Where to Fish: Rapidan River

By Mike Fisher, Wintergreen Sporting Club


The Rapidan River is a well known brook trout stream that has appeared in articles and books. It is fly fishing only with barbless hooks and is all catch and release. It has perhaps the largest brookies in the park (at least to 14 inches), but they are rarely seen or caught.

The fishing can be fairly technical, but the hatches are pretty good and small fish are fairly easy to catch if you can sneak up on them. Scrambling over rocks is required, and many stones are quite slick. I wear felt-soled boots rather than studded ones on this stream because the studs can make you slip like you are on skis. This is the only SNP stream where I don't used studs. Hip boots aren't recommended if you want to fish the pools but waist highs generally will do fine.

I try to fish this stream during the week because it can get crowded on weekends, including campers in the rustic free sites along the way. Friday afternoons one finds college students with dates, and while they usually have fly rods, they seem to have things other than fishing on their minds. There are a number of large deep pools which sometimes attract swimmers. Generally speaking these pools are so hard hit by fly fishers that there are few fish in them, but the biggest brookie I have hooked here was in one of these pools right beside the road.

The distance between the lower stretch and where the road along the upper stretch meet is probably a mile and a half if you care to fish it.  A trail follows the stream.

I prefer to fish the upper stretch, but the lower area is easier to wade if that is an issue.  The lower stretch also has a tributary, the Staunton River, which was blown out by a flood in the 1990s.  I haven't fished it since that time, but it formerly was a good stream worth a trip in its own right.


Distance from Wintergreen: About an hour and a half drive to upper section

Water Type: Trout stream

Primary Game Fish: Brook trout

Recommended Lures/Flies: Flies depending on what is happening. Terrestrials are good in summer, many different mayflies including slate drakes (Isonychia), sulphurs, quill gordons, blue winged olives, caddis, winter stoneflies.

Not Kayak/Canoe Suitable

Directions: There are two stretches.

For the lower area take US 29 north, left on Rt 230. (see map)  At Wolftown take a right onto Rt 662. After several miles, Rt 662 goes to the right over a bridge (it is easy to miss this turn if you aren't paying attention–it is marked). Stay on Rt 662 to the end and park near the gate.  Walk in.

For the upper stretch take US 29 north, then Highway 29 business into Madison, Va. On the far side of Madison take Rt 231 and make a left onto Rt 670 toward Criglersville and a left on Rt 649, which parallels Quaker Run (not worth fishing). This road turns into a gravel road which can be a little rough and it can be slick in rain. You will reach a crossroads after a few miles. On the side to the right the road is blocked by a dirt pile. You want to continue straight ahead, and not take the left.  At the foot of a long hill the river will be on the left. The road continues along the stream until you reach a gate in the Shenandoah National Park. Park at any of the pull-offs along the way or go to the gate and walk in from there.

Amenities : Rustic campsites