After fishing in the morning at Andrew Guest State Park, I took a quick run south down Rt 653 from Front Royal to visit the canoe launch at Bixler Bridge. Every canoe launch on the Shenandoah is an open invitation to do some fishing. I bet that the water would be low enough to wade fish and won... barely.
When you pull across the bridge heading north on 653, the canoe launch area is to your immediate right and features plenty of parking. There is a rough 4x4 road that runs about 25 yards back from the parking lot to open onto a small clearing. You can use that (I suppose) to get a little farther downstream and a small distance between you and the lot. To use this road, keep driving straight as you pull into the lot and you will see the heavily rutted road/trail that leads to this clearing.
I chose not to do that and just parked under the trees. There were a few canoe guys leaving as I arrived and some others floated through after I started fishing. Seeing that activity did not bother me because I have not found smallies in a big river to be spooky of canoes - these boats are so common, I'm sure they just ignore them.
When I stepped out into the river, I was happy to find that it was generally about 2 to 3 feet deep around the launch. However, as you work downstream, it gets very deep on the left - stay to the ridge in the middle of the river. As you can see from my red line on the map, I had to dodge back and forth a bit to find a path through. Once around the downstream corner, I could see that the river opened up and provides plenty of bank area along the northern side to wade. Sadly, I was not able to move very far downstream as I did not have the time to spend with the prospect of the long drive back to Northern VA after a full day of fishing.
The bottom of the river here is sand - no rock structure to offer refuge to the fish or for you to slip on. As you work down the center of the river, there is a stagnant looking hole on your left in a little cove. Be sure to work it as I saw plenty of surface activity and picked up a smallie or two out of there. On my way back to the truck, I walked along the bank and noticed a number of big guys finning in the shade under the trees that overhang this hole - so don't blow it off just because it looks like a backwater.
It does get deep and if you are a short person, you will have a hard time wading here. Once past the pool, there is a ridge and the depth drops off after it to at least chest high in places. I had to walk carefully to ensure I did not have to rely on my life vest!
In general, this is a nice spot. I wish I had had time to work farther downstream as I am sure the fishing gets better the farther you move away from the launch. After all, a canoe will drift by at the speed of the river and not offer the fisherman much of an opportunity to hit any particular stretch of water. Wading, you can take your time. I used my standard smallie rig consisting of small plastic grubs or floating grasshopper patterns and poppers. While I did not catch anything huge ( I had not discovered those big boys under the tree as I fished downstream), I did catch enough smallies and bluegills to stay interested and happy.
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.
Bottom Line: I'll come back here. I was the only guy fishing on foot and the canoe guys blew through so quickly as I hardly count them. Upstream looks interesting as well. So, low pressure, easy to find, visual sighting of large smallies.... this place looks like a winner.
Getting There: Find Luray, VA on the map. From Rt 340, turn west onto Mechanic Street. (654) and then make a left onto Bixler's Ferry Road (675).
Google Local Coordinates: 38.700784,-78.490963
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a public location that is documented on the American Whitewater site. In addition the VDGIF site has extensive coverage of the Shenandoah.