Fly Fishing the Shenandoah Valley

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Family and friends enjoying amazing weather in the mountains of Virginia.

After my last trip out to fish the Shenandoah Valley, I was looking forward to getting back again.  I met up with my dad, uncle, and a friend to do three days based out of Luray.

The first day, my friend and I fished a little portion of the South Fork of the Shenandoah near Luray.  The water was high, fast, and dirty – all from the heavy storms that rolled through several days earlier.  Having not caught a smallmouth bass in a long time, I was excited when a 10″ fish ate my rabbit strip streamer.  Smallmouth are much stronger than any trout I’ve hooked into, and this little guy showed his stuff in the fast current.

We floated downstream for another couple miles, fishing along the way, but the high flows and dirty water left us with low numbers of fish – maybe 20-30 between us for a few hours of effort.

The next day, the entire group set off to do the “Newport” float, a section that has a few interesting rapids and is well secluded from homes and people.  We fished hard, almost flipped our canoe more than once, and ended up with around 100 smallmouth between all of us.  The fish were not big, with the largest around 11″, but they were aggressive and would willingly take large streamers.  We did see some big carp, but none seemed fishable in the high flows.

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Fishing the feeder creeks and main current on the South Fork.

This portion of the river is beautiful, dotted with rock gardens, massive ledge structures above and below the water, and bordered by large trees and sheer mountain walls.  We saw a couple bald eagles (adults and juveniles), green and blue herons, and king birds along the way.

With the South Fork fishing moderately (and with a lack of big fish), I convinced the group to fish Shenandoah National Park.  We traveled over the park, and looped back around to the Old Rag parking lot.  Hiking in on Nicholson trail, we fished the second and third miles of the Hughes River.

I was expecting easy success compared to my last trip.  Flows were down from my last trip a month ago, and I expected the fish to be looking up.  They were looking up…sometimes.  My dad, new to trout fishing, scored first with the biggest brook trout of the day.  We spotted the fish from the bank, worked into position, and I was able to coach him in how to place the fly and get a decent drift.  After some practice, and watching small dace pick at the parachute adams, I left him to try to catch my own fish.  I had barely set up on my own pool when he let out a whoop.  He had caught the fish we sighted, set the hook, and was now fighting it in the shallow pool.  I ran up, and after nearly losing the fish in the rocks, netted the (10″) beast.

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Nice brook trout from the Hughes River.  My dad’s first brookie on fly (and on a dry).
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Another picture of the wild brook trout.

After some quick photos, and without handling the fish (my dad’s decision), we released the brookie back into his pool.

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Go home little fella.  Thanks for playing.

After that, the four of us fished, progressively moving up the trail and up the mountain.  We were, however, getting skunked.  Mayflies were hatching left and right, but the fish we could see were holding tight to the bottom.  I tried a hares ear nymph, then a streamer, but neither moved these seemingly picky trout.

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Tiny mayfly – one of many varieties that was hatching that afternoon.

After a few hours of trying, my dad and uncle left to head back to DC.  My friend and I fished for another couple hours, and did manage a few small trout at the higher elevations.  They were pretty, all of 5″-6″ in length, and all seemed to be keyed in on mayfly patterns.

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Fishing a nice pool on the Hughes.

As the sun sank lower in the trees, I decided to call it.  We walked back down the trail, enjoying the perfect mountain air.  And while the fishing was anything but good, it was a fun game to play in one of prettiest places you’ll ever get the chance to go.

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