Every fishing writer who covers the Rapidan focuses on the lower area in the vicinity of Graves Mill. Your next option upstream is the place I discussed in an earlier post where Quaker Run Road eventually intersects with the river after climbing up over the steep mountain from Syria. Having fished there a few times and enjoyed it, I was curious to determine if it got better upstream. The short answer is, “yes”.
But, if you do not have a high clearance vehicle, you must be careful as you continue north from the first intersection of the road with the river. There are some bumpy stretches that, if you hit going too fast, you will leave your muffler behind. However, you can make it all the way to the end if you are cautious. Your biggest challenge in reaching the end is to ignore the great-looking water that you will see as you move farther north. After you cross the second bridge, you go up a steep road that leads high above a canyon that shelters the Rapidan. Fishing that canyon will be the subject of a different post. On this day, I continued past the Rapidan Camp and headed north until I hit the gate that marked the end of the road.
Park in one of the two turnouts and walk down the steep path past a nice campsite and begin fishing upstream. If you walk up the road, you’ll need to bushwhack your way over to the river before it enters a steep “canyon” that would make access more of an exercise in climbing than fishing. The other point is that once you enter the canyon, you are committed for least a quarter-mile before you can get back out. The good news is that it’s a quarter-mile of great small pool fishing for brook trout.
The Rapidan maintains its character in the stretch. It’s full of medium sized boulders that protect a cobble and rock bottom. There is enough change in gradient to create plenty of small pools that range in size from 5 to 10 feet. This is highly technical, focused fishing that makes it challenging for an individual like myself who relies more on luck than skill. Although there is generally room for a backcast, you’ll find that it’s difficult to use much more than your leader. This is a place where you need to downsize your rod if you can — a 2 wt would be a good idea. In addition, there are a few sections where trees present a challenge as they overhang the river and a short stick would be an advantage. If you use spinning gear, you’re in for a tough day of fishing because there is very little in terms of runway to activate a spinner. You’ll make a short flip, do a few cranks on the handle and your retrieve will be over.
I was impressed with the difficulty associated with moving upstream. There are plenty of blowdowns that span the river and force you to detour inland where you must work through thick stands of saplings and dense brush. I used my garden shears to good effect to help get from point A to B. The challenge of movement was more than offset by the active trout. Every “decent” size pool had a few six-inch trout in residence. All of them were happy to eat dry flies and were more than willing to change the menu to nymphs as the sun rose higher in the sky. Just like any wild trout water, caution and silence is a requirement. My kneepads came in handy as I approached some of these pools with a low profile to be able to get into position for the one or two casts that would be allowed without spooking the pool. That caution paid off with a banner day of catching everything from 3″ to a few 8″ trout.
The best place to leave the river, unless you want to fish all the way up to Camp Hoover, who is where the river takes a hard turn to the left along a very steep red dirt embankment. Move upstream another 25 yards and you’ll be able to climb out. Walk perpendicular to the river and you’ll eventually breakout of the thick brush to rejoin the improved road that will lead back to the gate or, if you want to take a break for tourism, up to Camp Hoover.
Bottom Line: Fishing this stretch skews my perspective of the Rapidan. The deep canyons that the river runs through provide a great scenic backdrop for a crystal-clear mountain stream that charges aggressively downstream. Clearly, this merits many return visits to fully exploit the entire length of this classic water.
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. Continue up the road as far as you can go. There is enough parking for a few cars at the gate that blocks further progress.
Google Local Coordinates: 38.487188,-78.405561
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
Date Fished: 4/23/10
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First large pool upstream of the campsite
Typical scene – rocks, pool, rocks
This is “big water” for this section
Plenty of these guys in residence
Blowdowns create obstacles and holding locations for trout
Note trees on the bank – tough to move around
You get a good perspective on the shore cover here
Looking back down from the exit point
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore