With Blue Ridge on fire in early May, I knew I had to maximize my time on the small streams before they warmed up. I had fished the entire Rapidan from Graves Mill all the way up to Camp Hoover, but I skipped the Staunton river. That was a problem that I was resolved to correct when I rolled into the Graves Mill parking lot at 7 AM on a bright Friday morning.
I had a new weapon with me. I had recently purchased a Tenkara rod from the guys at Mossy Creek at the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival and was anxious to try it out. For details on this rod, whose unique characteristic is that it does not use a reel or traditional fly line, check out my review. The Tenkara is effective in small streams because you don’t have to fight with either a large amount of line or deal with the obstructions that make your backcast problematic. Instead, the 11 foot, very flexible Tenkara rod is perfect for short, targeted casts when you’re dealing with tight spaces.. In addition, if 11 feet is too large based on the overhead cover, you can collapse sections to match the conditions. So if you need a 4 foot rod, it’s easy enough to do.
The trail leading up to the Staunton River runs on a very gradual uphill slope. It’s easy to find the turn into the Staunton since it is marked with an obvious concrete post 0.52 miles from the parking area. If you miss it, you will know it when you cross the river at its junction with the Rapidan. Turn left at the concrete post and follow the trail up to where it joins the Staunton. I recommend that you not start at the first junction since the rocks at that point are broad and scrubbed slick where the water skims over a steep cliff face. Instead, move another hundred yards upstream and then cut over to the water.
One of the things you will notice as you walk up the trail is that there are no beaten paths to the river. By contrast, every pool on the Rapidan is well known and “path marked” given its immense popularity as a fishing destination. I presume that since it’s a steep climb from the concrete post and the river is not as wide as the Rapidan, the Staunton is largely ignored. Another problem with the Staunton is that you face a day of intense bushwhacking to get from location to location in terrain that forces you to stay in the stream bed. And the stream is no easy thing to negotiate. It’s a jumble a large boulders with cobble on the bottom. Each elevation drop produces 3 foot deep pools that hold all the fish. But, don’t just focus on the deep spots. Every section of this river where the water is more than 6 inches deep will hold some kind of brook trout.
There was a hatch exploding when I finally poked my head through the bushes and out onto the water. I quickly tied on a small Adams pattern and began to fish. This Tenkara rod is awesome! Its exceptionally gentle presentation immediately made me a world-class fly fisherman. I thought back and compared it to the slapping of my 4wt fly line on the still pools and could not believe the stealth improvement that casting with only the furled leader gave me. Given the soft landing and the ability to get a totally drag free draft in tight spots by leveraging the 11 foot length that kept most of the line off the water, I began to pick up 6 to 8 inch brookies. When the hatch ended, I switched to a size 18 prince nymph with a very small split shot and continued to pick up fish. I became a total believer in the rod when I stood at the edge of one small pool and pulled out six fish. There was no spooking; just the gentle, imperceptible plop of the fly on the moving water followed by the violent action of the surface strike a foot or two into the drift.
As you fish up the river, it gets steeper and steeper and that’s a good thing. The steep gradient creates an infinite number of small pools that hold trout. Just be aware that at the top end of the track shown, the river enters a gorge and you are committed to stay in it for the next 200 yards.
Bottom Line: If you can deal with small, technical fishing with plenty of overhanging trees, hit the Staunton when the Rapidan is crowded. This spot is well worth many return trips.
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
Google Local Coordinates: 38.443707,-78.369684
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
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Date Fished: 4/30/2010
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore