On my way down to fish the Smith River, I could not resist the opportunity to pull off of Interstate 81 and chase some smallmouth bass. In other articles on this site, I've discussed the great opportunity presented by any bridge. According to the VDGIF web site, VDOT has an easement around every bridge. This makes finding new places to fish as simple as looking at a topo map and finding those crossing points. In this case, a friend referred me to Woodstock and the access associated with Route 609. Since I was driving by, this seemed to be a good time to check it out.
It's an easy turn off from the interstate followed a short drive through town to get onto 609 which leads to the river. The fact that there was a small parking area on the left just upstream of the bridge confirmed that I was certainly not the first person to enter the river at this point. After gearing up, I walked down to the bridge and looked up and downstream. This is a nice spot. Even though the late-season dense grass carpeted the bottom of the river, I could see gaps in that cover and fish moving from my vantage point. The water was crystal clear; which made everything look shallow. Since I knew better,. I climbed down the concreted rocky embankment and entered the water; being careful to navigate around some of the deep pockets that were near the bridge.
The small popper I tied on proved to be instantly productive. Both bluegills and smaller bass attacked it with abandon. I had good action as I worked my way downstream. Even the fallfish got into the fight and I was impressed with their size and the aggressiveness of their late-season strikes. Did I mention the grass? This proved to be a real challenge and is something that is a tough obstacle to work around on any of the smallmouth rivers in Virginia.
The grass provides natural shelter for the fish, which is fine as that protects them from many predators. It also makes presenting your lure problematic. Unless the fish can see it and react to it, you are not going to catch anything. With that in mind, I stuck with noisy, splashy poppers to see if I could rouse any interest. Everything I threw subsurface would come back tangled in weeds. Wherever I could find an open area, I would work the fringes where the grass ended and had pretty good success with that strategy.
About 200 yards downstream from the entry point, the river hits a small riffled bed as it changes gradient and flows into a deeper pool. I took my time to fish that carefully and was rewarded with a flock of big bluegills. I switched out the popper to a subsurface pattern in this spot since its rocky bottom prevented the substantial growth of the long grass. I fished here for about an hour and a half and then concluded that I had to get back on the road or I would not make it down to the Smith River at a decent hour.
Bottom line: As a result of the fish kills that have occurred in the Shenandoah over the last several years, you probably should not have great expectations for trophies. My experience here, as well is on the south fork of the Shenandoah, confirms that the smallmouth are around and growing back. Hopefully, the smart guys can figure out what's causing the kill to protect this great resource. In the meantime, expect to catch plenty of bluegills and a random assortment of fallfish in addition to the scattered smallie or three.
Remember to refer to my rating explanations - these are based on what I look for - so RED for Physical Fitness translates to easy physically - you do not need to be in shape to fish this section. I prefer terrain that is tough to get into and out of.
Given the fact that there was a parking area with scattered bait containers, I assume that this spot gets its fair share of pressure -- particularly, since it is right next to the town of Woodstock. Every bass fisherman in that town probably uses this access point to enter at the river. Given that, it's probably your best strategy to come here on a weekday.
Getting There: Take exit 283 from I81 onto Rt 42 into Woodstock. Turn right on VA 609 (S. Hollingsworth Road) and follow it to the bridge.
Google Local Coordinates: 38.85956,-78.500383
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a public location that is documented on the Virginia VDGIF and in a number of bass forums.