Fly Fishing Virginia
While the north and south forks of the Shenandoah river are a mountain ridge apart, they are more similar than they are different. While I have consistently turned to the south fork for large smallmouth bass, I've always pulled in more fish on the north fork though much of the catch is usually red-eye bass and brim. I have never encountered red-eye bass nor large concentrations of brim on the south fork even though the two rivers are quite similar in depth, flow and bottom characteristics.
The south fork usually runs about thirty to sixty yards across and about five feet at its deepest during normal periods of summer rainfall. The north fork runs just a bit narrower and shallower. The bottoms of both are a patchy mix of pebbles, mud and course sand with river grass and long ledges that often run at an angle to the flow of the rivers. The actual flow of the rivers is quite mild and I've never had a problem moving up or down stream. The temperature of both forks is usually warm enough to comfortably fish all day.
You will quickly find that watching a large smallmouth hit a cork popper carefully dropped next to a stump in the shade of an overhanging tree is quite a thrill. I've had people tell me over and over that I will not have any luck with poppers for this or that reason, and I have yet to listen or to come away skunked. I find that fishing the shore from the middle of the river, and below the ledges is always productive. When the action on the poppers slows I often switch leaders and try sculpin or crayfish imitations, and concentrate directly below ledges and at the edges of weed beds. Make sure you have strike indicators, I prefer the Scientific Anglers.
I have listed below some of my favorite (and most productive) spots on the north and south forks. I am listing the spots according to the nearest town to make navigating by map easier. Make sure to check weather conditions before setting out.
Oak Hill, Virginia, the south fork. About 20 minutes south of Front Royal off of Route 340. Turn right onto State Road 661 and follow about a mile and a half to the dead-end at the river. There is ample space to park but make sure you pull off the road about thirty yards from the river so as not to get blocked in. Try moving up the river from the walk-in point. As you move up river fish the ledges to the left and the weed beds to the right.
Burnshire Dam, Woodstock, Virginia, the north fork. About five minutes east of Woodstock on State Road 665/758. Head out Route 66 to Route 81 south. After only a few miles take the exit to Woodstock. Turn left onto Route 11, and then east on SR-665 (next to a Safeway). After a mile or two SR-665 merges to the left onto SR-758, and after another mile you will see the bridge below Burnshire Dam. There is plenty of parking directly before the bridge. I've caught more fish below Burnshire Dam than I've ever caught anywhere else. You will want to walk down to the river on the upstream part of the bridge. After entering the river, fish each of the pools till you reach the opposite side, then try directly below the dam. Below the dam the river opens up to long ledges and makes for a great afternoon. Make sure to stop in and see Harry Murray in Edinburgh, the town below Woodstock, at Murray's Fl y Shop (703-984-4212). He knows more about fly-fishing in Virginia than anyone you are likely ever to meet and oversees a flyshop where you can buy any of his several books, replenish your fly supply, or have a very filling lunch.
Take the time to explore the areas above and below the spots I've listed above. Harry Murray is an invaluable resource and is more than happy to advise you about fishing tactics, outfit you with everything you'll need, and send you off with a map highlighted with the current hot-spots. Most of my fishing trips to western Virginia start at his breakfast counter.
Look for future additions including fly-fishing basics, trout fishing within two hours of Washington DC, largemouth bass fishing on the Potomac, and saltwater fly-fishing on the Chesapeake Bay.
© 1995-2011, Ted Verrill