you put into words an event that is so incredible it defies belief? It's an event that makes magic seem mundane by comparison, an event that truly redefines extraordinary. I am not sure I am up to the task, but I feel compelled to give it a go.
The Red Fog is a swarm of mating 16 Sulphur spinners. The density of insects in this swarm is so heavy that you can stand in it and hear the soft hum of their wings while getting painted orange with their eggs and choking as you breath them in, which you have to do as it is impossible to draw a breath without breathing them in. There are literally millions of insects in one of there swarms, which have been known at times to extend for 20 or 30 yards. If you stand a couple hundred yards down river, it looks like red smoke or fog appearing over the river, eventually forming what appears to be a solid wall. As you venture closer and closer, the "wall" of spinners begins to reveal the staggering number of individuals in the collective. What appeared to be one solid mass is now seen to be millions of moving things, and if by this point you are not completely awestruck, then fly fishing just isn't your game.
The river is truly an incredible resource, a national treasure. If this treasure isn't worth fighting for, then what is? The moving, breathing, living mass of Sulphur spinners that comprise the "Red Fog" is simply the most outrageous aquatic insect event I have ever witnessed - anywhere. It is a mass of mayflies you can't see through. This is the kind of thing you dream about from the first time you pick up a fly rod, but really don't ever expect to see. Only there it is, and you can't deny that you see it. More incredible is what happens next.
When the fog hits the water, you realize for the first time just how many trout live here. Much like the numbers of the "bugs," the numbers of trout must be seen to be believed. Once that image is burned into your brain, it can never be forgotten. Yes, everyone knows there are a lot of quality fish here, but when the fog hits the water, take your best previous guess on the number of trout and multiply it by three or four times. Yes, there are that many. It is other-worldly to stand in the middle of hundreds upon hundreds of rising fish on a pool that a half hour before was all but lifeless, a pool that when viewed in very low water conditions appears to have maybe a couple dozen at best. Did I mention that A LOT of these fish are very large brown spotted trout. If not, then I should have.
Last year, I had two very experienced fly fishers with me. One was from a California fly fishing club, the other from Virginia. Both have fished a large portion of the best trout water on the planet, from Argentina and Chile to Montana to the best Canadian waters. The first simply said she had never witnessed anything like it - anywhere The second said he had a couple times in his 62 years, but only a couple times. Both fishermen were completely blown away.
I am sitting here, thinking back, knowing that I want my grandchildren's, grandchildren to be able to experience this and therefore knowing I will keep fighting the river's battles. Long odds be damned.
The Red Fog demands this of me and I am proud to step up and take my best shot at it. Some things in life are worth fighting for. I ask you to join me in this fight so that generations to come will be able to view the fog and sample the soup on West Virginia's finest.
- Dave Breitmeier is the head guide at Elk Springs Resort in Randolph County. Dave has logged more than 3,000 days on the river, and has been featured in the Washington Post, Field and Stream magazine and the book Midge Magic.