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Fondness for Rich Creek went beyond trout fishing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I really miss Rich Creek. From the late 1970s through the early 1990s, I spent dozens of days happily trying to coax trout from the little creek's clear, spring-fed waters.

The Division of Natural Resources leased one mile of the creek near Lindside and managed it as a catch-and-release, fly-only fishery. Most of the fish in the stream were brown trout, except when an occasional rainbow or brookie escaped from the waters of a nearby fishing club and made its way downstream into the fly-only area.

The creek meandered through a cow pasture, and was so narrow that in places I could jump across it. Its small size, high streamside weeds and notoriously high winds made it a challenge to fish.

Its nutrient-laden waters, however, supported enormous insect and baitfish populations, and all that abundance of food helped its trout grow large and fat.

At the time I fished it, Rich Creek was known for a couple of things other than the fly-only section.

One was a state record brook trout had been caught from its waters years before.

If I recall correctly, that fish weighed about 4 pounds. A 4-pound, 12-ounce fish from Hardy County's Lost River broke the record in 1981, but I seldom fished Rich Creek without wondering if another monster brookie might be lurking in the shade of the stream's deeply undercut banks.

The second item of fascination, at least to me, is that the only diamond ever found in West Virginia was discovered near Rich Creek, practically within a stone's throw of the fly-only section.

William "Punch" Jones and his father, Grover Jones, were pitching horseshoes one day in 1928 when they found a shiny stone. According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, Punch thought the rock was a piece of quartz. He put it in a box in the family's tool shed and forgot about it.

During World War II, Punch worked in an ammunition factory that used carbon to make gunpowder. Thinking about carbon got him wondering whether the stone he'd found might be crystallized carbon - in other words, a diamond.

A geologist at Virginia Tech confirmed Punch's suspicions. It was a diamond, all right - a 34.46-carat blue-white beauty. The geologist called it an "alluvial diamond," one that had eroded loose from some distant piece of mother rock and had been carried to Monroe County by water or glacial ice. The Rich Creek find still ranks as the largest alluvial diamond ever found in the United States.

The stone was displayed for a time at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., but eventually was returned to the Joneses, who kept it in a safe-deposit box at a bank in nearby Rich Creek, Va. In 1984 the family sold the diamond through the world-renowned Sotheby's auction house, where it fetched a price of $74,250.

The Abazias Diamond website includes the Rich Creek Diamond, also known as the Jones Diamond, in its list of 51 Famous and Historic Diamonds. Others on the list include the Cullinan, the Koh-i-Noor, and the Hope. Wikipedia also includes the Rich Creek stone on its list of large and extraordinary diamonds.

The trout of Rich Creek made it a fascinating place for me, but I think my fondness for the little stream was, at least in part, fueled by the place's history - and perhaps by dreams of record-breaking trout and still-undiscovered diamonds.


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