“Still round the corner there may wait a new road or a secret gate.” — J. R. R. Tolkien
Just to be blunt about it, I don’t like secrets. Someone said, I think it was John Wayne, “I never knew one to be kept!”
Even though somehow in the dusty crevices of my twisted mind I dislike the idea of secrets, I know they are sometimes necessary. Of course I am thinking about secrets when it comes to hunting and fishing.
The location of where you located a gang of turkeys is the classic example to me. You may tell your hunting buddy about this and then again maybe not. It can be the same for deer, a grouse honey hole, or a native brook trout stream.
I have been known to offer to take a friend to a “secret” place but only if he agreed to be blindfolded and I would always run the truck through the creek crossings multiple times so he could not count them. Secret places are more than special; they are rare gems to be guarded to the utmost.
So just to be blunt again I will confess to having a little trouble telling you about this. Telling you about what? What I consider one of the best kept secrets east of the Big Muddy.
Paint Bank Virginia is a speck on the map in Craig County; it is found on the banks of Potts Creek between Potts Mountain and Peters Mountain, just across the state line from Monroe County. Paint Bank reportedly got its name from the red clay found on the creek bank used by the Indians to make paint.
At first glance this tiny hamlet seems to be the epitome of the old country store at a crossroads. But once you get there, pilgrim, you will find it is more, so much more.
I guess if I am going to let this cat out of the bag I may as well start with the Paint Bank General Store. Think of this store as an oasis on Rt. 311, roughly between Sweet Springs, W.Va., and New Castle, Va.
Paint Bank General Store (www.paintbankgeneralstore.com) may be best described as one of those stores with a “little bit of everything.” As you make your way through the store you find yourself at the Swinging Bridge Restaurant.
This restaurant has some of the best food to be found this side of Katmandu. Southern country cooking is the theme here with everything from fried chicken, beans and cornbread, cheesy grits, huge burgers, barbeque — including buffalo burgers and barbeque. (Oh, I didn’t mention they have buffalo at Paint Bank? More on this later.)
Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the Swinging Bridge Restaurant is the place to be. Yes, they have an honest to Pete swinging bridge over the restaurant for you to walk on. Don’t ask me to explain it; you will just have to make your pilgrimage and see it for yourself.
No doubt if you make this trek you will want to stay more than a day in Paint Bank, and the folks here have got you more than covered. The range of accommodations at Paint Bank is numerous and varied and you may have so many choices you will want to try more than one.
First you have the Depot Lodge across the street from the general store. This is the original Depot for the train line which ran up and down the Potts Creek valley. The Depot Lodge offers four beautiful rooms and a master suite. Next door is an actual train caboose converted into a suite, and I need to say that all the accommodations here are beautifully decorated, just a tad fancier than most hunting camps I am used to staying in if you know what I mean.
The Section Foreman’s house is also across the street from the general store, has two bedrooms and you will be impressed when you set foot inside. There are at least two cabins to choose from, one is just downstream from the store, and it is just as lovely as the other housing here and you can step out the back door and trout fish in Potts Creek.
I can affirm that there are trout here in Potts Creek in the “slunger class” (that means big, I mean big trout).
I am sure I missed something but all you have to do is give the Paint Bank folks a call and they will give you the full rundown of the accommodations available. (www.depotlodge.com)
On top of all this at Paint Bank there is something I know my brothers and sisters in camo will be interested in and that is Potts Creek Outfitters, which offers bowhunting for whitetail deer (they grow some big bucks here) and spring gobbler hunts. They also offer some excellent trout fishing. Be ready to tangle with rainbows, browns and brookies in the XXL range. (www.pottscreekoutfitters.com)
On the bow hunting side Potts Creek offers treestands and ground blinds and you can check with Travis Belcher at Potts Creek on the slunger (big) bucks they see here. Potts Creek has good spring turkey hunting for eastern gobblers and you may do the traditional run and gun type hunt or if you want to slow down one morning you have the option to sit in a blind and wait for Mr. Gobbler to come to you.
The secret to Potts Creek’s hunting lies in the fact that they own several hundred acers of land, in two states, Virginia and West Virginia. Hunting in two states allows for several different opportunities as the seasons will vary and allow you more options for your hunting trip.
I will sometimes help out at Potts Creek and do a little guiding for spring gobblers, but I can tell you right now if you want to be successful do not ask for me as a guide. The past few years the turkeys have won more of the battles than me; I may be developing a complex.
As if this wasn’t enough, the folks here at Paint Bank have a full scale buffalo (American Bison) farming operation in the form of Hollow Hill Farm. Imagine you are driving down the beautiful Potts Creek valley and there grazing in the fields is several dozen buffalo! Don’t worry, the road is not busy. Pull over, as everyone will want to jump out and take pictures.
Well as usual I have gone on too long and the editors will be yelling at me again. (These new earplugs are great!) So maybe you want to go for a drive, a day trip? Maybe you want to spend the weekend, or a week? You want to bow hunt for the big (slunger) bucks, chase those wily turkeys in these hills or cast a fly for whopper trout? Paint Bank is the place to do all this in the most relaxed, laid back setting you are going to find.
Paint Bank, Virginia, is the destination of your quest, pilgrims. Just keep it to yourself, OK?
Larry Case is the outdoors columnist for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at Larryocase3 @ gmail.com.