Got out on the Shenandoah

It was a little high for this time of year, but not high from a paddling safety factor. Very easy water still. Actually, the extra water made it a little easier. From the road, it looked stained and muddy. But when you got down to the bank it actually had about 18" visibility. The wind was up and down all day. Still for a time, and then blowing for a time. I was rowing my one man raft, and so I was grateful for the wind blowing at my back. It was only the second time with a drag chain. It’s a real joy to use it, but I’ve got a lot to learn about boat control.

The fishing was off. I got no hits subsurface. I tried drifting some dark tan and olive woolly buggers, and I tried some crawfish imitations (and lost all that I tried to ledges), and once the Shenandoah Blue Damselfly hatch kicked off I used both a subsurface blue and white clouser meant to imitate the emergers and also a damselfly surface pattern. All to no avail. I did find a bit on a white popper at grass islands. Not grass banks ONLY on grass islands, but it was a generous bite.

I found what I think is probably the most picturesque spot on the Shenandoah I’ve ever seen. The fish weren’t biting there for me (my partner took half a dozen or so on crankbaits off the bank), but the river was wide, there were farms, a good 360 view of the Blue Ridge and the bottomland, and someone at a nearby camp was playing outlaw country music so the spot even had a soundtrack.

I would like to have spent more time on the river, but I had a situation that required me to get ashore somewhere, and all the land there is private. What isn’t private was the George Washington National Forest, and while I don’t mind digging a cathole in the National Forest the banks were all too steep to clamber out in my particular condition. So I powered on down river to the takeout. I’ll go back to that spot, and I’ve found just what I need on NRS.

  • Big D

glad you got out on the Shen …
… I’ve not been out on it in years now but used to spend much time on it . I stop by and visit her every year or so though . I love that river , always have , always will , it holds a lot of memories for me , found it when I was like 16 (you know , drivers license , 1st truck , tent and the most perfect place called Thunderbird when it was remote then) .

On one trip down river from Berryville we saw a good size school of a fish I didn’t know what they were at the time … turned out to be Walleye .

I used to see Smallies in the deep holes that were easily 24" long , channel cats long as my leg , and have caught a few BLUE channel cats (really blue and silver) . The Shen produced quite a few Smallies for me in those days that were over 5 lbs. . I’ve heard some horror stories about polutants over the years , fish kills and all that , even witnessed a bad kill back there in Thinderbird one year , broke my heart , but the Shen , she will live on .

I know the Shen is one of the places you’re pretty familiar with .

Getting more familiar
While the fishing isn’t what it used to be, the beauty is still there. I’m into paddling as much for the pleasure of being out as I am getting to the fish.

The fish kills were awful. 80% of the adult smallmouth dead three years in a row. So for those 100 fish days you used to have, after the first year you’d have had only 20, after the second year you’d have had only 4, after the fourth year you might get one fish every couple/few trips. Since then, there’s been a lot of recruitment and there’s tons of 8" and 10" fish. Not near as many as used to be, but lots more than just a few years ago. So long as whatever killed off the adult fish then (my guess was and remains chicken poop) doesn’t kill off these fish as they mature, there’s going to be a big mess of 14" to 16" fish in the river in a few years. I’ll be eager for that!

In the meanwhile, continue to support Shenandoah Riverkeeper and his efforts to encourages sensible use, working with farmers to implement safe practices to protect the water without harming their production, and busting the bad guys who think the river is a sewer.

  • Big D

well 50 was more the avg. …

– Last Updated: Jun-26-11 11:14 PM EST –

...... on a good day and perhaps 1/2 as many misses .

13"-14" Smallies were pretty standard fare back then in the Shen. , some of the larger ones and some of the smaller ones too .

But in those days I was pretty crazy about the top water strikes and used mostly broken back Rebels and Rapalas (solid ones too) . Nothing quite like the top water strikes even if the fish are a bit smaller usually . Just something extra exciting about the way they go after it !! What's really crazy is when something in the larger size range bust on the top water plug , whew , can make you yell out loud in uncontrolled excitement before you realize what you just did .

