Traveling interstate 81, you get a quick look at the Maury River just north of Lexington as it passes beneath a bridge underneath your wheels. If you’re traveling U. S. 11 instead of the interstate, you get a more intimate look at the river. But neither perspective gives you a true picture of this fast mountain stream that offers so much to so many outdoorsmen. Nor would the traveler who looks upstream or down know that the river gathers it headwaters miles to the north beyond U. S. Highway 250 which snakes through the rugged mountains between the western Virginia towns of Churchville and Monterey.
Small mountain streams, many of which hold native brook trout join to form the Calfpasture River which merges with the Little Calfpasture River just west of Goshen Pass. There the Maury River is born. The water of the two major tributaries barely have time to mingle before the Maury enters the famous Goshen Pass and begins a turbulent run downstream, dropping as much as 20 feet in one 100 yard stretch of the river. Once through the Pass the river drops into the valley, continuing toward Lexington at a fast pace. It maintains that rate of flow, except where man intervened, until it enters the James River at Glasgow.
Unlike most Virginia rivers the Maury is contained entirely within Rockbridge County. It does not cross any county lines. While nature designed the Maury as a fast flowing stream from its headwaters to the confluence with the James, several dams have changed its personality. A pair of dams, an eight-foot one in Lexington and a 20-foot one near Buena Vista impound the fast water forming stretches of calm water behind them.
The Maury River is fairly short by most standards. From the confluence of the Calfpasture and the Little Calfpasture Rivers, it’s approximately 30 miles to its confluence with the James River. En route it brushes the charming cities of Lexington and Buena Vista. While there is challenging whitewater such as Devil’s Kitchen and other rapids too difficult for the novice to tackle, the river offers plenty of Class I and II water that the average canoeist or kayaker can handle. In addition to the fast water at Goshen Pass, there are the remains of Goose Neck Dam downstream from Buena Vista that require care. This is Class II+ water.
The names of rivers often raise questions from serious river lovers. How did the river get that name? Sometimes there’s an explanation, sometimes none. There is, however, an explanation for this one. The Maury River was first called the North River of the James. It enters the James River from the north. But then came Matthew Fontaine Maury, a professor at Virginia Military Institute in the years following the Civil War during which he had served in the Confederate forces. In those postwar years he fell in love with Goshen Pass and requested that at his death his remains be carried through the pass and on to Richmond for burial. An honor guard of Virginia Military Institute cadets carried out his wish. A monument in his honor now rest on the side of Virginia Primary Highway 39 where it passed through Goshen Pass. And the river was named for him.
Obviously the Maury River gets a lot of attention from whitewater canoeists and kayakers, primarily because of the Goshen Pass wild water. Most of this kind of river recreational use occurs during the colder months when the river is high. During the dry months of summer the river in this section is too low to canoe or even use a kayak. The only exception comes when heavy rainfall in the watershed of the river raise its level significantly – even if for only a day or so. Thanks to the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area, there is public access to the river through most of Goshen Pass. Virginia Primary Highway 39 follows the river and provides access in places. Downstream the river is considered a public waterway from Lexington to its mouth. While part of that section of the river brushes the George Washington National Forest, it is well to keep in mind that most of it flows through private land. Leaving the river to go ashore on private property is trespassing unless you have prior approval.
Maps & Directions
Map to Maury River Trout Section:
Goshen (Rt. 39) to Rockbridge Baths (Rt. 39):Map
Distance: 5 miles
CAUTION: This is not a beginner’s trip. This is a trip for kayakers and whitewater enthusiasts. Huge boulders and dangerous rapids abound.
Put in a VDGIF Goshen/Little North Mountain WMA parking area located off Rt. 39. The road to the parking area is not marked, so keep your eyes peeled for a dirt road to your left 1.1 miles south of Rt. 601.
