Shenandoah National Park Fly-Fishing: Part IV

by Jerry Tarbell
Read Part I in this series | Read Part II in this series | Read Part III in this series

Continuing the series on “The Park”, as I said in the February installment, it will take several articles to cover all that you can find to fish in the Central Section of “The Park”. So get out that map and let’s continue our journey in the Central Section!

The other side of Weakly Hollow can be just as hectic as the side we discussed last month, where you find the Hughes Network. There is a main parking lot that also features a check in where you must buy a park pass if you don’t have one and again they may spot your fly rod and ask to see a fishing license. This side is also a hiking mecca. Not only can you access Old Rag Trails but now you have the famous White Oak Canyon to deal with. The trail takes you up to Skyland Lodge where you can have lunch and then hike back down. It gets busy so plan to be there early to find a place to park.

So what is the attraction? Waterfalls; big scenic ones! There are no less than six waterfalls ranging from 35’ to 86’ in height and people love them. So if you are seeking solitude and want to get away from the crowd while you fish, this is not your place to do it. Fishing here means you will have an audience of millions and I might not be joking!

There are two streams in the general area – the Robinson River and the Rose River – which meet down below the town of Syria, VA. The Robinson River is the one that goes up thru the canyon. As you can imagine with all the waterfalls, this is a nasty trail and does get steep in several spots. A lot of hikers probably give up after the first mile or so because they aren’t in good enough physical condition to hike this Trail. So bear this in mind when you decide to fish it.

There is also access at the top from the Limberlost Trail at Mile Marker #43. This is a nice little trail and my wife and I have taken our nieces on it to look for birds. I like it because it can put me on the upper part of the stream above the first waterfall. This is a busy part of the stream for fishing but I have done all right up there. Fishing down below amongst all the waterfalls requires some bush-whacking in spots. The trail isn’t always close to the stream and to get to the sections between the waterfalls is often difficult. There is a nice big pool below each waterfall and some of the bigger fish hold in them. Every fish you catch might draw applause from the onlookers, but if you like grandstanding, have at it. Maybe if you tip your hat someone will throw money into it!
There are also some feeder streams worth looking at. Down at the bottom if you take the trail to the left instead of the White Oak Canyon, you will be on Cedar Run. In his book, “Blue Ribbon Streams of Virginia”, author Harry Murray points out a startling fact about this stream; it goes straight down the mountain without a whole lot of bends. That means it can get rugged and you’ll be hiking around some waterfalls. Between them there are some decent fish just as there are in the Robinson River. These streams are not for the faint-of-heart but they do have fish and some nice ones to boot!

The Rose River has fairly good access from both the top and the bottom. Route 670 out of Syria, VA will take you to the lower end of the Rose River Fire Road which roughly follows the stream all the way up the mountain. There is parking for only a few vehicles here so plan to go early. You access it at the top from Fisher’s Gap at Mile Marker #49. However this is still some rugged fishing. For much of its length the fire road is way up on a ridge and getting down to the stream and then back up can be a tough. The stream goes thru some narrow steep canyons and navigating them can be a test. But it can be worth it if you don’t mind the challenge. The lower section of the stream for the first mile or two from the bottom is fairly easy but for that reason it is not the best fishing. You will cross a small bridge over a feeder about a mile and a half up. This stream has no name that I can find on the map, but I have tried it and had mixed results. In April of 2018, I couldn’t get anything to rise, got desperate and put on a Woolly Booger Streamer. The first waterfall I tossed it under, a fish followed it and when I set the hook I had a nice fat 9-incher. The water was high and still quite cold that day and this was the only fish I got. This is also the stream I got that big Brown Trout I alluded to in my first article. That was many years ago but I am still amazed at the distance that fish must have gone to get that far up the little tributary.

There is a more famous and heavily fished tributary up at the top. Hogcamp Branch has two access points. The first is Dark Hollow Falls near the north end of Big Meadows at Mile Marker #51. This is a VERY popular trail and the parking lot can fill up. Again, plan on an audience of millions. The other is the Rose River Fire Road at Fishers Gap. You can hike down the road to the stream and fish up a very steep section with some nice pools.
Or you can take a horse trail to the left off the fire road that eventually takes you to the upper part of the Rose River. There are some nice pools here that you can pick from before you continue on the trail to the lower end of Hogcamp Branch. On that part of the trail you will cross a very small little trickle of a feeder, but while I was crossing it, I tossed my fly into a little puddle of a pool and yanked out a 4” Brookie. This pretty much proves what I said about every stream having something in it. When you get to the lower end of Hogcamp Branch, you will find it to be steep but manageable. There are some nice fish in it so take your time and fish what you like. You will eventually hit the fire road again so you can make a loop back to your vehicle.

In my next installment I will take us to the two most famous and heavily fished streams in “The Park”, the Rapidan River and Conway River. Continue to exercise!