On my way back from Whitetop-Laurel, I had a few hours so I diverted to fish the lower Rapidan near Graves Mill. I had been here twice before back in my spin fishing days, but had never spend any real time working this section. Today was to be no different.
Unlike the upper part of the Rapidan that you reach by following the bouncing, rutted road from Criglersville, it’s an easy drive to cruise into the medium-sized parking lot north of Graves Mill. The river runs right next to the lot with a wide, improved trail stretching north. I decided to walk about a quarter mile in and then fish up to the Staunton River. I knew that this was the easiest section to get to and, therefore, would be the most pressured, but I only a two hours so that was as good as it would get.
My real intent was to get a feel for what the water in the SNP looked like after being hammered by drought last year. The answer came quickly. It looks pretty good! There was plenty of volume, with torrents of water sweeping across the rocks. Granted, this was two days after I was blown out at Whitetop by a deluge, but it was encouraging to see flow in an area that is always fairly low – even in a good year.
The water was a cool 44 degrees, no hatch, no noise, and no action on this late afternoon. I worked my way up from pool to pool trying a couple of nymphs and then switching to a BWO with a midge dropper. I know I was deep enough as I was hanging up about every third cast.
The pools were nice. Every large rock formation here marks a pool that is a few feet deep. The challenge in the fast water is to get the nymph down quickly before your rig sweeps to the end of the pool. I weighted mine down with a few split shot and dragged the bottom. No action. No fish, nothing seen.
But the trout are notoriously skittish creatures in this stretch of the Rapidan. Even when I had a great day on the upper section, I had to sneak up from below to plink my spinner over the rocks and into the pools. The upper section is probably not as hammered as the bottom given the road, the hike, and the closed-in nature of the section we fished about a mile down from where the Criglersville road hits the river. There you have to stay in the channel for a long time before you can climb out.
But down here at Graves Mill, the only thing moving was the scenery. Even on this early March day, the promise of the spring was all about. That’s the only thing I had to enjoy on this short trip.
Bottom Line: I’m not a fan of this spot. The only reason I went back here was because it was close and on my way home. If you come to this section, plan on walking in at least a mile to the Staunton and then start fishing upstream.
Getting There: From 29, turn west at the Sheetz station on 230. Follow it (and the signs to Graves Mill) veering onto 662 (Graves Mill Road). Stay on 662 and take a right on Graves Road. It’s a little tricky as going straight at this right turn puts on you Bluff Mt Road. Follow Graves Road to the end and park.
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia
Virginia Trout Streams
Virginia Blue-Ribbon Streams
Plenty of water
Plenty of room to cast
Typically about 2 feet deep in the good spots
Wide but shallow in others
Good pools and structure
Working a nymph
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore