Shenandoah National Park Fly-Fishing: Part VI (South Section)

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

This is the last installment for my series on “The Park”, so get out your map as we wrap up our journey in the Southern Section! Since I have only fished one stream in the Southern Section, I can’t say a whole lot about it.

That stream was the Moorman’s River and you hike down to it from a Parking Lot between Mile Marker #87 & #88. At the bottom when you meet the stream you have to swing right past some private land including a cabin before you put in. I found this to be an average stream. Fish were mostly small until I got into a 9-incher that darted out from behind a rock to nail my fly. The hike back up was rather gruesome because my wife was with me and she was having issues with her calves. We had to stop a lot.

The best stream should be Big Run at Mile Marker #76. This is the only stream in the South Section that Harry Murray discusses in his book, “Virginia Blue-Ribbon Streams, A Fly Fishing Guide”. I found a video on the Internet that showed some guys camping and fishing it. The stream as shown in the video reminded me of Jeremy’s Run in the North Section, already discussed. And that is a good comparison because this is also a rather long stream and to get down to the better sections you are probably going to have to backpack it and camp. Once there you should find some decent fish. This stream appears to have plenty of tributaries, so exploring should work out well.

Other streams include Swift Run, both East and West. They go down either side along Rt. 33. Recall what I said about road streams and ignore them. Ivy Run at about Mile Marker #76 has no trail other than the Appalachian Trail which crosses the very headwaters where it is too small to fish.

You have to rough it down along the stream and Harry Murray admits this is no piece of cake. Madison Run (west slope) and Doyle’s River (east slope) are right across from each other at roughly Mile Marker #83. I notice that Doyle’s has a tributary, Jones Run, which has a trail following it down from Mile Marker #84. This might be one I would explore soon. Paine Run is at Mile Marker #88 across the mountain from the Moorman’s River and Harry speaks well of it. Meadow Run is at Mile Marker #92 and I am not sure if any of these streams have bottom access.

You will find cranky landowners to be a problem that “The Park” has had to deal with for years. Jeremy’s Run, which I discussed earlier, is a good example. Several years ago there was a little old lady that put a jar out for folks to put money into so they could cross her farm to get to the lower end of Jeremy Run Trail. She died and so did the jar. It was replaced with “No Trespassing” signs. “The Park” negotiated a new easement and things were fine until that owner sold a few years ago. The Signs have returned.

I have hardly touched on how I fish “The Park”, but since I have some space, here goes. I am a Dry Fly nut. Some people might prefer the word idiot. Don’t know how many times I’ve been told, “OK, dries are nice, but trout feed 90% of the time below the surface. Try nymphs!”

I dread fishing like that. You can’t see your fly, indicators are a nuisance and you hang up down there on stuff you can’t see that aren’t Trout. And when one does take it, good luck detecting that. They’ll spit your fly out. Many of you are sitting there laughing because you fish nymphs well and have no issue with it. I have never reached a comfort level with fishing wet and I do probably pay a price for that. I recall a time fishing Hunting Creek many years ago. As I made my way up the stream, I soon noticed a guy following me about 50 yards down. I was not doing all that well, maybe a couple fish, and every time I looked downstream that guy was playing or releasing another fish. What bothered me was that he was fishing behind me over fish that I should have spooked. When I finally quit and went down past him, of course I asked him what he was using. He just gave me a one word answer and I left, “Nymphs”.

When I am fishing my dry flies, I can see where they are, what they are doing and when they get hit. All that disappears when I go down wet. I use mostly attractor patterns; the Wulffs, Humpies and of course Mr. Rapidan. I have also discovered the Parawulff, a cross between Wulff’s and Parachutes that have 2 big colorful wings instead of just one. I tend to keep them small; size #16 are my usual, but size #14 and #18 are also used.

My favorite rod is a 7’, 3-weight St Croix Imperial 4-piece. Before that I used 2-piece rods that were mostly 3 & 4 weight and seldom over 7’ in length. I once had a 6’ Fenwick fiberglass rod that was nice but it took 5-wt line and I just sold it last year to somebody that thinks fiberglass is the new graphite!

I tend to stay low, using kneepads to keep down out of the vision of my prey. I have phrases that Harry Murray uses running thru my brain all the time. “Check that tail first. Look for that spot where the fast water meets the slow. Careful on side eddies; those trout are looking at you downstream because they are actually facing the current. Do not ignore the corners; big ones like them. If you take a small one in the tail or in the middle, keep going in that pool. The big one is further up.”

So that is me. I find that the Brookies in “The Park” probably break the rules about how often they feed on top. Dries work well and I only fish wet if I have to. I hope that I have inspired you to try this place if you haven’t. It is worth exploring.

I haven’t mentioned places to stay – there are 4 campgrounds in “The Park” at Matthews Arm, Big Meadow, Lewis Mountain and Loft Mountain as well as some outside of the Park that are more like retreats. One is right on Rt. 211 near Luray, VA. “The Park” campgrounds don’t usually open until May so that one might be your only early season option. Skyland Lodge has cabins but I don’t know the rates and there are also the very rustic (no plumbing or electric) Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), Cabins I mentioned. Motels are at various towns around the Park and vary in rates. I often use one at Luray, VA right near that Campground.

In the May issue of this article it was noted that Hoover Camp and Rapidan Camp were the same. This was incorrect, Hoover Camp, which is in Shenandoah National Park, lies at least a half mile upstream from Rapidan Camp, which is privately operated in the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area just outside “The Park” and is managed by the State of Virginia. “Streamlines” apologizes for the error.