Now a days as you know I'm pretty much using either the Yum Craw Bug and 1/8-1/4 oz.jig head or the Mepps #3 exclusively , they work and produce 90% of the time for me . You know the last 11 yrs. , tube/Yumbug or #3 Mepps Anglia and I'm happy . (well Pumpkin Green and yellow buck or squirrel and gold blade , and I'm happy)

Gettting better
I lived most of my life on the Shenandoah and can tell you the smallmouths are making a comeback.

Nothing like several years ago when one could easily catch several 4-5 pounders but we’re getting better.

good to hear that bird …

– Last Updated: Jun-28-11 9:00 PM EST –

...... keep in touch w/the board here , always like to hear about the Shen. ... spin a yarn now and then , I like them most ... D always comes up with something or other , he's got a variety of boats and spins a good yarn of his adventures .

They are comming back!
The wife and I just gout our S-O-T ‘yaks a few weeks ago. I am in an Emotion Mojo Angler, and she and the 6-yr old girl share the Emotion Co-Motion. Last weekend, we paddled upstream about 2 miles (to just below Bentonville) from our riverside lodge, and then drifted down. With the water levels at pathetic lows, there was some walking and dragging, but when we were over water drifting, I could see tons of fish. Many very nice sized bass, cats, and carp. At one point just up around the bend from our place, I spotted a school of 40-strong catfish. The lead fish in the school HAD to be 3’ long! I mean it was a black shadow of motion. It took me a second to figure out what I was looking at, but when I realized, I was amazed.

I have fished this stretch of river for 35+ years, but this is my first summer in a 'yak. For a long time, I have been wading out from the bank and settling into my favorite holes near the lodge, but now, I am exploring more and more spots. I have pulled many larger fish this summer, and it seems thath the river is recovering from the past idiocy of man. I just hope that it continues to stay healthy, and the days of pulling bass out with what looked like herpes are permanently in the past.

Float Trip

– Last Updated: Oct-25-11 9:22 AM EST –

I'd give anything to get to do a fishing trip on the Shenandoah river... have wanted too for several years now. When is the best month to go? Thanks

Right now!
The fall foliage should be terrific to view, and the bigger fish are putting on the feedbag getting ready for winter.

There’s a low front coming. Go today with the pre-front timing if you can. It’s hard to tell whether they’ll still be hanging to summer spots (current seams and heads of eddies at the ledges) or whether they’ll be moving to the winter spots (deep holes with access to shallow water). So fish the whole river until you figure out the pattern.

Good luck! I’m hoping to get out this weekend, but it will be a sight seeing trip with the family rather than a fishing trip. I would love to get my eldest to catch her first fish on the fly though…

  • Big D

Next year…
Since I’m several hundred miles away it will be next year before i can make the trip. Any idea what the best month to go is? I can’t wait… Thanks for your help.

June and October are my favorites.
I haven’t been on the Shenandoah this October, but it’s a really wonderful time to be on it. June you have to be careful. If it’s been a slow spring, the spawn can still be on. And if it’s been a wet spring, it can run pretty fast. But when it’s on - it’s ON.

Please, please, please don’t harrass the smallies on the Shenandoah during the spawn (mid-April through May usually). There’s more now than a few years ago, but it still has a long way to go in recovery. We need as many baby smallies as we can get.

  • Big D

What boats do guys normally use of the S. Fork of the Shenandoah? Canoes- Kayaks - Pontoon boats? Thanks

Any paddle craft.
Rafts, pontoons, canoes, and kayaks are all suitable boats. There are more canoes than anything, I think, but I prefer a kayak when my arthritis can take it or a raft when it can’t. This past season, I had good days rowing others down the river in my canoe, I had days where I took my raft and really enjoyed standing and casting, and I took my kayak a few times too. When the water is really low (July and August usually) you want the boat that has the lowest draft. Of my boats, that’s probably my canoe.

The outfitters in the area rent both canoes and kayaks, as well as tubes for the day tripper crowd.

  • Big D