The North Fork Shenandoah River is a fifth order stream that drains 1,034 square miles of northeastern Virginia. The river flows north 116 miles from Northern Rockingham County to the Town of Front royal where it joins the South Fork Shenandoah to form the Shenandoah River. As the North Fork cuts through the karst geology of the Shenandoah Valley many bedrock ledges cross the channel perpendicular to the flow of the river. These features are very common in the “seven bends” section of the river between Woodstock and Edinburg. Bedrock ledges create unique fish habitat and angling can be very productive in these areas. The North Fork is a relatively small, shallow river and is very accessible to wade angling. Excessive nutrients in the watershed promote the growth of algae and aquatic plants. This vegetation can become very dense during the summer/fall months and impede fishing and boating.
The North Fork is an ideal river to float by canoe. Clear water, pleasant scenery, abundant wildlife, and mild whitewater make the North Fork a paddler’s dream. However, low flows during the summer months often require canoeists to walk their boats through shallow areas. The primary navigational hazards on the river are six dams and several low-water bridges. The first dam is upstream of Timberville; three dams are located between Edinburg and the Route 758 bridge east of Woodstock; and two small dams are found between Strasburg and Riverton.
The most sought after sportfish in the North Fork Shenandoah River is the smallmouth bass. Densities of smallmouth are high and anglers can experience catch rates that average 1.2 bass per hour. Fisheries biologists consider a catch rate greater than one fish per hour to be very good. Experienced anglers can experience catches of 50+ smallmouth in a day of fishing. Remember, fishing success can vary depending upon environmental conditions. The natural mortality rate of smallmouth in the North Fork is high and harvest by anglers is low, based on research conducted by biologists. Therefore, the smallmouth bass population is mostly influenced by environmental conditions (flood/drought). 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 prefer, fishing can be considered excellent. However, when weak year-classes are produced by environmental variables, fishing success can be poor. Currently, there are several strong year-classes of bass recruiting into the fishery of the North Fork. There should be good numbers of quality-size smallmouth bass available to anglers in 2002-2003. Anglers will find smallmouth throughout all habitats on the river. One of the most productive areas to find smallmouth is directly below riffle areas or bedrock ledges. The area of the North Fork between Edinburg and Strasburg contains many bedrock ledges. Various types of artificial lures and live baits can be effective for catching smallmouth on the North Fork. Anglers should not limit their smallmouth fishing to just the warmer months. Smallmouth are active throughout the year and some of the largest bass are caught during the colder months.
Largemouth bass are limited to relatively few areas of the North Fork where deep pools with slower currents exist. The North Fork has a low percentage of pool habitat compared to the South Fork Shenandoah. However, anglers can encounter some good largemouth fishing in the pools of the North Fork. Most any offering of artificial or natural bait should entice a hungry largemouth.
The North Fork Shenandoah River is home to several sunfish species. They include: redbreast sunfish, rock bass, bluegill, and pumpkinseed sunfish. All these sunfish species tend to occupy the same habitats. They prefer to associate with areas of reduced current and structure. The redbreast sunfish may also be located in areas with faster currents. Sunfish densities are excellent and the number of larger “hand-size” panfish is outstanding. Anglers should not overlook the sunfish population when fishing the North Fork.
This fallfish feels right at home in the mid-depth currents of the North Fork. These fish are numerous and can attain lengths of up to 15 inches. Fallfish are often overlooked as a sportfish, but the can put up a good fight on light tackle. Fallfish often feed on the surface taking mayflies and other insects. Fly fishing for “rising” fallfish on the North Fork can be very rewarding.
The VDGIF annually stocks fingerling-size musky at several sites on the North Fork Shenandoah River downstream of Mount Jackson. There has been no evidence of muskies reproducing naturally in the North Fork, therefore they must be stocked to sustain a fishery. Adult musky densities are low and closely resemble numbers seen in a wild, reproducing population.
Other fish species
American eel, white sucker, northern hogsucker, common carp, crappie, yellow bullhead, and channel catfish are some other fish species that anglers might encounter in the North Fork.
Black Bass (smallmouth and largemouth)
From Route 42 bridge, Rockingham County, downstream to the confluence with the South Fork Shenandoah River at Front Royal:
All bass 11-14 inches must be released.
Daily creel limit is 5 bass per day
No minimum size limit
50 per day in aggregate (combined) creel limit
No minimum size limit
25 per day creel limit
30 inch minimum size limit. All musky less than 30 inches must be released.
2 fish per day creel limit
There are six public access points along the North Fork Shenandoah River. All the access sites are either owned or co-managed by VDGIF. Moving downstream: (1) Meems Bottom is located where Route 730 crosses the North Fork near Mount Jackson. This access is a “hand launch” area where boats must be carried to the river. The site also has a small parking area to accommodate 2-3 vehicles; (2) Chapman’s Landing is located just downstream of Edinburg off Route 672. This site has a gravel parking area and a concrete boat ramp; (3) Deer Rapids is located 3 miles south of Strasburg on Rt. 11, then left on Rt. 644; (4) Strasburg is located in Strasburg Town Park off of Route 55. The access has a concrete boat ramp and gravel parking area; (5) Catlett’s Landing is located off of Route 626 upstream of Riverton. The site offers canoe access only. Parking is also available; (6) Riverton Landing is located off Route 340/522 on Route 637 in Riverton. The access offers a concrete ramp and parking area.
(Hudgin’s Rest) A canoe “rest stop” area is located on the left bank going downstream near Maurertown. The land was donated to the VDGIF by Garland Hudgins and is maintained by the Friends of The North Fork Shenandoah River. Canoeists can use this area to take a break from paddling and enjoy lunch or a nap. The area is marked with a brown metal sign.
REMEMBER, please respect the rights of private property owners along the river! All most the entire riparian area on both banks of the North Fork Shenandoah River is privately owned.
Go to MAPS to view locations of public access points on the North Fork Shenandoah river.
For more information about the North Fork Shenandoah River:
Fishing / boating/ general info:
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
Phone: (540) 248-9360
Camping /outfitters /fishing guides:
Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce
Phone: (540) 459-2542
Front Royal – Warren County Chamber of Commerce
Phone: (540) 635-3185
River conditions / water levels:
United States Geological Survey
Phone: (804) 261-2600
River issues / general info:
Friends of the North Fork of The Shenandoah River
P.O. Box 746
Woodstock, VA 22664
Phone: (540) 459-8550
Conservation flows research
Virginia Tech University