Shenandoah River (south fork) 05/29-30/2015

My oldest brother emailed me a month or so before this trip about getting out to the Shenandoah. I am lucky enough to have a close high school friend whose family owns 7 acres right on the water about 20 miles north of Luray. We decide to head to the river after work Friday and invited a rather large group. However, other than my oldest brother, Patrick and myself, only two friends made the trip with us. I met up with Wes at my parent’s house near Culpeper. We loaded up my canoe on top of my parent’s Subaru Forest, packed the car with all the necessary supplies for glamorous riverfront camping, and headed for Luray. Of course, once we reached Luray we instinctively made a stop at Wal-Mart and purchased food and a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on how you look at it) about of beer. Other than the obligatory, case of light beer, we added a few tasty numbers from the 21st Amendment Brewery. Hell or High Watermelon might be one of my favorites.

Wes and I planned on meeting Patrick and Max (Patrick’s coworker) at the campsite around 10 PM that evening. Wes and I reached the campsite somewhere around dusk, pitched our tent, built a fire, charcoaled up the grill, and relaxed in a couple comfy chairs. After a few dogs off the grill, as well as a few cold ones, we began to wonder when Patrick and Max would arrive. The drive in provides little difficulty, however, if one takes a few turns with a little too much speed, a rather large drop-off awaits. In addition, it’s easy to miss the driveway late at night. I figured they simply misjudged their arrival time. They pulled in around midnight. We showed Max around the campsite (which is a real peach!) helped set up their tent, kept the fire burning, and held friendly conversation for another hour or two. Then, we happily made the 10 step trek to the tents and called it a night. Going to bed with a nice beer-buzz, a relaxed mind, a tired body, and a cozy sleeping bag is tough to beat. We drifted into our sleep cycles quite quick.

-Morning view from the middle of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. I waded out around 7:30 AM

We woke to a cloud covered sky and a rather cool morning. Given the typical summer heat of Virginia, a cool morning sure feels nice and refreshing! I ate a quick breakfast, lined up my Orvis Encounter 5 Weight with a sinking tip line and a size 6, Olive, Bead Head Woolly Bugger. The rock ledges, downed trees, and occasional patches of long underwater grass make for great fish habitats. I believe my first fish to be a 4 inch Bluegill.  Shorty after, I landed a number of Smallmouth Bass. I threw my line into a new location, stripped in the bugger and slam! I was in a fight with a monster. I thought to myself, “big fish, big fish!” and “I hope my 8 pound leader holds this momma!”. After several minutes I brought in a nice 14 inch Smallie that not only put up a nice fight, but looked like she was about to pop (she was pregnant). Early in the morning, standing waist deep in the historical Shenandoah I landed beauty. Happiness; pure happiness.

-Nice little Smallie I caught. This is about the size of the one Max fought, pictured below. Somewhere around 8 inches.

This 14 inch beauty of a fish smacked my woolly bugger. She was with children and possessed an appetite.

Somewhere between my first and fifth fish, Max came out and joined me. I never fished with Max before but soon found myself enjoying his company. He asked the usual questions you ask someone who continuously catches fish while nothing seems to even take notice of your fly: “how far you casting, what fly is in use, stripping pattern?”, and all that good stuff. I thought of two possible reasons (at least legitimate reasons, other than I’m simply a better fly fisherman than Max) why I attracted my subsurface dwelling targets while Max stood empty-handed…other than the rod. He still had that in his hands. The first, I had a sinking tip line and therefore, my fly got down closer to the nooks and crannies of the rock ledges and second, which seems to be a problem with a lot of anglers, Max fished the same area for 20 to 30 casts. Now, I don’t know for certain, but I feel if the fish uses cover for shelter, they generally won’t stray too far from it. So, if I cast to a certain location 5 times with no luck, I move on. I cast a few feet to either size, a shorter distance, or a little farther ahead to where the pescados might be holding.

Rather than watch Max struggle while I snatched up fish after fish, I traded rods with him and told him where to cast. Like magic, he landed a fish. This just goes to show that your first option shouldn’t always be to change to fly, but to change the depth, the stripping pattern, the location, etc… before you waste time and materials with a fly switch.

-Max, in an epic battle with a nice Smallmouth Bass.

After an hour or so of fishing near the campsite, we loaded the truck with the canoe and two kayaks, hopped in the back and headed for the Shenandoah River Outfitters. Stevie, our cousin, was supposed to meet up with us at the outfitters. However, his car managed to conch-out on him while cruising down I-66.We always stop in there and grab a map, a snack, and ask about any water conditions we should be aware of before we float the mighty Shenandoah. We floated about 6 miles that afternoon, and reached the campsite around 3 PM. While on the trip, we spin-cast a little, drank a lot, and stumbled upon a group of Mennonites doing some sort of courtship-canoe-trip. Max found this situation quite enthralling and managed to get in between the group of about 20 canoes with his beer can-lined kayak, no shirt, and curious look upon his face. We laughed at his foolishness from a safe distance as the group of Mennonites gave looks of discontent. He said he felt as if he took part in a “case study, observing his specimens in their natural habitat”. No doubt this was the alcohol talking.

-Another morning view

Max soon hit the snooze bottom and we tied a rope from our canoe to his kayak for an hour or so and dragged him drunkenly snoring along. We loaded up and headed back to our respective locations… after our traditional stop in Luray for Taco Bell and ice cream . YOLO!

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