Shenandoah River Trip Report

10 miles on the main stem of the Shenandoah River. History, natural beauty, and a workout all in one day. We met up, ran shuttle, and got put in rather slowly, but in no slower time than most river days with a group of folks that aren’t used to one another. We had one newbie who took to it right away.

There were a few rapids, but nothing over a 1+. Most were barely riffles.

The fish started out, for me, on a topwater bite. I was throwing a white popper. The white popper stayed on that rod all day long. I didn’t see any, but did hear a number of frogs, and this particular popper had a split tail and gave the silhouette of a frog. Nice. Anyway, that popper accounted for fish all day. Nothing too huge, but I did have my fly rod personal best smallmouth on line at one point and lost it.

The fish were not where they were supposed to be. Not until late in the day anyway. Around 2PM or so, the fish started showing up where they ought to have been if they read the same books I do. I’m glad they got some training on how to behave, because then I started catching them in deep troughs below ledges where there was good, cool, dark, oxygenated water and a steady food supply of disoriented minnows. I couldn’t get a fly to work in that circumstance and moved to using soft plastic grubs on a spinning rod. I picked up a number of fish on that pattern. Not a lot, but better sized ones than I was getting on the popper. I think there are a lot of small fish in the river because we were all getting tap-tap-tap takes that we couldn’t set hooks on and we all had vicious short strikes. Turning over rocks, there are a lot of madtoms and small crayfish in the river, so those small fish have a good forage base to turn into large fish in a few years.

The sun was brutal, and I dressed for it with a wide brimmed hat, long-sleeved sun shirt, and long sun pants. All light weight clothes, which kept me comfortable throughout the day.

The newbie made it through keeping it people side up throughout. Everyone made it safely back to the takeout. I caught double digits of fish (barely) on a river that four years ago was for all intents and purposes a dead river (thanks to the steadfast work of the Shenandoah River Keeper Jeff Kelble and many other interested parties).

At the takeout we even got to rescue a guy who had missed his takeout four miles upstream and give him a ride back to his shuttle car.

In all a pretty darn good day. Especially the fun with the popper. The only unfortunate part came when I got off the river. My grouchy old lady (our dog) had a very bad day yesterday and it may be the end for her. We’re going to try some meds, but it’s looking bad.

  • Big D

hey that’s nice D …

– Last Updated: Aug-09-10 7:05 PM EST –

...... it's been some time since I've fished the Shen. , I wasn't aware the Smallie fishing has been off in these recent years .

I can remember any day on the river that didn't yield 40-50 catch and release Smallies was considered a somewhat off day . Add to those the 40-50 that missed the hook but took a strike and well ... those must have been the days .

Now this isn't saying that I've never had those off days on the Shen. , because now and then I did for one reason or another . I remember the first fish kill (in my time) on the Shen. , broke my heart to see what happened on the Thunderbird stretch .

Glad you had a good time ... 10 miles is a fair piece to cover and fish too , the rivers are so low now .

What were your start and stop points ??

where’d you put in / take out?

have you been to that big ledge at Shenandoah Farms yet, it’s a hoot!

The fish kills were awful
In 2003 I think it was, 80% of the adult smallmouth bass in the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah were killed. The North Fork fish kills started even earlier. The following several years killed off more of the adult smallmouth until there was only one out of every 300 left. Sickening.

But, the farmers have been working real well with the environmental groups, and the environmental groups have had some success with the state getting needed legislation, and honestly funds from this Obama stimulus package upgrading sewage treatment plants and containment systems have all worked together to begin to make a noticable difference. There are still fish dieing each spring, but it’s not 80% of the adults.

The crazy thing is that with all the adult fish out of the way, the surviving juveniles have been growing like mad on the forage base without competition. And there was a huge year class of recruitment in 2004 and those fish are nearly full grown now. In a couple years, it could be chock full of 18"-20" smallmouth in sections, like the Susqy. But they have to live through the next few Springs first.

If you are interested in what’s happening with the river, Google up Shenandoah River Keeper. And while you’re there, join and make a donation if you’ve got a mind to. He’s wise beyond his meager years and having a tremendously positive impact on the river. He’s got fishermen, farmers, and politicians all working together. Five years ago, I’d have said that was impossible.

As far as Sunday’s trip, we put in at Rt 50 and went downstream to Locke’s Landing.

Gus, I haven’t checked out that ledge yet. I’m there for fish, not for thrills. Thrills are a nice add-on, but it’s fish I’m after.

  • Big D

trying to remember the year …

– Last Updated: Aug-10-10 8:25 PM EST –

...... that I found the river damaged . It seems like late 70's or early 80's but all those years on the river just run together anymore , it's difficult to put them in order now . But what I'm sure of is this happened many years after I first started fishing there , and closer to the time I stopped fishing there .

