Shenandoah River - South Fork - Fishing Opportunities
The South Fork Shenandoah River has a long-standing reputation as an excellent smallmouth bass river. Densities of smallmouth bass in the South Fork Shenandoah River are greater than any other river in Virginia. Smallmouth bass catch rates can average up to four fish per hour. It is not uncommon for experienced anglers to catch 30-60 smallmouth during a eight hour float trip. Fishing success can vary depending upon environmental conditions. The South Fork Shenandoah may be known for its high catch rates of smallmouth bass , but it does not produce the number of trophy-size smallmouth bass as other Virginia waters. Growth rates are extremely slow with smallmouth not reaching twelve inches until age 5-6. The smallmouth bass population is mostly controlled by environmental influences (floods/droughts). Years where there is a very successful spawn produces a strong "year-class" of bass. These strong year-classes are what makes the fishing favorable. When one or two strong year-classes of bass are reaching the sizes that anglers are targeting, fishing can be excellent. However, when poor year-classes are moving into the fishery, fishing success can also become poor. Currently there are several strong year classes recruiting into the smallmouth fishery. There should be good numbers of quality-size smallmouth bass available to anglers in 2002-2003. Anglers will find smallmouth throughout all habitat areas on the river. The best places to find smallmouth bass in higher concentrations are directly below bedrock ledges, at the head of pools directly below riffles, runs with various pockets and eddies, and the tail-end of pools. These areas produce faster currents which wash food items to waiting smallmouths. Smallmouth can be caught with all types of artificial lures and live bait. Anglers can catch smallmouth every month of the year in the South Fork Shenandoah River.
Largemouth bass do not gain as much attention as their cousin the smallmouth bass but the South Fork Shenandoah harbors a very good largemouth population. Largemouth bass are most common in the slower, deeper pool habitat areas of the river. Any large pool, including the power pools created by the hydropower dams, contain fishable populations of largemouth bass. Good numbers of quality-size largemouths are available to anglers. Largemouth bass of up to seven pounds have been collected by biologists from the South Fork in recent years. Looking at a recent angler/creel survey conducted by the VDGIF, largemouth bass are being underutilized by anglers. If you are interested in largemouth bass, target your efforts near woody debris in the pools of the river. Most any offering of artificial or natural bait should entice a largemouth.
The South Fork Shenandoah is home to several sunfish species. Redbreast sunfish, bluegill, and pumpkinseed sunfish are the most common Rock bass can also be included in the sunfish group. Green sunfish are also present, but in very low numbers.
Redbreast sunfish are the most abundant sunfish species inhabiting the South Fork. They can be found in all types of habitat throughout the river. Usually where there is one many others will be in close proximity. Any type of structure (large boulders, woody debris, edges of vegetation mats) will hold redbreast. Unlike the other sunfish species, redbreast will also occupy areas of the river with faster currents. Redbreast in the 6-7 inch range can make for some exciting fishing. Anglers can catch redbreast on small artificials and live bait. These sunfish can be quite aggressive and catching them on larger artificial lures is common.
Bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish are quite abundant and are found mostly in the slower currents associated with pool habitat. Anglers should target structure like large boulders or woody debris when fishing for these two species.
Rock bass or "red-eye" (as they are referred by many anglers) are abundant throughout the entire river. These fish can be found occupying the same habitat as the other sunfishes.
Both black and white crappie inhabit the South Fork. The black crappie is the most dominant of the two species. Crappie are predominantly found only in the large pools of the South Fork. The pools formed by the hydropower dams at Shenandoah, Newport and Luray have the highest concentrations of crappie. Anglers should target woody debris in these pools when fishing for crappie.
The VDGIF annually stocks fingerling-size musky at 10+ sites on the South Fork Shenandoah. There has been no evidence of muskies reproducing naturally in the river, therefore they must be stocked to sustain a fishery. Adult musky densities are low and closely resemble numbers seen in a wild, reproducing population. Anglers should focus on areas where structure is present adjacent to the main channel when hunting muskies. Musky are "ambush" predators and often lie just off the main current waiting to strike prey that swims/floats along. Also remember that these fish are a "cool-water" species, and unlike other species are active during the coldest months of the year.
Channel catfish are plentiful throughout the entire South Fork Shenandoah. Catfish numbers increase as you move downriver into bigger water. The large pools in the river are the best place to find channel cats. Recent sampling conducted by VDGIF biologists indicated a healthy population dominated by quality-size (2-3 pound) channel cats.
Other fish species
American eel, white sucker, margined madtom, northern hogsucker, common carp, fallfish, yellow bullhead, brown bullhead, and redhorse are additional fish species commonly found in the South Fork Shenandoah River.