It was a fairly warm October day which met the Basswife’s thresholds for going outside in the canoe and I was hopeful that the smallies were still active on the Shenandoah. We hopped on I66 and headed out to Front Royal to fish the junction of the North Fork and the mainstem of the Shenandoah rivers. There is an improved access point at Riverton that is just before you cross the North Fork as you head into front Royal from I66.
We bumped down into the parking lot and I was surprised to see six or seven other trucks were already there. Clearly, this is an active launch area and the number of people implies that the fishing is good here as well. It was far too cold to assume that anyone would be pursuing water sports other than fishing at this time of the year. There were a number of people fishing from the bank right around the launch point, but I did not see them catch anything while we were loading up the canoe. However, the area around the dam looked promising.
We pushed off into the current and began to motor our way downstream as fast as my small trolling motor would take us. I was anxious to get to the mainstem so we only threw a few times at likely looking targets on the North Fork. The stretch of river between the launch and the mainstem is heavily built-up and you can see plenty of houses along the west bank of the river. A number of people were having barbecues on decks that they had built out next to the river and happily waved at us as we motored by. The North Fork is wide and reasonably deep. Although I did not bring my depth finder with me, I estimate that it is 10 to 15 feet deep here based on the length of time it would take for my lure to sink to the bottom.
The character of the river changed dramatically as soon as we reached the mainstem. The water in the North Fork was generally opaque — you could not see more than a foot or two below the surface. The mainstem, on the other hand, was crystal clear. You could see all the way to the bottom without any problems at all. We decided to drift our way downstream against the far bank and started to fish standard bass hardware — plastic worms and grubs. The Basswife was using a spinner since the water was deep enough to keep her from being hung up on underwater obstructions.
We started to drift downstream fairly quickly and I could not figure out why the trolling motor was not holding us in position better. I tried it in all three speeds of reverse with no real result. I looked over the edge of the canoe and was startled to see that I had lost the propeller. No wonder it was not working! It had come loose somehow and I donated a nice Minn-Kota propeller to the Shenandoah.
Since the current was moving right along, I decided to paddle immediately back to the North Fork as I did not want to have to fight the river for an extended period of time to get back to a launch point. Besides, the Basswife gets cranky if she has to paddle excessively. The current in the North Fork was moderate and manageable for a canoe with paddles. If you are going to use a canoe on this stretch of the river and do not have a trolling motor, be prepared to get some exercise. We paddled and fished our way back up to the launch point and only got a couple of hits. We did not get anything hooked up or into the boat.
Bottom Line: Even though we did not have good luck, I was favorably impressed with this spot. On a day with the propeller, the mainstem looks like a great place to fish. I saw a number of other bass boats upstream of the junction so I assume that the fishing is better moving in that direction rather than downstream. That remains something to discover on our next trip.
Getting There: From Northern VA, take exit 6 off of I66 towards Front Royal. Turn left on Guard Hill Rd right before US 340 goes across the North Fork. The turn is right at the bridge. If you go over the bridge, you have gone to far… and may want to check out Happy Creek if it has been stocked.
Google Local Coordinates: 38.949764,-78.198066
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented on the Virginia VDGIF website. The Shenandoah is discussed in the Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia.
Upstream from the launch on the North Fork
Downstream from the launch
Looking back up the North Fork
Upstream on the mainstem
Junction of the NF and the mainstem
Downstream from the junction on the mainstem
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore