As companies start to bounce back from the pandemic, one West Virginia business discovered the secret to staying afloat in this difficult time.
Smoke Hole Outfitters in Cabins, West Virginia, has experienced a surge in visitors hungry for some trout fishing.
The outfitter business, owned and operated by husband-wife duo Josh and Rachelle Hedrick, is situated in Grant County named for President Ulysses S. Grant. The property sits near the North Folk of the South Branch of the Potomac River. A popular fly fishing destination home to trophy trout, the county is known for its “gold rush” or golden rainbow trout. They were first stocked in state waters in 1963 to commemorate West Virginia’s centennial.
Why Business is Thriving Despite COVID-19
For West Virginians and nearby out-of-state visitors, Smoke Hole Resort is a perfect spot to get your fish on.
Fishing was deemed an “essential” activity, and the Mountain State hasn’t been adversely affected by the virus yet. As of this writing, there are only 93 recorded deaths and approximately 3,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.
On March 20th, Governor Jim Justice (R-WV) encouraged his constituents to go fishing since it aligns with CDC guidelines.
“From the standpoint of what we want people to do, we want people to go out and enjoy fishing,” Justice said. “We want people to get out and get out in the outdoors. This is where we can be really apart.”
The Hedricks were very encouraged to hear this.
“The governor was really pushing outdoor activities, and fishing was a major one of them,” Rachelle said. “Jim Justice was very accommodating with keeping the river stocked. And we were very appreciative of that because, honestly, when you’re on the river who are you really around? You’re not next to anybody so it’s the perfect outdoor activity.”
The History of Smoke Hole
Smoke Hole Outfitters is operated by Smoke Hole Caverns and Log Cabin Resort—also known as Smoke Hole Resort. The property was acquired by Josh’s parents in 1977.
While the caverns first opened to the public in 1940, its history can be traced back to the Seneca Indians. The front section of today’s caverns were used by them for smoking wild game. The name “Smoke Hole” derived from early settlers observing “the slow-burning wood fires sent clouds of smoke swirling out into the valley.”
Today, the caverns are known to house “The World’s Largest Ribbon Stalactite” and maintain a consistent temperature of 56F all year.
It’s no wonder today the resort is lined with visitors in spite of the coronavirus.
Adorable log cabins adorn the highway and offer guests picturesque views of streams and mountains. Families can spend quality time swimming, berry-picking, horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, or gem mining.
The resort, Josh added, has come a long way since his family purchased the property. A devastating flood in the 80’s nearly wiped out the property. After a 2008 fire left the original gift shop destroyed, a newer 26,000-square-foot took its place. Today, guests and visitors can shop for furs, fishing gear, Western wear, and gourmet food products.
Fishing Opportunities for Everyone
Rachelle believes fishing is the largest draw to the resort right now. It’s available year-round and her husband, the “Trout King,” is a sought-after instructor.
Josh, who graduated from West Virginia University in 2001 with a Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences degree, spent time in Idaho and Montana enrolled in renowned outfitter and guide Erv Malnarich’s Outfitting and Guide School in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness during Summer 1997.
“The trout thing became like a passion,” Josh said. “My childhood project now turned into a trout pond with a catch-and release stream and fly fishing lessons. It kind of blossomed into something.”
Visitors to Smoke Hole Resort, whether staying overnight or passing through, can choose from three fishing options with the Hedricks: the Catch ‘n Keep Trout Pond, the Catch-and-Release Trophy Stream (WV fishing license and trout stamp required), and private fly fishing lessons. Brown trout, rainbow trout, golden rainbow trout, and brook trout are readily available to catch. But in order to partake in these activities, a reservation is required—especially during these summer months.
Landing My PB Trout Ever
After showing me around the property, Josh and Rachelle were eager to see me catch one of their brood trout—especially a giant golden rainbow trout in their trophy stream—on my 6-weight Walton Rod.
Josh gave me a refresher course on casting, since I would be rotating between false casting and roll casting. My casting had been a tad rusty since I last used my fly rod in October. But he didn’t judge and was a patient instructor. He also challenged me to tie my own flies better—from nymphs to wooly buggers.
Then came time for fishing.
First came a decent-sized rainbow trout, followed by a beautiful brown trout and handful of juvenile golden rainbows. Finally, to close out my visit, we chose a shrimp fly pattern that resulted in my personal best trout ever (and on the fly). After doing some grip and grins, we safely released it back to the water.
I was in fishing heaven. And you will be, too, if you fish here.