Winter weather makes everyone but the toughest cold-water anglers shiver at the thought of water, but in a few weeks we’ll all be ready to get out and enjoy the Shenandoah Valley’s lakes and rivers. With over 20 species of freshwater fish home to Virginia, many of us will be holding a rod, but the valley is also filled with places to paddle. Here are some of our favorite fishing and swimming destinations. Start planning your adventure today!
The Upper James River Water Trail was recently designated a scenic river and stretches 59 miles of the James River from its headwaters in Botetourt County to Glasgow in Rockbridge County.
UJRWT is a popular destination for anglers from across the country catching sunfish, smallmouth, spotted, and largemouth bass, as well as channel and flattened catfish. The UJRWT also offers many opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and rafting adventures.
Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista is an excellent place to go on a family fishing adventure on the Maury River, which runs its length through Rockbridge County. The Maury River can be fished both from the bank and from canoes launched from the park’s boat ramp. It is stocked with trout eight times a year. Fishermen can also catch rock and small mouth bass, fall fish and bluegills.
For whitewater paddling, take a trip to the popular 6-mile Goshen Pass, where the beautiful Maury River crosses Little North Mountain. You will come across mighty Class II, III, and even Class IV rapids like Corner Rapid and Devil’s Kitchen. Here’s a cool TikTok video from paddling the Goshen Pass!
Outfitters and guides:
- John Roberts Fly Fishing Adventures / Lexington: Guided fishing tours
The South River flows north through the valley and eventually merges with the Middle River and North River to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The South River is fed by cold mountain streams and supports both warm and cold water fishing. Some sections are stocked with brown and rainbow trout, and fishermen can also catch small mouth, trout and rock bass, fall fish and robin sunfish. Part of the South River from Ridgeview Park to Basic Park forms the 4-mile Waynesboro Water Trail. Here, paddlers will find boat docks, gentle rapids, and one of only two urban trout fisheries in the state.
Fishermen of all ages can fish on the easily accessible shores of Staunton Lake Tams. This 2.5 hectare pond is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish. There is plenty of parking, space for a chair, and the lake is just moments from downtown.
The North River flows east through Augusta County before flowing into the South River at Port Republic and forming the Shenandoah’s South Fork. Hike to the headwaters above Lake Elkhorn to fish for wild brown trout. Below the Elkhorn Dam, stocked sections of the river are referred to as both delayed harvest and put and take. Kayakers hoping for Class II-IV rapids can take a 26-mile paddle from Staunton Dam to Spring Creek.
There are several lakes in the Augusta Counties of George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. This includes 4.5 acre Braley Pond, built for recreation by the US Forest Service in 1965. Visitors enjoy hiking in the secluded, wooded area and fishing for rainbow trout, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and bluegill from the pond’s shore. Another good bet is the 54-acre Elkhorn Lake, the reservoir that supplies the town of Staunton with water and is used for both hot and cold water fishing. Anglers can find largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish and channel catfish. Next, fishermen should check out 7 acres of Hearthstone Lake, which recently received a dam repair but still has a fishable supply of cold water fish. Finally, the two lakes of the Sherando Lake Recreation Area offer rainbow and brown trout, channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill and redfish. The upper lake is 7 acres and has moorings that are accessible to all ages. The lower 20 acre lake is a lovely destination for canoeing or kayaking. Sherando Lake opens for the season on April 1st.
Photo Credit: TwoFisted Heart Productions
Outfitters, guides and rentals:
- South River Fly Shop / Waynesboro: Equipment and guided tours
- Rockfish Gap Outfitters / Waynesboro: Kayak Rentals and Equipment
- Dominion Outdoors / Fishersville: fishing and hunting equipment
- Wilderness Adventures / Staunton: Equipment
Shallow Lake Shenandoah offers easy paddling and access to Harrisonburg. Fishermen can catch largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, carp, channel catfish and musk from the shore or from non-motorized boats. However, the boat ramp will be under construction and will be closed until late winter 2021. The lake is also a good place to spot both migratory and year-round waterfowl. Silver Lake is a second fishing destination in Rockingham County. You will find the shallow water stocked with trout. The South Fork of the Shenandoah River in Rockingham County is one of the premier smallmouth bass and largemouth bass fisheries in Virginia.
Fly fishermen swarm a four-mile stretch of Mossy Creek. The creek flows through private property, but landowners, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Management, and Trout Unlimited have opened a section to the public. Anglers working on the steep banks often catch large catches of brown trout. Fishermen must carry a signed permit along with their VA fishing license.
Hone Quarry is a five and a half acre lake in the George Washington National Forest. It has a primitive boat launch and is stocked with trout, channel catfish, perch, sunfish, and crappie. The Hone Quarry Recreation Area also offers camping and hiking. The nearby 9-acre Briery Branch Lake is stocked with channel catfish and trout. Fishing is permitted from the banks or from small boats, but there is no jetty.
