The Dry River is an 11 mile section of public water that is heavily stocked by the VDGIF, but also holds brook trout year-round. In fact, many regard this is the best wild brook trout fishery in the area as a result of its rocky bottom and the constant stream of cold water contributed by the Skidmore Reservoir near the border with West Virginia.
The river runs adjacent to US 33 for most of its length; making access easy as a result of the almost infinite number of turnouts. Sadly, the river is a popular destination for 4×4 clubs with numerous rutted trails leading to and from the river. Don’t be surprised if a long line of jeeps interrupts your day as they bump across the river. The VDGIF plants fish four times during spring stocking. As a result, the river is crowded between March and May. As soon as the last truck leaves, so do the crowds. Once into June, you are likely to have the river to yourself.
There are three distinct sections of the river:
1. Dry River from Rawley Springs up to the bridge crossing
2. Skidmore Fork below the Reservoir
3. Skidmore Fork above the Reservoir
The Dry River is stocked up to the bridge crossing and that is where the pressure is greatest. During the heat of the summer, you may not find as many brook trout in the lower section of the Dry River as they point their noses in the direction of the cold water and move upstream or into the shady pockets along the forested bank for their survival. At the bridge, pull off and walk down to the junction of the Skidmore Fork with the Dry River and fish up to the Reservoir. The closer you get, the colder the water becomes – with dense forest protecting the water and keeping it cool. Above the Reservoir, Skidmore Fork follows a rough 4×4 road up to the scenic Flagpole Knob overlook. If you want to fish above the Reservoir, prepare to bushwhack to reach pools large enough to hold anything interesting.
There is no need to use anything heavier than of 4wt rod and that is only needed during the stocking season. At other times of the year, fish this as you would fish a stream in the Shenandoah National Park. Since the river remains shallow, hip waders are adequate.
From I-81, take exit 254 onto US-11 heading towards Harrisonburg. At the end of the exit ramp, turn left and follow US-11 3.9 miles into Harrisonburg. Turn right on US-33 and follow it for 12 miles. The stocked trout water signs appear on the west side of Rawley Springs. The public water stretches from there to the Reservoir.
Best time to fish the Dry River is in the spring and early summer outside of the heat of the day. Mr. Rapidan and mosquito patterns never fail.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore