Trip report - Shenandoah River

South Fork of the Shenandoah River - that’s a big river so don’t worry about me giving away your secret spot. It’s about the only river in the mid-Atlantic that’s fishable right now. And it’s well above average. There are black dots on the USGS gauge sites indicating record highs for the date. It’s high, but it is fishable.

A buddy and I fished it from a whitewater raft with a rowing frame yesterday. That is about the perfect fishing vessel. I’ve fished from whitewater rafts a number of times now, and I am continuously impressed. Pontoons may be in a tie.

Anyway, in the current breaks on the downstream side of inside bends there were some grass beds and big eddies. Those seemed to produce well mid-morning. I used a popper on a 6wt fly rod and my buddy used a dark spinnerbait all day. I had a slight advantage over him on numbers during this part of the day, but he had me with fish size. His smaller fish were about the size of my larger ones.

Downriver where it straightened out some and it was deep, I had to switch to a weighted wooly bugger (or some variant). He continued with the dark spinnerbaits. Neither of us caught much. At lunch, we pulled into where there is swift and shallow (a relative term yesterday) water. This produced well for both of us. All fish were small, but aggressive. You had to get to the bottom. I snagged a lot and lost a few flies. An expected consequence of fishing a karst river. I had to tie on tippet quite often as it kept getting knicked and roughened up.

At lunch, the sky opened up and we actually got a patch or two of blue sky. The sun was hot, for which we were grateful after weeks of rain. Between the lunch stop and takeout, the sky darkened again, the wind picked up, and we got into slow, deep water. I gave up. My casts were not effective against the wind and the fish weren’t cooperating. We hoped for some largemouth bass out of that section, but there was not so much as a nibble.

  • Big D

Hey D
The Shen’s always a good time, what section did you float? I want to do that last section from Bentonville to Front Royal one of these days.

I posted a question in the Advice forum, have you been on the North Fork? if the water level is decent I’m going to paddle the leg from Strasburg to the confluence on the 3rd. There’s a low-head dam at Riverton (which I read is planned to be removed) which I hope is easy to portage around.

It was that last section of the South Fk
I haven’t been on the North Fork, but a big slug of water came down there the other day and made a mess of the main stem, which we had been planning to float.

The section we did was high, but still reasonable to paddle on. We weren’t dodging flotsam or anything. It was just high and the current strong. While it’s normally full of exposed ledges, there weren’t any yesterday but one or two. Those one or two gave up some fish though.

No information on the North Fork aside from check the gauges carefully and try to get a first hand local report before you head out if you know anybody out that way.

I came down to check out your river a few weeks ago and it was high, swift, and muddy. NO chance I was going to put on.

  • Big D

which one?

– Last Updated: Jun-20-09 11:06 PM EST –

if you're referring to Bull Run, I posted a TR in Places to Paddle with a link to the gauge... it's not a USGS gauge so not easily found... about 3-4 ft is nice, but it gets crazy after a good rain and can peak at 8-9 ft. below 3 ft is pretty scrapey. last time out we encountered several fishermen

Also did Antietam Creek a couple times this spring. Highly recommended!

I heard about the trip

– Last Updated: Jun-21-09 9:22 AM EST –

D from your pardner in crime..since you WERE poaching in my river, he figured I deserved a firsthand report I guess. (Actually I hear about EVERY trip P makes...anywhere. ;-)

You guys actually did well, considering the conditions. That section, although we do it a lot, has only a few consistently productive spots even under the best conditions. During high Summer and low water, me and P usually paddle thru (too scrap-ee for pontoon boats in low water)the top and head straight the big wide section trenches. Thats where we seem to find the biggest fish. The rest of the float after that...not so hot, virtually any time of year.

A fellow PRSC'r and I did a long float upriver of there yesterday and we did very well. Caught fish all day long in the spots you'd expect to find them in this water, behind rocks, flooded weed-beds, tiny bank-side eddies, points, behind islands, etc etc. It was a 'run and gun' kind day, you had one, maybe 2 chances to hit a particular target...after that, you looked for the next one. We both managed approx 20 fish, I had a 17.5, a 16.5, several good sized greenies and a pig greenie that went 4 lbs or better. Got rianed on a couple of times in the AM, but all that was done by noon and we spent the remainder of the day in the sun. Everything was coming on black spinnerbaits and the occasional fire-tiger pattern spinner, but my 17.5 Smallie came off a Black tube/red tenecles at the lunch stop, off a flooded gravel bar with water willow. Saw him chasing bait about 20 yards away in about 1 foot of water and dropped the tube in his vicinity. 2 hops.....2 hops....and he hit that thing like a freight train. Thought my shoulder was gonna come out of the socket.

