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Trout Hike – Rapidan River (VA – Middle Upper)

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Lon and I bumped down the rough, rutted road over the mountain from Criglersville following Quaker Run Road from its junction on the Robinson.  We ground to a halt where it met the Rapidan River inside the Shenandoah National Park and considered our options. We could continue on the road and fish our way up into the George Washington National Forest or get out of the truck and walk down towards the Graves Mill access a few miles south and fish back up to the truck.

Given that I had been here before, I recommended we do the latter. Lon agreed and we headed down the mountain to pick a start point. It was hard to resist jumping into the River as we walked down the wide trail. As a result of recent rains, the river was running full and fast with every pool looking deep and robust.  I took Lon down to where the trail crossed the river and recommended we go a little bit farther down as that would allow us to work up a sharp drop in gradient and the deep pools created in that section before we started to fish the flatter section leading up to the truck.

The last time I had been here was the middle of the summer and I was surprised to see how different everything looked in early spring. In summer, once you are in the cut that is below the crossing point, you believe you’re in a deep canyon with no exit until you reach the bend above the Staunton River or, if your fishing upstream, you break back where the trail crosses the River. The sparse spring vegetation revealed a totally different picture. While you may have to scramble up some steep hills and over rocks to get back to the trail, the trail never is that far away.

We walked about a half mile below the crossing point and began to fish from there. As we were loading up our flies, we ran into a couple of other fly fishermen who had walked up from the Graves Mill parking lot. I was surprised to see them as I thought we were farther away from that entrance. When I got home and looked at the map, I realized that we had walked a greater distance than I had planned. That was all good, more River to fish!

Lon I split up and he started working upstream and I walked down to the bend the river where I knew there would be a pool. After tying on an orange woolly bugger, I began to work at the pool and was totally stunned to tie into a 14 inch trout on the third or fourth cast. After gently playing it to the side of the river, I took a quick picture and released it. I’ve never caught a fish that large in this section of the Rapidan before. I fished the corner pool and the water downstream about 25 yards for the next 45 minutes getting good rises on an Adams pattern and a size 16 Mr. Rapidan. Other than the large brook trout, I was unable to bring anything else to hand. I headed upstream catch up with Lon but he was out of sight and a half mile ahead of me.

Looking ahead, I realized that the river would present many challenges. The higher level reduce the amount of fishable water in each of the plunge pools. On a normal day, the water would be gently spill in and it would allow you to drop in Nymphs, dry flies, or streamer at the head of the pool and work it back. But with the water running fast, it limited the amount of time your fly would be presented to the waiting fish as it would be swept quickly back to where you were standing at the tail of the pool.

This limited the fishable parts of the river to those pools that had a long narrow tail. While Lon and I both picked up a few fish as we worked our way back up to the crossing point, we did not have a spectacular day other than the fact that we were outside in beautiful weather and a scenic setting.

This river is a rough and tumble. You find yourself climbing over rocks and under trees to move from place to place. Once the leaves are on the trees and branches have grown out for the summer that will create a tangle of vegetation that will make movement even more problematic. You should expect to spend a significant amount of time in this stretch of the river if you decide to fish it. In addition to the time it would take to walk downstream from Quaker Run Road or upstream from Graves Mill, you must add that to the time it will take to move from pool to pool over the rough terrain. You could spend all day here. As it was, we spent five hours fishing this section. I was encouraged that there was as much fish activity as we encountered and recognize that we would’ve had better luck if the water had not been so high.

Not bad – only 264′ of vertical drop

Bottom Line: it goes without saying that the Rapidan is one of the premier fishing rivers in the Shenandoah National Park. In addition to the section we finished, the River is fishable upstream for a mile or more. Granted, the higher up you go, the skinnier the water gets, but there will always be enough pools to make the trout hike a blast. I would come back here without a second thought and recommend it to anyone who wants to fish in the park

Getting There: Navigate to Banco, VA and head north on Rt 231.  Turn left onto Rt 670 (Old Blue Ridge Turnpike).  Follow that through Criglersville and turn left on Quaker Run Road (Rt 649).  Follow it over the mountain and it will run next to the Rapidan once you go down the other side.  Park where the road meets the river or anywhere upstream.

Google Local Coordinates: 38.46208, -78.36556

Secrets Revealed?  No.  This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:

Virginia VDGIF
Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia 
Virginia Trout Streams 
Virginia Blue-Ribbon Streams 
Fly Fishing Virginia 

Date Fished: 04/24/2009

Looking upstream from the southern tip of the red line on the map

Looking downstream towards the Staunton River

Some of the big boys were moving!!

General perspective of the river looking upstream

Flatter spots were easier to fish

Elevation drops consistently produce the better pools

Lon working the pool just above where the trail cuts across the river

Deep but the 48 degree water suppressed activity

High levels of flow after the rains blew out some of the bigger pools

This is the path that goes all the way down to the southern entrance

Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore

Disclaimer and Warning:  The contents of this site reflect the opinion of the author and you, the reader, must exercise care in the use and interpretation of this information.  Fishing is a dangerous sport.  You can slip and fall on rocks and sustain severe injury.  You can drown.  You can get hooks caught in your skin, face, eyes or other sensitive places.  All sorts of bad things can happen to you when to go into the woods to visit the places documented here.  Forests, streams and lakes are wild areas and any number of bad things can happen.  You must make your own judgment in terms of acceptable behavior and risk and not rely on anything posted here.  I disclaim all liability and responsibility for any actions you take as a result of reading the articles on this site.  If you do not agree with this, you should not read anything posted on this site.

Disclaimer and Warning:  The contents of this site reflect the opinion of the author and you, the reader, must exercise care in the use and interpretation of this information.  Fishing is a dangerous sport.  You can slip and fall on rocks and sustain severe injury.  You can drown.  You can get hooks caught in your skin, face, eyes or other sensitive places.  All sorts of bad things can happen to you when to go into the woods to visit the places documented here.  Forests, streams and lakes are wild areas and any number of bad things can happen.  You must make your own judgment in terms of acceptable behavior and risk and not rely on anything posted here.  I disclaim all liability and responsibility for any actions you take as a result of reading the articles on this site.  If you do not agree with this, you should not read anything posted on this site.

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