Want a peaceful, picturesque way to stay active while social distancing? Fly fishing could be the cure.

Fly-fishing in the backcountry for native brook trout is the ultimate in social distancing, a solitary pursuit with a pair of waders and wading boots, a fly-rod and some dry flies.

Off the trail, you are focused on catching trout while aware of natural – and perhaps supernatural – surroundings.

That was the case for me two Fridays ago when I explored the Hughes River in Shenandoah National Park. More stream than river, the Hughes starts as a trickle on Stony Man Mountain, empties into the Hazel, which empties into the Rappahannock, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

Usually, I start at the lower park boundary and hike in, but because that trailhead is adjacent to a more popular trail, the parking lot was overflowing with vehicles the weekend of March 22. The trail resembled Monday morning at O’Hare more than it did a peaceful hike. Social distancing protocols were ignored, and park officials were not pleased, closing county roads that lead to those trailheads.

Responsible hiking has become a hot topic as people look for a respite from confinement during various stay-at-home orders. It’s best to stay in your area/region and avoid popular hikes. Find trailheads with parking spaces for six, seven cars to minimize your contact with other hikers. If you know your way around these mountains and trails, you can avoid people.

A hike through Shenandoah brings you to some prime fly-fishing locations. Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY

This is a slight deviation from the Working Out From Home concept so please adhere to government mandates and use common sense.

You can access the Hughes from up top along Skyline Drive, and that’s what I did, hiking down 1.5 miles to the stream. (Now, that same trailhead along Skyline Drive is essentially closed, too. So before you go out in your area, check to make sure you have access.)

I parked at the trailhead, threw my waders, wading boots, flies, water and sandwich into a backpack, grabbed the fly-rod and began the hike, which starts off steep and rocky before a more flat, gradually descending trail takes you to the Hughes.

A view of Corbin cabin located in Shenandoah National Park. Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY

Families lived in the various sections of what is now the national park. Along this trail lived the Nicholson and Corbin families. George Corbin built a cabin streamside in 1909, and it still stands today.

Corbin carved out a life off the land, which included farming and moonshine (apple and peach brandy and whiskey), before he was removed from the land. That’s another story.

It’s said the area is haunted by Corbin’s second wife, who died in the cabin while giving childbirth. In an interview, George said he walked four miles into town to get milk for the newborn after she died then dug her grave.

I’ve never noticed anything unusual along this stream near the cabin, which is where I ate lunch. But in the mountains, not everything is what it seems. The shaded boulder 50 yards ahead looks like a hunched black bear, and the stick on the ground in the leaves looks like a rattlesnake at first glance.

I tied on a purple Adams parachute fly and began fishing. The trout are small but feisty – they survived the ice age – and vibrant with their blue, red and orange spots. What they lack in size, they make up for in beauty, one of the most colorful of freshwater fish.

The reward for a hike down and back up is the opportunity to catch native trout in clear streams. I don’t know how many trout I caught; keeping score has never been my ideal day on the water.

Following lunch, I fished some more, caught some more and hiked back – about a 900-foot gain in elevation. My legs were tired and sore, my heart was pumping and my mind at ease by the time I reached my car.

The late poet and author Jim Harrison implored everyone to walk in the woods, “to draw away your poisons to the point that your curiosity takes over and ‘you,’ the accumulation of wounds and concomitant despair, no longer exist.”

Can’t wait to return.

Jeff Zillgitt | USA TODAY

Click HERE to read the full story on the USA Today website.

Roanoke’s Orvis production center turns from embroidery to mask making

In a facility designed to make personalized products, Roanoke’s Orvis employees are now making personal face masks.

Mike Rigney, the vice president of operations for Orvis in Roanoke, said the effects of the pandemic have forced Orvis to close stores across the country. In Roanoke, it’s also required furloughs and the layoffs of 30 to 40 percent of its workforce, Rigney said.

But with the 100 or so employees still working in their operations center, Rigney said they are keeping busy contributing to the community.

For the last two weeks, staff who normally hem pants and do embroidery work for personalized items are making face masks. They’re using the sewing machines to make medical-style masks as well as cloth masks. So far, Rigney said they’ve donated around 900 of them to the Roanoke Rescue Mission.

Their own employees are using masks, too, while maintaining a distance between each other in the 300,000-square-foot center, Rigney said. But they are also working on a partnership to distribute masks to the staff with Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

Rigney said the staff making the masks has been excited about the opportunity.

“It was very energizing for the associates that are working here. It is very consistent with our values; we have an ongoing relationship with the Rescue Mission so seeing us take it to another level with another opportunity,” he said. “I think the group felt pretty motivated, pretty excited about it.”