Outfitters, guides and rentals:
- Heartland Outfitters / Dayton: fishing and hunting supplies
- Old Dominion Outfitter and Guide Service / McGaheysville: Guide service for fishing and rafting
- Blue Ridge Outdoor Supplies / Elkton: hunting and fishing accessories
- Mossy Creek Fly Fishing Shop / Harrisonburg: Equipment, courses, guided trips
- Dubby’s Fishing & Hunting / Harrisonburg: Fishing and hunting supplies
- WILD GUYde Adventures / Harrisonburg: Guide service for canoeing
- Massanutten River Adventures / Massanutten: canoe, kayak, rafting and tubing excursions
Page and Warren Counties
Luray’s Cave Pond is a lovely place to wet your hook for catch and release around town. Then, have a picnic and stroll in the hiking pond that circles the pond. Listen to the bells in the nearby singing tower.
As you stroll through Luray on the three-kilometer Luray Hawksbill Greenway, you can fish from the two public piers next to Hawksbill Creek.
Lake Arrowhead Park is east of Luray and has a 34-acre lake managed by the Department of Wildlife and Inland Fisheries and stocked with catfish. You can also catch bass, bluegill, crappie, tiger perch, and pikeperch. For summer fun there is a white sand beach with lifeguards, as well as kayaks and canoes for rent. For a special treat, check out the night cat fishing every 2nd and 4th Friday.
The beautiful, lazy Shenandoah River is a wonderful place to go canoeing or kayaking, and it is also one of the world’s best spots for black bass. You can also catch trout, carp and musk. The South Fork has 20 public access points so you can fish from your canoe or use river access in Port Republic for coastal fishing.
Front Royal’s Eastham Park offers a boat launch and coastal access to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. There is plenty of parking for cars and boat trailers, as well as a hiking trail, picnic area, and dog park.
Outfitters and guides:
- Appalachian Trail Outfitters / Luray: Shoes, clothing, equipment and gifts
- Shenandoah River Adventures / Shenandoah: Canoe, kayak and subway rentals for self-guided tours
- Shenandoah River Outfitters / Luray: Canoe, kayak, subway and raft rentals for self-guided tours
- Downriver Canoe Company / Bentonville: Canoe, kayak, raft, and subway rentals for self-guided tours
- Outdoor Front Royal / Front Royal: Shenandoah River fishing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and subway rides. The 2021 season starts on March 13th
Shenandoah and Frederick Counties
The beautiful Shenandoah River flows south to north through the Shenandoah Valley. The North Fork billows through Rockingham and Shenandoah, counties, offering smooth, clear water, incredible views of Massanutten Mountain, and abundant wildlife, including many species of fish such as large and small bass, channel catfish, crappie, muski, and sunfish. Because of its abundance, the river is widely recognized as one of the 10 best smallmouth bass rivers in America. Since much of the land along the river is privately owned, visitors must use public access points for fishing and boat launching.
Another great spot for fishing and boating is 44-acre Lake Laura at Bryce Mountain Resort in southwest Shenandoah County, near the WV state line. The recently dredged lake, formed by a dam and managed by the Department of Wildlife and Inland Fisheries, reaches 30 feet in places. Fishermen visit the lake year-round and catch largemouth bass, bluegill, pumpkin seed sunfish, crappie, pikeperch, channel catfish and pike. Lake Laura is open to paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes on Memorial Day weekend.
Paddlers looking to spend a day on the water near Winchester will enjoy Cedar Creek’s 20-mile stretch from Middle Road to RT. 11. Expect approximately six hours on the water, which includes a section of Class I and II rapids, but is mostly shallow and gentle. The scenery and mountain views are beautiful and the fishermen are lucky enough to fish for bass and bluegill.
Outfitters and guides:
- Murray’s Fly Shop / Edinburg: equipment, equipment, guide, lessons
- Jake’s Bait and Tackle / Winchester: Bait and Tackle
The 57 mile long main trunk of the Shenandoah River flows through Clarke County and is known as the state river before flowing into the Potomac. This gentle and scenic stretch of the river is popular for tubing, canoeing, and kayaking. There are five public access points. The fish population is dense and the opportunities to catch black bass are excellent. Trout, sunfish, crappies, musk species, channel catfish and others also inhabit the river.
Once a watermelon farm, but now reserved for recreation, the 27-acre watermelon park stretches for miles along the Shenandoah River near Berryville. This park not only offers space for fishing and swimming, but also for your RV, so you can have a longer stay in the area. You can also rent a kayak or subway and shuttle service to various upstream points for a relaxing flight back to your car.
Licenses and permits
Make sure you have an up-to-date Virginia freshwater fishing license in hand before baiting your hook. Many areas also have specific regulations. Contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fishing for more information.
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