The winter weather makes all but the hardiest of cold-water anglers shiver at the thought of water, but in a few weeks, we’ll all be ready to get out there and enjoy the Shenandoah Valley’s lakes and rivers. Since over 20 species of freshwater fish make their home in Virginia, many of us will be holding a rod, but the Valley is also packed with places to paddle. Here are some of our favorite destinations for fishing and floating. Start planning your adventure today!
Recently designated a scenic river, The Upper James River Water Trail stretches for 59 miles of the James River from its headwaters in Botetourt County to Glasgow in Rockbridge County.
The UJRWT is a favorite destination for anglers from all across the country who catch sunfish, smallmouth, spotted, and largemouth bass, and channel and flathead catfish. The UJRWT also offers many opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and rafting adventures.
Buena Vista’s Glen Maury Park is an excellent spot to take the family on a fishing adventure on the Maury River, which flows through Rockbridge County for its entire length. The Maury River can be fished from its bank as well as from canoes launched at the park’s boat ramp. It is stocked with trout eight times each year. Fishermen can also catch rock and small-mouth bass, fallfish, and bluegills.
If white-water paddling is up your alley, take a trip to the popular 6-mile Goshen Pass, where the beautiful Maury River cuts through Little North Mountain. You’ll encounter powerful class II, class III, and even named class IV rapids like Corner Rapid and Devil’s Kitchen. Here’s a cool TikTok video of paddling Goshen Pass!
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The South River flows north through the Valley, eventually merging with the Middle and North Rivers to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Fed by cold mountain streams, The South River supports both warm and cold water fishing. Several sections are stocked with brown and rainbow trout, and fishermen can also catch smallmouth, largemouth and rock bass, fallfish, and redbreast sunfish. Part of the South River from Ridgeview Park to Basic Park makes up the 4-mile Waynesboro Water Trail. Here paddlers will find boat launches, gentle rapids, and one of only two urban trout fisheries in the state.
Fishermen of all ages can fish from the easy-to-access banks of Staunton’s Lake Tams. This 2.5-acre pond is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish. There’s ample parking, room to set up a chair, and the lake is moments away from downtown.
The North River flows eastward through Augusta County before joining the South River at Port Republic to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah. Hike in to the headwaters above Elkhorn Lake to fish for wild brook trout. Below Elkhorn Dam, stocked sections of the river are designated both delayed harvest and put and take. Kayakers hoping to find some class II-IV rapids can put in for a 26-mile paddle from Staunton Dam to Spring Creek.
Several lakes can be found in Augusta County areas of George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. These include 4.5-acre Braley Pond, which was built for recreation in 1965 by the U.S. Forest Service. Visitors enjoy hiking in the remote, forested setting and fishing from the pond’s shoreline for keeper-sized rainbow trout, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and bluegill. Another good bet is 54-acre Elkhorn Lake, the reservoir that supplies water to the city of Staunton and is managed for both warm and cold-water fishing. Anglers can find largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, and channel catfish. Next, fishermen should check out 7-acre Hearthstone Lake, which has recently undergone dam repairs, but still has a fishable supply of cold-water fish. Finally, Sherando Lake Recreation Area’s two lakes boast rainbow and brook trout, channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, and redear sunfish. The upper lake is 7 acres and has fishing piers, making it accessible for all ages. The lower 20-acre lake makes a nice destination for carry-in canoeing or kayaking. Sherando Lake opens for the season on April 1.
Photo Credit: TwoFisted Heart Productions
Outfitters, Guides, and Rentals:
Shallow Lake Shenandoah offers easy paddling and access to Harrisonburg. Fishermen can catch largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, carp, channel catfish, and musky from the shore or from non-motorized boats. The boat ramp, however, will be under construction and closed through late winter, 2021. The lake is also a good spot to see both migrating and year-round waterfowl. Silver Lake is a second Rockingham County fishing destination. You’ll find the shallow waters stocked with trout. The South Fork of the Shenandoah River in Rockingham County is one of Virginia’s premier smallmouth and largemouth bass fisheries.
Fly fishermen rave about a 4-mile stretch of Mossy Creek. The creek flows through private property, but landowners, The Virginia Department of Wildlife Management, and Trout Unlimited have made a section open to the public. Anglers who work the steep banks often score big catches of brown trout. Fishermen must carry a signed permit card along with their VA fishing license.