That float has been producing since the first of May when I first did it leading a club trip for the PRSC. This was my 5th trip BACK to the section.

Yes, it's THAT good up there.

No dam removal Sapian
Although Dam removal is a big thing these days, there’s 2 reasons the Riverton Dam will not be removed.

  1. There’s a landing immediately below it. Removing the dam will put the landing underwater, and also render the long flat behind it virtually unnavigable as it will lose a tremendous volume of water without the dam to back up the water.

  2. The state has just completed a new bridge across the north fork right there about 100 yards upriver of the dam, and the drop in water will expose the foundations of the bridge abutments. They included several thousand tons of gravel around the base of the two structures and you’ll wash that gravel out removing the dam.

    Plus, the dam is sort of a historical institution. It was originally built in the very early 1800s as a crib dam to power a flour and corn mill. The foundation of which is still visible on river right. THe entire walled structure was still there until the mid 60s when the remnants of a huricane came up the Valley and resultant flood took most of the building out. After the flour mill business went out, it was converted to a gunpowder mill during the civil war, changing hands several times during the war. Then after the war they attempted to revive it’s flour processing purpose, with concrete improvements, to no results. Late in the 1800, as electricity became the big thing, a power company converted into a power generation station and thus it remained until the 1930s when the WPA came out and built the new Dam about 1.5 miles down river (Warren Dam) as part of the rural electrification program and rendered the Riverton power station obsolete. It’s been slowly decaying (the building, not the dam itself) ever since.

    Personally speaking, I’d hate to see it torn down because some of the largest Largemouth in the river live at it’s base. I have personally caught 5 and 6 pounders from under the dam, and I have heard of 8 and 10 pounders being caught. There’s also some sizable Smallmouth under there as well. Some in excess of 18 inches.

    This history moment brought to you by the old DoahRat…with too much time on his hands.

hey thanks!
that’s part of the fun paddling around VA & MD, learning about the Civil War era and other local history. I actually like looking up those roadside historical markers on

so is the Riverton dam a pretty easy/safe portage at normal water levels? in photos it looks like it is (take out on river left just past the bridge, then carry down to the landing)

here’s a couple government sites that mention the dam’s planned demise:

Intresting …I stand corrected
If they do remove the Riverton Dam, that can only mean they did the foundations of the new bridge in such a manner as to be okay with the lowered water levels, and that they plan to renovate/rebuild the concrete landing and boat ramp just below the dam. I just don’t see the ramp being high and dry anymore after that dam is gone. Not that it’s been all that high and dry lately with all the rain.

Actually, the portage is river right. They built a nice hand take out near the bridge support and portage trail around the dam and behind the old mill foundation. Problem is, you have to put BACK in the water and then paddle across in front of the dam to reach the VDGIF concrete ramp and parking lot up above that. (another uphill hump) Why they didn’t work harder to secure a river left portage trail is a question I can’t answer, but have often wondered about. If ya need anymore info don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

Rapidan and Rappahannock
I’d like to float Bull Run with you some time. My brother-in-law was telling me about it, and it sounds like fun.

Yeah, I like Antietem too. Last time I was there with a fly rod, we decided to run 13 miles from Devils Backbone down to the Potomac. The guy leading the trip seemed to think this would take four hours at low water. He is a skilled paddler, but somewhat clock challanged. Needless to say, there was little time to cast. I saw fish and want to go back after them.

  • Big D

Let me know next time you go
I caught all of mine on the fly rod.

If you like, we can take my canoe out and skip the shuttle by putting in and motoring upstream. Fitness? No. Fishing? Sure.

  • Big D

a bit off topic here but
I paddled that last section of the North Fork from Strasburg to the Riverton Dam yesterday, in my 12’ Tsunami, with my wife and her friend in an Old Town Guide. Very scenic and nice… although at 2.1 ft on the Strasburg gauge and falling, some ledges were scrapey and it would be desirable to have a bit more water. But that goes for most Virginia rivers & creeks in the summer I guess.

Saw a few fishermen here and there, and some tubers and a few kayaks in the vicinity of the RV park toward the end where the North Fork straightens out. We were alone for most of the way, which is what I was hoping for (if you don’t count the cows with puzzled looks on their faces). There are actually 2 dams to portage – the first is the Winchester water supply dam about halfway, which is only 3’ so I ran it, but we carried the canoe around. There are warning signs well ahead of both dams. The portage at Riverton isn’t bad, maybe 100 yds and a bit steep but they need to lay some gravel or put in a sidewalk under the new bridge, as it’s muddy from the construction. I think you actually could portage on the left, if you didn’t mind a little bushwhacking.

The thing that caught me off guard a little was passing under the railroad bridge near Rt. 55 and seeing a huge tree trunk resting on the bridge piling about 20 ft up.