Fly Fishing Shenandoah National Park (An Angler’s Guide)

The ultimate guide to fly fishing Shenendoah National Park by an angler who has spent a lifetime fly fishing Shenendoah. Learn all you need.

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Shenandoah National Park fly fishing is phenomenal. You have the option to pursue just about any freshwater fish you can imagine inside the park.

Located in western Virginia, this 300 square mile park is located in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley. It’s loaded with mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, and freestone streams.

If fly fishing Shenandoah Park sounds intriguing to you, check out the article below. I’ll go over where to fish, what kind of fish you’ll be targeting, and some of the top flies to use.

Don’t miss our full guide to Fly Fishing in Virginia.

Fly Fishing Shenandoah National Park: Why Go?

As a Virginian I’m biased, but it’s easily one of the prettiest spots to go visit in the country. It has beautiful valleys, mountains, and towns, and there’s some great fishing in the park.

Fly fishing Shenandoah National Park

If the idea of chasing native trout sounds good to you, then the park is a great spot to do it. Native brook trout are abundant in mountain streams. Also, there are spring-fed rivers that hold brown and rainbow trout for year-round fishing.

Species for Shenandoah National Park Fly Fishing

I spoke about trout above, and there’s also an abundance of smallmouth and largemouth bass in the Shenandoah River. It’s the same with panfish, crappie, and carp, and the state even stocks muskie in the river. Below I’ll cover them in-depth.

Brook Trout

The park is loaded with brook trout. There are streams with stockers that the state allows you to retain during stocking months. Or, there are streams full of colorful natives. Adams, caddis, and San Juan worms are great year-round. Beetles and ants are great for summer.

Smallmouth Bass

The Shenandoah River is a pretty good smallmouth fishery. It’s not as great as the New River, but it has a good number of fish. Streamers, crawfish, and poppers are great year round flies for these.

Smallmouth Bass Mouth Closeup Vertical

Brown/Rainbow Trout

I put these two together because most streams that contain one also contain the other. Like with brook trout, there are stocked areas where you can retain them during certain times of the year. Nymphing is the most common way to catch them.

Best Spots for Fly Fishing Shenandoah National Park

Below, I’ll go over three different bodies of water for fly fishing in Shenandoah National Park. Each has its pros and cons, and different fish are in them.

They are in different parts of the park, too. That way, if you find yourself closer to the northern end, you can utilize that portion instead of driving the full length to the opposite end.

Rapidan River

There might not be a more famous Shenandoah National Park trout fishing river than the Rapidan River. There’s even a fly named after Mr. Rapdian. This river has some of the best hatches in the entire state.

Fly fishing Rapidan River

It’s only 75 miles from DC, Making it an easy spot to get to. The river is available through different parking areas along Skyline Drive. A short hike is all it takes to get to the river. Be wary of weekend traffic, especially during peak seasons.

South River

Located in the middle of the park, the South River has a few different areas where you’re able to hop in and fish. The most popular section runs through downtown Waynesboro. You can easily park your car and take a short walk to the river.

This spring-fed river allows you to catch brown and rainbow trout year-round, with the occasional brookie slipping in. There’s a lot of pressure on this river, so technical and seasoned anglers are most successful here.

Big Run

This might be the best fly fishing in Shenandoah National Park. The river can be accessed easily thanks to several marked trails off of Skyline Drive. Beware, you need to do lot of hiking if you want to fish here.

Fly fishing in the beautiful Big Run in Shenandoah National Park

People willing to make the hike will be rewarded with some great brook trout fishing. Natives and stockers are plentiful, and on good days you can see a fish strike at almost every cast. Adams and Hare Ears work great.

Best Flies for Shenandoah National Park

Below, I’ll go over a few different flies that you should always have in your tackle box when fishing in Shenandoah National Park. Check them out and see which one you like the best.

Quill Gordon

In early to late spring, it’s essential you have a Quill Gordon with you. Of course, sizes always vary, but a size 14-16 will get the most use.

You can use these on spring-fed or freestone streams to try to attract a bite from a brook, brown, or rainbow trout. See if the fish are rising first before attaching this fly.

Mr. Rapidan

It’s ideal for peak spring fishing. You can catch brookies all day on Mr. Rapidan. You’ll own the park. From March until May/June you can use this fly with incredible success.

This is a great fly for attacking trout in those choppy mountain streams. It stays high on top of the water, so you can easily see a bite and the fish can see the fly as well.


As long as there’s consistent rain, then there’s no reason not to fish the park during the summer. Terrestrials like beetles, ants, and San Juan worms are all dangerous this time of year.

If you see a lot of beetles or other critters flying around, then a dry fly will work well. After a rain, try using a sinking ant or a San Juan worm.


If you plan on chasing smallmouth, then a crawfish fly is something you need to have in your fly box. This can be used year-round and should be dragged across the bottom or hopped along in the current of the rivers.

You can use many different colors, but the most popular is usually either an olive green or brown. Other colors can work, but it’s usually a under specific condition when blue or other colors would work with success.


If you want to fish for trout in the winter in any of the spring-fed or tailwaters, then a midge will be your best bet. Get used to throwing light tippets and lighter flies during this time of the year.

If you love to fish and will brave the conditions, then you’ll be rewarded with a good day of fishing. Large fish and good numbers of fish can be caught in these streams and rivers during the coldest time of the year.

Shenandoah National Park Fishing Season

There is no closed or open season for trout in the state of Virginia. So, feel free to fish for browns, ‘bows, or brooks year-round. However, the best time of the year to fish for them is in the spring. The fall is second-best.

The spring has an abundance of hatches across the state, allowing you to catch rising fish that are hungry and looking to eat.

Shenandoah National Park Fishing Report

The Shenandoah River is a great spot to go after smallmouth. There’s an abundance of solid fish that will eat all day. Summertime is popular for targeting them. Floating cicadas work well in the mornings and evenings, and crawfish during midday.

The Shenandoah Virginia

The best fishing in mountain streams is during the spring and can last all summer if the rain stays. Adams, Mr. Rapidan, and San Juan worms are my go-to flies. Plunge pools and riffles are the best spots for them.

Browns and ‘bows all vary. Streamers work great and can catch some big fish year-round. Bring terrestrials during the summer, midges during winter, and a good selection of BWOs for spring during hatches.


Shenandoah National Park is a great spot to hike, camp, visit, and, most importantly, fish. It’s loaded with an abundance of species, allowing anglers to truly pick their poison when they come here. They can target whatever species they want.

If you enjoy fishing on small streams, then you’re in luck because the park has tons of them. If you like to go after big fish on big water, then check out the larger rivers that run through the park. Smallmouth and muskie are the main target species there.

Overall, Shenandoah National Park is a great spot to fish. Bring your 7 weight and also your 3 weight. Each will allow you to go after all the different types of fish in the park.

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Dallas spends most of his time chasing brook trout in the mountain streams of his home state of Virginia and paddling around farm ponds throwing wooly buggers to bream and bass. When not fishing he's writing about fishing and has been published in The Virginia Sportsman, Southern Culture on the Fly as well as other fly fishing and outdoor sites.

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