Hone Quarry is a five and a half acre lake located in the George Washington National Forest. It has a primitive boat launch and is stocked with trout, channel catfish, bass, sunfish, and crappie. Hone Quarry Recreation area also offers camping and hiking. 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 boat launch.
Outfitters, Guides, and Rentals:
Page and Warren Counties
Luray’s Cave Pond is a nice place to wet your hook for some in-town catch-and-release fishing. Afterwards, have a picnic and a stroll on the walking pond that circles the pond. Listen for the bells at the nearby Singing Tower.
If you’re walking along the two-mile Luray Hawksbill Greenway through Luray, you can fish adjacent Hawksbill Creek at the two universally accessible fishing piers.
Just east of Luray, Lake Arrowhead Park has a 34-acre lake that’s managed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and is stocked with catfish. You can also catch bass, bluegill, crappie, tiger perch, and walleye. For summer fun, there’s a white sand beach staffed with lifeguards as well as kayaks and canoes for rent. For a special treat, check out the night catfishing on each 2nd and 4th Friday.
The beautiful, lazy Shenandoah River is a wonderful place to float your canoe or kayak, and also one of the world’s best sites for smallmouth bass. You can also catch largemouth, carp, and musky. The South Fork has 20 public access points, so you can fish from your canoe or take advantage of shoreline fishing access to the river in Port Republic.
Front Royal’s Eastham Park provides a boat launch and shoreline access to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. There’s lots of parking for cars and boat trailers as well as a hiking trail, picnic area, and a dog park.
Outfitters and Guides:
- Appalachian Trail Outfitters / Luray: Shoes, clothes, equipment, and gifts
- Shenandoah River Adventures / Shenandoah: Canoe, kayak, tube rentals for self-guided tours
- Shenandoah River Outfitters / Luray: Canoe, kayak, tube, raft rentals for self-guided tours
- Downriver Canoe Company / Bentonville: Canoe, kayak, raft, and tube rentals for self-guided tours
- Front Royal Outdoors / Front Royal: Shenandoah River Fishing, Kayak, Canoe, Raft, and Tube Trips. 2021 season starts March 13
Shenandoah and Frederick Counties
The beautiful Shenandoah River flows south to north through the Shenandoah Valley. The North Fork, undulates through Rockingham and Shenandoah, Counties, offering smooth, clear water, incredible views of Massanutten Mountain, and lots of wildlife, including many species of fish like large and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, crappie, muski, and sunfish. Because of its abundance, the river is widely considered one of the top 10 smallmouth bass rivers in America. Since much of the land lining the river is privately owned, visitors must utilize public access points for fishing and boat launching.
Another good spot for fishing and boating is 44-acre Lake Laura at Bryce Mountain Resort in southwestern Shenandoah County near the WV state line. Formed by a dam, and managed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the recently dredged lake reaches a depth of 30 feet in places. Fishermen visit the lake all year, catching largemouth bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, crappie, walleye, channel catfish, and northern pike. Lake Laura opens for paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes on Memorial Day weekend.
Paddlers looking for a day on the water near Winchester will enjoy the 20-mile stretch of Cedar Creek from Middle Road to Rt. 11. Expect to spend about six hours on the water, which includes a section of class I and II rapids, but is mostly flat and gentle. The scenery and views of the mountains are lovely, and fishermen will have luck fishing for bass and bluegill.
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The 57-mile main stem of the Shenandoah River flows through Clarke County and is designated a state scenic river before joining the Potomac. This gentle and scenic section of river is popular for tubing, canoeing, and kayaking. There are five public access points. The fish population is dense and the opportunities to catch smallmouth bass are excellent. Largemouth, sunfish, crappie, musky, channel catfish and others populate the river as well.
Once a watermelon farm, but now set aside for recreation, 27-acre Watermelon Park stretches for miles along the Shenandoah River near Berryville. This park offers not only space for fishing and swimming, but also for your RV so you can have an extended stay in the area. You can also rent a kayak or a tube and shuttle service to various points upstream from which you can enjoy a lazy float back to your car.
Licenses and Permits
Make sure you have a current Virginia freshwater fishing license in hand before you bait your hook. Many areas also have special regulations. For information, visit the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fishing.