Shenandoah River, Virginia Fishing Report

Updated March 23, 2024

See our Shenandoah River fishing report for the current conditions on fishing the Shenandoah River which will help dictate where you will go fishing, which watercraft you might choose, and how to be most successful during your time on the water.

2024 fishing licenses are available in our store. Also available online at Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

March 23, 2024

Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources


The South Fork Shenandoah River is known by anglers as a “numbers” fishery, meaning anglers can expect to catch a reasonable number of bass and sunfish on any given day. During our 2023 fall sampling we collected 701 Smallmouth Bass from nine sample sites at a rate of 91.6 fish per hour. Approximately 26% were 11” or greater, 9% topped 14” and 2% measured 17” and up. Our catch rate dipped slightly from previous years, but due to record low flows, many of our sites were inaccessible. Lack of access paired with low clear water biases our samples toward a lower catch rate. Despite the difficult conditions, the population looks excellent, with good numbers of quality fish. Overall, our sample yielded high numbers of smaller fish, with a majority falling short of the 11” mark. This is pretty typical for the South Fork, fantastic catch rates with low numbers of quality sized fish. Currently there are several strong year classes recruiting into the smallmouth fishery (2014, 2015, 2019, and 2021). The number of young of the year captured in 2023 was well below the long-term average. Regardless, the success from earlier spawning events should result in above average catch rates of quality sized bass within the system. During the spring biologists and hatchery staff raised fingerling smallmouth bass at the Front Royal Fish Cultural Station. This effort is part of a long-term smallmouth bass stocking project. A 16 km study site was selected ranging from Newport dam to the Whitehouse boat landing. 6,700 fingerling smallmouth were stocked and spread between 6 sites. Each bass was marked using oxytetracycline to help biologists determine the percentage of stocked fish that recruit to the population. Hopefully survival will be high and help bolster the poor year class experienced in 2023. The South Fork has had its fair share of struggles over the years with fish health problems, but by in large the fishing on the Shenandoah should be excellent in 2024. Largemouth Bass also present excellent opportunities for anglers, as this river harbors a quality population. Finding 2-to-4-pound fish should not be difficult in deeper, slower sections when woody debris are targeted. Overall, 72.9% of our sample contained quality sized fish (>12”) with a majority falling into the 10-16” size range. The Shenandoah River is a sleeper largemouth fishery for quality bass. Although there has been a reduction in overall numbers of largemouth, anglers should see an increase in the number of 15-20” bass in the coming years. There is also the opportunity to catch Musky in the longer
and deeper pools. VDWR periodically stocks fingerling-size musky on the South Fork Shenandoah River at 15 sites stretching from Port Republic to Front Royal. It was last stocked in 2023 with 1,940 fingerling musky (approximately 3-8”). There has been limited evidence of muskies reproducing naturally in the South Fork, therefore they must be stocked to sustain a fishery. Musky are stocked to add diversity to the fishery and provide a challenging trophy fish for anglers to target. Adult musky densities are not as high as some of the other rivers in the state due to the lack of consistent pool habitats. However, when you come across a pool on the South Fork, anglers have a good opportunity to come in contact with one. Our biologists and technicians typically sample the river for musky in January or February. They sample 4 sites using three electrofishing boats. During the last sampling event in early 2023 they collected a total of 32 fish at a rate of 3.4 fish per hour, with a majority falling in the 35 – 40” range which is typical for the South Fork. This catch rate is very similar to the previous 5 years, indicating that the population is stable. Anglers should notice an increase in juvenile fish between 25-35”. This is a direct result of consistent stocking efforts. The river received repetitive stockings in 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. This is a good sign for the future. Musky grow fast in Virginia, with females reaching citation size (40”) in 5-6 years. Unfortunately, Flathead catfish and Snakehead were accidentally or illegally introduced into the river. Biologists discovered one adult Flathead Catfish below the Newport Dam and one adult Snakehead upstream of Elkton. Both fish were removed and euthanized. This was the first time that either of these species were captured in the South Fork Shenandoah. Biologists and anglers alike should be on the lookout for both of these species in the coming years. Channel Catfish in the 2-to-6-pound range are common, and anglers should concentrate on the lower South Fork when targeting them. Don’t be surprised if you catch quality-sized Redbreast Sunfish, Pumpkinseed, Bluegill, Green Sunfish, Fallfish, or Black Crappie.