Rt. 39 parallels the river along Goshen Pass, where the infamous “Devil’s Kitchen”, a 100-yard Class IV stretch of whitewater thrills the most experienced of whitewater paddlers during high water. Many paddlers will run this section just below the picnic area alongside Rt. 39, take out, and run the section again. Several Class II-IV boulder gardens will greet you below Devil’s Kitchen. The scenery in this section of the river is spectacular, with rhododendrons clinging to steep cliffs, and unsurpassed cascading water. Even if you don’t bring a canoe or a kayak, this stretch can be fished by wading, and during the spring, trout anglers straddle boulder all along the river. Sunbathing and tubing with truck innertubes are popular pastimes in the summer.
There is a picnic area and restrooms about halfway through the trip, with limited parking. Take out on river left behind The Old Country Store next to the post office in Rockbridge Baths on Rt. 39. This is private property, so you must get permission from the storeowner first before you begin your trip. The Old Country Store welcomes canoeists and kayakers, and has plenty of supplies to fortify you on your journey, so be sure to patronize them if you choose to launch or take-out on their property.
Rockbridge Baths (Rt. 39) to Alone Mill (Rt. 622):Map
Distance: 8.6 miles
CAUTION: This is not a beginner’s trip. Intermediate paddlers can handle this water, which includes Class II-III rapids, including rock gardens and a few ledges.
Put in on river right just below Rt. 39 bridge off Rt. 602. Wooded farmland, steep cliffs, hemlocks, and call caves dominate this section, and for anglers, smallmouth and sunfish abound. In the summer, the water can get low, and you will have to pull your canoe over the rocks, but the fishing is still good. Take out on river left below the Rt. 622 bridge, but park on river right across the bridge. Be courteous and ask the adjoining landowner about taking out there before you begin your trip.
Alone Mill (Rt. 622) to Bean’s Bottom (Rt. 631):Map
Distance: 5.5 miles
This is a great trip for beginners with Class I and II rapids, although in the summer when the water levels drop, there will be lots of canoe pulling over rocks. Put in on river left below the Rt. 622 bridge, but ask adjoining landowner for permission first. Park on river right across the bridge. Take out is on river left above the Rt. 631 (Furrs Mills Road) bridge.
Bean’s Bottom (Rt. 631) to Jordan Point Park (Rt. 11):Map
Distance: 2.5 miles
Put in on river left above the Rt. 631 (Furrs Mill Road) bridge. This is a short float, but worth it for anglers. Take out on river right at Jordan’s Point Park just upstream of the athletic field 700 feet upstream of a 10-foot dam. Anglers, boaters, and other river users should take caution and not approach the dam. Orange buoys across the river and signs are placed just upstream of the dam to warn people to stay away.
Jordan Point Park (Rt. 11) to Ben Salem Wayside or Rt. 60 bridge:Map
Distance: 7.5 miles
This is a suitable trip for beginners. One can also float this section with innertubes, but get ready for a long trip in the summertime when water levels are low. You will encounter the remains of two dams making for some Class I and II water along the way. This is a tranquil, isolated stretch of the river with woodlands along either side. You are bound to see wildlife, particularly wading birds and perhaps some waterfowl. Put in at Jordan Point Park (Old East Lexington Town Park) off Rt. 11. To get to the park, take Rt. 11 south, turn right on Moses Mill Road, where Rt. 11 splits directly over the bridge leading into the town of Lexington. Follow the road into the park. You will need to carry your canoe about 100 yards to the water.
Take out on left on Rt. 60. You will have to carry you canoe up a steep hill to the road. Or you can float another 1.5 miles and take out on river left above Rt. 60 bridge off Rt. 608
Glen Maury Park (Rt. 745) to Locher Landing (Glasgow):Map
Distance: 12 miles
This is a long trip for careful novices. If you plan on fishing, be selective about your stopping points. Otherwise you will find yourself still paddling on the river after dark. Put in at Glen Maury Park off Rt. 745. There are signs to the park from Rt. 60. Take a right off Rt. 60 at Forge Road (Rt. 608). Take a left on Paxton House Drive (Rt. 745), which turns into Deer Haven Drive. Make a left on Maury River Road. The park provides camping facilities and a handicapped-accessible concrete landing for canoes and small boats.
You will encounter Class I and II+ rapids on this trip and the remains of several dams. Take out above the railroad bridge on river right at VDGIF’s concrete Locher Landing (Rt. 684) in Glasgow.