Rigney said so far, they’re making 300 to 400 masks a day. Eventually, he said, they’d like to create around 600 per day.

By Leanna Scachetti | Copyright 2020 WDBJ7

Click HERE for full story and video at WDBJ7 website.

To fish or not to fish during the outbreak

Admittedly, things are moving fast and my own opinions have evolved quite a bit in the past several days especially. But one thing that really sticks out and absolutely warms my heart is the sheer class and integrity of the many people in fly fishing with whom I have talked this issue through. We are definitely a community, and we are in it for the long haul. There will be another side of all this, and fly fishing will be just as cool, captivating and interesting on that other side as it was before … maybe even more appreciated. Keep the faith.

That said, I cannot count how many times in recent days I have been asked: “Should we be fishing ourselves, and should we be encouraging others to fish?”

I’m not brave enough to answer those questions myself. So the first thing I did was reach out through my co-editor of Angling Trade, Tim Romano, to ask an ER physician—and avid angler—Dr. Cliff Watts. Dr Watts started working in the emergency department in 1974. After completing an Emergency Medicine Residency in Charlotte, N.C., he moved to Boulder, Colo., in 1978. After many years in the Boulder Community Hospital Emergency Department, and a few years as Associate Faculty for the Denver General Emergency Medicine Residency program, and 10 years as physician advisor for over 16 volunteer EMS agencies, he ended his active career at Boulder Medical Center Urgent Care in late 2013.

Having caught his first fish at age 5, he has fished around the world from the Arctic to Patagonia, from the Kola Peninsula to Tibet. He still spends much of time helping people in need of medical information, travel questions, fishing information concerning gear and destinations, taking kids fishing, as well as having a spey rod in his hands while standing in flowing water.

We hit him with five straightforward questions, so here they are, with his responses.

1. Is it okay to fish in a “lockdown” or “shelter in place” state? If I am completely alone, get in my vehicle, get out and fish, never encounter another human within six feet or more, and have a healthy (at least mentally) escape, is that cool?

Yes, I believe that is very safe. If you are alone, the gas pump or the convenience store that you might visit on the trip is probably the most potent risk of exposure or transmission. Not the water. Not the fish. But I am unsure about ( different states’) regulations.

2. What is the max distance one should travel to fish? Are we talking about “walk to fish?” or is it okay to drive an hour to the river if part of the isolation appeal is to keep people off the roads entirely?

I do not think driving will increase your risk or that of others as long as you follow CDC guidelines. See: Now, if you feel sick or later get sick, going too far might lead to a difficult return home.

3. How about a boat? Like a drift boat… is there any way you see a fishing boat being a safe “socially distanced” scenario?

Most drift boats mandate the rower and the fisherperson to be less than six feet apart. The person downwind of a sneeze, or a spit, would be vulnerable to “droplets” and hence there could be a significant potential to spread any virus.

4. Assuming I can go fish, and I buy a dozen flies and a spool of tippet from my favorite fly shop (online, sent to me through the mail, or they leave it out the door), do I have to disinfect those flies and tippet somehow, and if so what is the best way to do that?

According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can live in the air and on surfaces between several hours and several days. The study found that the virus is viable for up to 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard, and 4 hours on copper. But the actual viral load decreases rapidly on most of these surfaces. Cleaning surfaces with disinfectant or soap is very effective because once the oily surface coat of the virus is disabled, the virus should not be able to infect a host cell. The facts and science change daily. I do believe soaking anything in 91-percent isopropyl alcohol or 80-percent ethanol (real moonshine) for one minute would kill any virus on a fly or tippet materials, but this might affect those materials. Letting any of these fishing materials just sit for 72 hours, should certainly make them virus free. I would not hold fresh flies or tippets with your lips until you do so.

5. Is the virus transmitted through water?

According to the CDC, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs. The virus has been detected in patient’s feces, but I doubt that the virus has significant presence or danger as far as fishing waters in North America. 

Fishing alone is probably OK, but stay close to home so as not to put anyone else at risk if you need help, from, say, a flat tire or a slip-and-fall injury. Photo by Chris Hunt.

