Fly Fishing the Shenandoah River for Smallmouth Bass

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Fly fishing for smallmouth bass in the Shenandoah River Valley offers excellent angling in a charming and historic region.

The smallmouth bass in the Shenandoah River don’t rival those we have in Missouri, but the charm of the region is worth the trip.

We’ve reached the point in winter where updating and organizing gear becomes a sport. My tackle bags are as clean as they’ll be all year. My guns are oiled and lined up perfectly in their safe. There is new line on my fly reels. Memories of past adventures help pass the time.

My mind drifts back to the Shenandoah River Valley of Virginia. The region offers excellent angling surrounded by incredible historic sites. Noted mainly for smallmouth bass and brook trout, Civil War battle sites and a premier national park.

While browsing bookshelves one day, Harry Murray, struck a nerve with his title Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass. I bought and read the book, and afterwards visited Harry’s website. While exploring the many pages, I noticed Harry offered a smallmouth bass fishing school and guided trips in the shadow of the Shenandoah National Park. I had long wanted to visit this park, so I decided to turn the adventure into a fishing trip.

History and ambiance of early American culture appeals to me, and since I was taking my wife on a fly fishing trip for our anniversary, I found a special place to stay. The Inn at Narrow Passage is a 1740’s Bed & Breakfast located on the Civil War Trail running along side the Shenandoah River. General Stonewall Jackson utilized the inn as a headquarters during 1862 and dispatched orders from the dinning hall. The beauty of the property, coupled with the elegant country charm of the surrounding area, provided us a wonderful stay.

Sitting alone in the dimly lit dining hall eating breakfast, I stared at the original fireplace Stonewall had warmed himself beside. I could see him rubbing his hands together over the open flame, contemplating his next move. Then, after taking a bite of some fancy pastry, I remembered I was there to fish. After thanking Ed, my host, for a wonderful breakfast, I hit the road for Murray’s Fly Shop in Edinburg.

Murray’s reminded me of what you would see out west; a fly shop right in the middle of the small town main street shops. Harry’s a pharmacist, so his fly shop doubles as a pharmacy. His customers can stop by to pick up a prescription and some poppers in one trip.

I was excited to take part in Murray’s fly fishing class, which was limited to 10 students and 2 instructors. Harry’s son Jeff and Chuck were our instructors for the two day course. Day one started with a slide show of the basics: rod selection, casting, flies, and tools. Some of the students had never held a fly rod before. Upon assuring each student’s comfort level, Jeff moved into the most important topic, reading water. Using slides that are actual pictures of where we would fish, Jeff pointed out riffles, runs, pools, seams, eddies and so on. Once the class had a grasp on what to do and expect from the day we caravanned down to the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.

The fishing was great for beginners. There are so many smallmouth bass in the river a novice will catch fish all day long. The only downside is most of the fish were small. A 10” bass is average and many are smaller, but big ones are in there. I saw them rolling and flashing their bronze bodies along the bottom, and pictures don’t lie. Remember though, these guys get real excited about 6” brook trout, as well.

The area just isn’t blessed with smallies the size of those in Missouri, but Jeff Murray can hook you into a big one on a guided trip, if that’s what you’re really after. For a beginner, who really needs to gain the basics of knowledge and confidence of catching, Murray’s school is outstanding.

Shenandoah National Park did not disappoint. For the first time ever, I stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail. I hope to see each and every foot of the trail someday. Virginia was beautiful and meeting the fine author and angler, Harry Murray, and his son Jeff was an outstanding experience.

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler


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