The Maury River does not enjoy a reputation for its fishing as do other Virginia rivers such as the James, New, Shenandoah, South Holston and others, but it does offer some interesting angling opportunities. The fishing might well be broken down into a trio of approaches; Goshen Pass, the fast water from Goshen Pass to the James River, and the still water behind the impoundments, primarily the 30-foot high dam at Buena Vista.
Let’s take the rowdy water of Goshen Pass first. This section of the river is top trout fishing water, Category A. That means that it is stocked once in October, November-December, and January-February. But it is stocked twice monthly in March, April, and May, the top trout fishing months in Virginia. Like so many Virginia trout waters, the water becomes too low and warm to hold trout through the summer. No doubt a few trout hide in dark, deep holes, and make it through the summer, but not many. Trout are not released in June, July, August, and September. The October releases are often contingent upon the quality of the water. If a long dry summer spell extends well into the fall, the October stocking might be delayed.
Another trout fishing opportunity is Guy’s Run, which enters the Maury River from the Goshen tract of the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area. This little stream has been identified by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries as a wild trout stream. This means native brook trout find its sparkling waters.
While the trout fishing is popular, the bass and sunfish in the river hold more appeal for many anglers. By bass, I mean smallmouth bass, the fish that has made the James River famous. You might catch a smallmouth bass anywhere from the headwaters where the Calfpasture and Little Calfpasture join to form the Maury, to the mouth of the river where it enters the James. Anglers frequently catch smallmouth bass while fishing the Goshen Pass waters for trout, but the best fishing begins downstream where the Pass waters become more gentle.
An ideal bass and sunfish trip might begin at the Glen Maury Park launching area in Buena Vista and end at the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Locher Landing near Glasgow. This is a 12-mile run and even a long summer day won’t give you enough time to fish all of it. Just pace yourself and fish only the most productive water. If you are interested in shorter trips where you can cover the water more thoroughly, talk to Glenn Rose of James River Basin Canoe Livery, Ltd., R.F.D. 6, Box 125, Lexington, Va. 24450, telephone: 540-261-7334. He has spent over 20 years on the Maury and knows it like the back of his hand. He can probably give you some suggestions regarding entering and leaving the river. He also has a website full of good information and useful links at CanoeVirginia.com.
As is true of most fast smallmouth bass streams, the Maury River is loaded with scrappy and tasty yellowbreast sunfish. Many anglers release their bass and string a good catch of sunfish for the table.
In addition to the bass and sunnies the Maury holds populations of rock bass, another stream mate of smallmouth bass in the western part of the state. Other angling possibilities include the likes of carp, catfish, and suckers.
For the best of the Maury River fishing, I would recommend going fairly light. My preference is a light spinning outfit featuring 4-pound test line – particularly when the water is gin clear. At other times you might want to move up to 6-pound test. Nothing heavier.
A number of years ago I found myself with a little time on my hands while visiting in Buena Vista. In those days I usually kept some fishing tackle in my car. I drove out to the impounded water behind the 30-foot dam in Buena Vista and began casting from the shore. It wasn’t long before I had landed a couple of nice largemouth bass. I’m sure that the likes of largemouth bass and bluegills find a home to their liking in that still water. It’s always worth a try.
I consider all fast-flowing inland rivers a possible have for wood ducks, and just this past February, while viewing the river from East Lexington park, I watched a trio of mallards leave the water and head upstream. I’m not sure how popular jump shooting for ducks is, but jump shooters on the James and a number of its tributaries enjoy good hunting. That could be still another charm of the Maury River. It’s easy to understand why Professor Maury fell in love with Goshen Pass and the river that flows through it.
Black Bass (Smallmouth and Largemouth)
5 per day in aggregate
No length limits
Rock Bass and Crappie
25 per day
No length limits
50 per day in aggregate
No length limits
2 per day
No length limit
20 per day (each species)
No length limits
Consult fishing regulation booklet for more information.
Please see Float Fishing Trips/Ramps under Maps.
Please contact the VDGIF Verona office for more information on the Maury River.