Okay… so let’s start there, and build out the discussion. Based on that information, fishing seems like a healthy, safe option and a welcome diversion from all that is going on—especially if you fish as an individual (or with family members with whom you share your space), and especially if you can walk to the water, be that a local pond, or a river, etc. I certainly wouldn’t get in a boat with someone who isn’t an immediate family member, and if we are going to do a float, I would for darn sure run my own shuttle. But that leads us to another important question… driving to fish and how far (see question 2 above)? I’m actually a bit more conservative on this point, and I think that driving distances to fish opens up other points of “contact” you might want to consider. What if you get a flat tire, or heaven forbid, get in an accident driving far to fish? Longshot, sure, but worth even a tiny risk to involve others who would have to bail you out of trouble? I think not. Moreover, every single rural fly shop owner and guide I have spoken with (via email or over the phone) in the past few days is in agreement that they do not want people from urban, heavily affected areas driving up and fishing in and around small communities with little or no healthcare infrastructure—certainly nothing capable of handling something of the COVID-19 magnitude. So you are really not doing anyone in small fish-town America a favor by showing up to cast a line. As someone living in said small fish-town America, even if some guide trips might be good for you and your business, you must also be thinking about the local convenience store, and doctors and nurses, and so on. It’s about a lot more than you and your business.

We are all in this leaky boat together. Please think about fishing, the river and the canyon. We are really going to need your support when this is all behind us. We are keeping all staff on payroll so we will all be here for you when the time is right. Words cannot express how much we are looking forward to shaking your hand and telling you in person how greatly we appreciate seeing you back at Lees Ferry. In the meantime, be safe and healthy.

—Terry Gunn, fishing guide from Lee’s Ferry, Ariz.

Fly shops… manufacturers and commerce…. Well, suffice it to say that the very foundation of my professional life is encouraging people to get out and fish, and more specifically, to send them to fly shops so they can buy stuff manufacturers produce. I’m still all-in on encouraging e-commerce, and innovative ways of getting consumers product and information. But there’s no sugarcoating the fact that we’re all going to take a big economic kick in the shins, from manufacturers where the layoffs have already started, to shuttered fly shops… to magazines and digital media (we’re going to keep cranking because the thirst for distraction-type content has never been greater, but we don’t know how advertisers are going to pay us either). Guides… I absolutely love you like family, and the guide world is where my roots were sunk, going way back over 20 years to a little book called “Castwork.”

One of the guides in that book, Terry Gunn, proved to me today why he still remains a mentor and example for all of us. He sent this to his clients:

A resounding THANKS to you and all our customers! We have seen a lot together over the years — the stock bubble of 1999, the tragedy of 9/11, The Great Recession, government shutdowns … but nothing like this devastating virus and its consequences.

Arizona Gov. Douglas Ducey has ordered a statewide shutdown. Under certain conditions, Lees Ferry Anglers, Cliff Dwellers Lodge and Kayak Horseshoe Bend might remain open, continue operations and go fishing with the lodge open for guests. However, after careful consideration, we have decided the prudent and compassionate action for our staff and guests is to temporarily close all business operations as of 5 p.m. today.

We are cancelling all fishing trips, kayak launches, hotel and lodge operations until April 30, at which time we will reevaluate conditions and either reopen or extend our closure.

We are all in this leaky boat together. Please think about fishing, the river and the canyon. We are really going to need your support when this is all behind us. We are keeping all staff on payroll so we will all be here for you when the time is right. Words cannot express how much we are looking forward to shaking your hand and telling you in person how greatly we appreciate seeing you back at Lees Ferry. In the meantime, be safe and healthy.

That is exactly the right play. And I believe that this market, when it rebounds, which it surely will, will reward those who sacrifice for the greater good now. You can count on the fact that Angling Trade will.

One last point of punctuation. It’s just fishing. Sure, we hold it sacred, special, and it is part of all of us… but it’s a recreational activity. Think about the doctors and nurses and EMTs and others in New York City, and what their professional lives look like right now before you drive 100 miles to a river to get your Ya-Ya’s out, or load up your Instagram feed, or whatever, by pulling on a tiny animal through a graphite stick and a strand of monofilament… and then consider whether or not that’s an insult to people who are literally laying their lives on the line right now. Symbolically, if nothing else, solidarity means staying home.

In sum, Angling Trade’s position relative to that elephant in the room: Fishing is great, done alone, or with household members. We encourage hyper-local fishing, whenever possible. Social distancing is a must, and every angler should adhere to exactly what their state and the CDC advises, without question. We don’t think people should drive far to fish, and we don’t think guides and shops should invite people from affected urban areas to rural areas to fish. We encourage e-commerce, community and the broader exchange of information and ideas. We’re in it for the long haul, and lives matter most now. We’re going to throw our strongest support on the other side of this to those who act most responsibly now.

Be smart and safe, and protect yourselves and your families.

Kirk Deeter is the vice president and editor of TROUT Media. He lives and works near Denver.