In the beginning the way down to the river was a remote and heavily rutted steep twisty down grade of a mile or more . One spring there was a house being built (a nice one too) very close to the top near the entrance way off the main road . By autumn there were a few more to each side of the way down but still up near the top . As the years went on , more and more houses were built (singular and dramatic houses) into individual clearings off each side of the road . The road became improved (a nice flat and widened blue chip stone base) . Each year the improved road became extended down as far as each new house . I sorta liked that "at first" because the former ruts were really more of a dodge around and try not to fall into thing (some were tire deep) ... and still these new homes hadn't progressed too far from the main road , so it still felt like they had a long way to go before even getting close to my spot .

But the years passd and the new homes continued . One year I arrived to find the improved road made it all the way down to were I would turn off through the gate to go across the farmers field to the river ... and the road went on further than that branching off to the right . This year the farmer had a lock on his gate so I parked and walked the rest of the way down to the river .

This was a great farmer , he would clear a few spots and keep them maintained right along the rivers edge just so campers who had his permission could come and enjoy ... we didn't have to give any notice we were comig , just show up whenever . Matter of fact the farmer never wanted a thing from us , we didn't even know where his house was , he never told us and didn't even give a phone number ... all he asked was to keep the place clean and don't leave not one thing for him to pick up when we left . We met him only a couple times when he came down to visit us .

Anyway , this one section in particular (for camp/fish and because of the farmers graces) I would try to visit a couple/few times each spring and autumn . Did not canoe here , only wade fishing . It was called Thunderbird . This was a beautiful place and I knew every inch of that stretch before it was over . There were a few times that during the winters when I longed to be there fishing , I would even sketch and draw pictures of this stretch from memory to satisfy myself while waiting for spring to arrive .

In the spring the river would bloom with the most beautiful patches of grasses that would stand out above water . These grasses grew on the higher spots that were maybe calf deep , but those higher spots mostly had deeper troughs surrounding them . Put a few of these long grass patches running together side by side , and it created somewhat deeper channels between them . There were sooo many of this type feature in that stretch . Although you could cast to just about anywhere and be assured of a bite , I sorta favored these grass edges and channels . They were also nice to get up on for a little rest break from the current wading . Through out this stretch there were the occassional rock formations that would rise above water level also . There were plenty of deeper places but I usually backed off when it got chest high , and preferred waist deep . You could get in over your head in areas too , not sure how deep in those areas but maybe at least 10'-12' ??

Well , one spring I showed up with great anticipation as usual . As I began my venture out into the river the first thing I noticed was that these grass areas were practically all gone , and what did show of them was ugly and dead looking . They were not green and beautiful anymore , they were sickly and burnt brown grey looking . The shore line vegetation looked the same . Yukky dirty white foam seemed to be everywhere along the former grass beds , along the shores , in pools , etc. . There was never any of this foam before .

That day , I began to catch a species of fish that I had never caught before ... discovered later they were some kind of Creek Chubs , did catch a few Smallmouth here and there , but very few , and the Chubs out numbered the bass by far . As for number of fish , it was way , way off . Before this there were sizable Channel Cats (to 5-6 lbs.) , now and then one would be a beautiful "Blue" Channel Cat (a very rare thing indeed) . This stretch also held fantastic Blue Gills . As a mater of fact the very first fish I ever caught there was a "HUGE" Blue Gill , it would have easily covered a piece of note book paper , blew my mind !! That Blue Gill was caught from shore just before I stepped in for the very first time ... that day produced "well over" 50 caught and released fish (I just stopped counting by mid-day at 50) , un-numberable hits and misses , the majority were very healthy size Smallies . 15" was the norm for the Smallies there . One time I hooked a monster , couldn't bring it back to me , my friend eventually waded over to me to see what was going on (I had been doing my best not to let it break the line so far , but it was getting further and further away) . I gave him the rod , asked him to keep it up and hold tension while I started the trek following along the line to the fish . I caught up with it in a small pool behind a big rock sticking up out of the water . I bent over to get my hands on it , it was a bass alright !! To this day I swear it was the only Largemouth I'd ever seen in that river . I say it was a Largemouth because first off it was "HUGE" , and it sure looked like a Largemouth to me , it was a long as both my feet (I wear 12's) !! Well as I bent down and began to put my hands around the fish , I could see the broken back Rapala was only holding on by a thread of just one single hook , the fishes mouth had a good size tear were the hook was also . The fish was holding still under the line tension , as soon as my hands grasp around it , he gave a big tail wag and shook the hook . That fish swam right out of my hands , slid right through them and went his way ever so slowly . I just was amazed !!

oh well , this book stops here ...