My last visit to the Dry River area prior to this visit was in January 2006 when we fished the lake at Skidmore Dam. On the way out, we did a small detour to fish for an hour or so at the base of the run from the Dam. This location marks the start of the lower Dry River. Even in January, we picked up fish. Based on that promise, I stopped here for a quick two hour side trip on the way back from a longer trip to West Virginia.
Heading east from Skidmore, the Dry River parallels Route 33 for several miles. A lot of the 4×4 clubs use this area of Virginia as their playground, so if you want to do some 4×4 as well as fish, this is the place to come. If you follow this link, it will take you to a great website put up by 4x4icon; a dedicated blogger who provides detailed trip reports on every 4×4 trip he and his club go on – complete with pictures and maps…. in fact, his site was the inspiration for this one!
But, back to fishing. It’s kind of a crap shoot as you drive down 33 since you cannot see the river. The river is set back about 100 or more yards in places. However, there are plenty of turnoffs that lead to the river; each provides an opportunity for excitement. Any turn immediately puts you in 4×4 country with rough roads and deep dips. The 4×4 exposure is brief to get to the water, but most of the turnoffs demand a high clearance vehicle. You could always park near the road and walk in since it is not that far.
The Dry is not really dry. As long as the water flows from Skidmore Dam, the conditions will be fine. While there is no doubt that the river will have water, there is an issue with its gentle gradient. It runs through a flatland that produces long stretches that are shallow and wide. Your challenge is to either be patient enough to walk up the river until you find some pools or be lucky enough to hit a turnoff that is near some pools. You will not find deep dark holes here. Instead, you encounter dots of water that the river sprinkles randomly throughout its course. The trout do not seem to mind the wide shallow pools as most sport cover in the form of rocks and fallen trees. While the trout tolerate the shallow water, they will not tolerate a sloppy approach and are very, very skittish. Kick rocks as you walk up and you will see them scatter like kids caught TP’ing a house.
On this late September afternoon, I pulled off in the middle section because I wanted to drive up to the water/terrain feature marked on the map to check it out in addition to the trout hunt. As I bounced off the hardball, I flipped the Ranger into 4×4 and bumped my way through some dips and holes to pull into a clearing on the edge of the Dry. The water was clearly down, not surprising after a summer of drought, but there was still an adequate flow. As I pulled the truck into a shaded nook that would conceal it while I fished, I noticed that the trout were already active on the pool next to me and rising to the top; snapping gently at unknown surface insects. Hot dang! Action!
I quickly rigged up my 4wt and tied on a Mr. Rapidan. I decided to go generic since I did not really want to spend the time sniffing for bugs – I wanted to fish. I threw in the vicinity of the rises and, despite my limited fly skills, immediately started getting hits. On the first pool, I successfully panic-yanked my fly away from about 6 hits, catching nothing. When that pool went dead because of the associated commotion, I moved upstream and found a run fed by another nice pool.
I worked this one with more patience and was rewarded by picking up some nice little brookies. While the fish here are not huge, it was a heck of a lot of fun to slowly work up the run and carefully place that Mr. Rapidan where he would do the most good…. for me, anyway.
After spending about 30 minutes attacking this section, I snuck up to the upstream pool; hunched over, using careful and cautious steps. Most of the pool was shallow but it had deep undercuts on the left and a bit of structure from some spindly trees that had collapsed into the River. Sure enough, it produced some nice brookies as well; those guys fell in love with that Mr. Rapidan.
Thankfully, I did not need a high degree of technical skill. Since most casts were short, even my halting roll cast could reach the waiting brookies who lurked a mere 10 to 20 feet away. Yes, it was close combat! Another reason to sneak and peek.By now, the time rolled up on 1800 hours, I decided to call it a day. I still wanted to do a recon of another lake to determine if it might hold enough fish to be worth a future visit. I trotted back to the truck and saw some college age girls bouncing along the deeply pocked 4×4 trail in their truck. As we waved at each other I thought it was great that the girls were outdoors playing in the woods instead of cruising a mall. I did not notice any fishing rods in the back of the truck, but maybe that’s their next step. Seeing an old guy stagger out of the river probably would not encourage them in that direction.
After backing the Ranger out, I retraced the girls’ path to move downstream and crossed the shallow, rocky ford with no problem. The road, if you can call it that, up to the lake was pitted, rutted and pretty nasty. You really need a 4×4 to negotiate the first 50 yards, then it smoothes out to just put some bounce on your springs.
As I crested the hill, the sight of a small, still pond behind a large earthen dam climbed into view. I’m not sure if this body of water provides any flow into the Dry River since the huge Skidmore impoundment is just up the road, but it looked like it would support fishy life. From where I sat at the top, I could see the road would wind around and end on a flat area across the small pond, but, with a look at my watch, I decided that I did not have time to fish it. With this spot ticked in my mind as needing a future trip, I turned back to 33 and headed east for the 3 hour drive home.
Bottom line: Nice spot for brookies. Nothing big here. But, if you want a brookie, come here rather than the Shenandoah until the rain relieves the stress on the fish in the park. I put this down as YELLOW for pressure – I think most of the folks who use this area are 4×4 enthusiasts. However, the Dry does get 5 stockings, so I imagine it gets crowded after the stock truck leaves.
Getting there: Just follow Rt 33 west from Harrisonburg. If you want to fish Skidmore Dam, turn off on FDR 227 after you drive past all the fishable sections of the Dry – it will be a left about half way up the mountain into West Virginia.
The Dry – typical shallow and wide stretch
The pool on the lower left of this photo had plenty of brookies. I parked the truck in the shaded area dead center of the picture.
Dry River – quiet pool. Note how clear the water is
Another pool heading to the west on the red line
This run had some deep spots
Typical Dry River brookie – popped him back in along with the others
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore