Shenandoah River Fishing Report

Updated April 12, 2020

2020 fishing licenses are available in our store. Also available online at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Date: 4/11/2020

Water: Clear: – 55 degrees

Weather: Partly cloudy to sun breaking out occasionally – 70 degrees

The South Fork is gin clear and primed for great fishing. With very little pressure so far this spring, the smallmouth are active and trolling for food. Today’s float produced several big smallies in the 14 to 16 inches range, with the biggest running over 18 inches. The lures that worked the best were the good old Mepps spinner thrown out along the ledge line and retrieved just downstream of the ledge at a moderate pace. The smallies would bite as the spinner worked from the faster current into the eddy pools. The other two winning baits were NIKKO Tadpoles and NIKKO Hellgramites. These babies are the real deal. NIKKO lures are almost indestructible and attract the smallies every time they see them. If you need NIKKO baits you can usually find them at the Front Royal Outdoors store or buy them from their online store and they will ship them to you. We also threw the Tried and true Rooster Tail with good success as well. Overall I’d say we landed about 20 fish on the float from Shenandoah River State Park down to Karo landing. Pretty good day for early spring fishing.

While Front Royal Outdoors is not currently shuttling people to and from the river, they will still rent you the equipment for you to take to the river. FRO also has the two car option, where you park a car at the put-in and another at the take-out and FRO with bring the equipment to you and then pick it up at the end of your trip. These are great ways to hit the river in these difficult times.

Until we all have a chance to hit the river together, be safe and get your gear ready!


Date: 5/26/19, 8:00-3:30
Water: Stained but Clearing as the day went on, mid-70’s, Normal High Range 2.20 feet
Weather: Sunny with the occasional cloud rolling over, High Temp 85
Trip: SP2 – State Park to Karo Landing

This was my first trip of 2019 to Shenandoah, but hopefully not my last. My neighbor and his 10-year-old son joined me for the day and this was their first time ever fishing Shenandoah. The weather was ideal; sunny, blue skies with the occasional passing cloud which was just enough to give some reprieve from the warm rays beating down on us. When we didn’t have cloud cover cooling us off, we would just stop along at the islands or shallow spots and cool off in the water while wade fishing for a few minutes before continuing our float further down river.

The morning started excitement and perhaps a little nervousness since my companions had never done a trip of this nature, despite being seasoned fishermen. But once we where on the water a few minutes they felt right at home and very comfortable on the water and rolling through the small riffles located off the bank of the State Park. This first half a mile or so of the river was the dirtiest water with the least amount of visibility we experienced during the day and the current was the strongest in this section. I have found that to be typical for the SP2 trip and while I can usually pull in a bass or two within minutes of putting into the water at the State Park, due to the conditions I wasn’t concerned when I didn’t have a bite while we floated past the park.

However, I didn’t wait to wait long for the first fish of the day, which came about 45 minutes into the day. A small 10-inch smallmouth bass hit a green pumpkin Senko and the skunk was off. Then for the next hour or so all three of us fished different colored Senko’s and while we where getting bites, none of us hooked up. On more than one occasion we even had a little drag pull or got to see the fish jump out of the water before spitting the lure. But even when the drag didn’t click the curled-up worm was enough confirmation that indeed it was a hit and not just a snag.

A few more fish where caught before we stopped around 11am for our first wading session and my neighbor hooked up quickly at this location. He casted a worm upstream and let the current run it over some riffles and into a dead-pool. After letting it sit there for a short period of time, he felt a tug. The fish gave a good fight, a few jumps and since he had hooked it below the rapids we where above, the fish had the advantage of being able to use the current to help keep it away from being landed. But after tightening up his drag and a minute or two of battling, he grabbed a 14-inch smallmouth, and what would be the best fish of the day.

Shortly after that his son had a few hits in that location and we decided to move on to ‘greener’ pastures.

As we rolled down the river and came around the left to right hand bend when the houses sit on your left, a few fly fishermen caught two bass just ahead of use. While we didn’t have success in that location, which is typically a great area, it was nice to know fish where still being caught even though it wasn’t us doing the catching.

Throughout the day I threw every lure I had with me; spinners, crank baits, paddle tails, in-line spinners, top-water, jigs, and of course every color Senko that we had with us, but the Senko’s where the only baits that actually produced hook-ups. With that being said, we had a lot of hits and follows on the other lures especially the paddle tails and in-line spinners and other fishermen we spoke to had seen success with crankbaits and spinners during the day.

Everyone we spoke to, either while on the river or at Karo Landing, reported having a slow day ion terms of number of fish being caught. One theory was that the spawn was late this year and that was the reason for only catching smaller bass and the high number of bites but not many hook-ups. If that is the case and the bass were just late to spawn this year, it would mean the fishing is about to be on fire and the days of catching so many fish that you get tired of taking them off the hook, should be just around the corner.

While the trip wasn’t one of my best in terms of quantity or quality of fish, its hard to complain about any day spent on Shenandoah River. The weather was perfect and the scenery is second to known. My neighbor’s son commented that although he didn’t get a fish, he had a ton of fun and would rather spend the day doing what we did as opposed to playing Fortnite.


Matt T.



May 3, 2019
The river has hit the magic temperature of 68 degrees and I’m telling you the fish have responded. The last two evenings the bite has been out of this world great, with big numbers being reported. The Mayfly hatch continues along with some other unknown insect reported last evening after a brief shower.
Topwater action is returning as a good producer and as always a favorite way to fish around here. Nothing like seeing that big Smallmouth smack that lure on the surface!
Come on out and grab some of this early season action while it’s hot! See you on the water!


May 1, 2019
Fisherman out yesterday reported the best fishing day of the season with big numbers being landed. One fisherman boasted landed over 60 smallmouth on a trip from Bentonville down to Karo Landing. He also said he caught several huge catfish in the mix. Another fellow was out fly fishing and said he had qyite a good day with a hatch happening as the end of the day coming on. Other people we have heard from have reported the same action …. good to great bite.
I was out after work and I can say that there was some definite hatch of some sort happening as the river was covered with hatchlings. Fish were jumping everywhere. Just my luck, I was out for a relaxing float and not a fishing trip…. no pole :(.
If you have thoughts of fishing over the next couple days, then I think you should kick those plans into high gear a get out here before the conditions change.


Water temperature is approaching the magical 60 degree mark during the day when the sun has been shining the past few days. Anglers have reported the bite being a little slow, but the trade off is that they are catching big smallmouth. Biggest reported so far is a 22″ whooper!

Water clarity has greatly improved to over four feet and mid-day water temperatures are getting above 54 degrees, which is getting both the Smallmouth and Largemouth moving. Anglers are reporting improved bite and better numbers landed. Again the best trips have been the trips starting at the Shenandoah River State Park, SP2 & SP3, as well as the custom trip from our base to Front Royal landinding, trip #C1. Remember that we now stock the red hot NIKKO Next Generation Soft Baits in our store, which have been working great on the river for smallmouth. Next hot bait we will be carrying is the Ned Rig. Come on out this weekend and soak a line.

Fishing picked up over the weekend with catch numbers improving, but the high winds greatly effected total catch numbers. Most anglers ended their trip earlier then planned due to the wind just pushing them all over the river and blowing them off holes they wanted to fish. The speed of the river also had a impact on productivity. Some big fish were reported, biggest being a 22″ smallmouth. Make plans to get out here and start casting for that Spring lunker Smallmouth!


With the water having warmed to 52 degrees and the clarity improved to over three feet, the fishing has started to pick up a bit. We’ll see what anglers report today when they return from their trips. Today’s conditions look to be perfect, warm daytime temps, little bit of intermittent cloud cover, three plus feet of underwater visibility and water temperatures on the rise. Now’s the time to get out here and take that fishing kayak trip to explore the remote spots you haven’t been able to reach yet.

Last Years ReportsDate: 8/18/18, 8:00-5:30 and 8/19/18, 8:30-1:30
Water: Murky but Clearing , 72 degrees, Normal High Range 2.45 feet and 2.22 feet
Weather: Cloudy, High Temp 82, Light rain in morning on Saturday – Rolling clouds but mainly sunny on Sunday, High Temp 81,
Trip: Saturday – Hazard Mill to State Park and Sunday SP2 – State Park to Karo Landing

About once a year I do an two day overnight trip on the Shenandoah and after talking to a few friends we picked the weekend of August 18 and 19. There where five of us on this trip and we camped at the Shenandoah River State Park on the 17th and had arranged for Front Royal Canoe to pick us up at the Park and drop us off at Hazard Mill on Saturday morning. It was lightly raining when we woke up and that continue for about half the day, but the temperature outside was warm, so the rain never really bothered us. It had also poured the night before, so the river was a little higher and dirtier than we would have liked, but that didn’t stop us from venturing out.

The first hour on the water Saturday was tough fishing due to the clarity and speed of the river, but we soon figured it out. Fishing a Senko near the shore, slower moving water and just letting the current carry the worm produced the first few fish. Adding either a split shot or an inline weight helped slow down the Senko’s which helped catch a few fish in the faster moving water.

Once a few of use had caught fish we pulled off to the side of the river to have lunch and discuss tactics that where working. While there a few guys fished Senko’s, free lining it in the current, and they pulled a few more fish in. A few more fish were caught with a swim bait and a crank bait while we ate lunch on the shore.

After getting back in the boats, the river seemed to start clearing up, we floated and fished for a mile or so with success on the Senko’s and Flukes. The river was flowing quick so it was difficult to fish spinners because they just seemed to constantly get hung up. A number a lure’s where lost during this past of the trip.

After passing under the Bentonville bridge, the water seemed to dramatically slow down and the fishing certainly started picking up. We found fishing right before or after riffles and allowing the lure to roll through the rapid was a productive tactics, but the best spots was the slack water around riffles. Throwing a soft plastic into that slack water was where we caught the largest fish the whole weekend.

As a group we boated about 50 fish on Saturday and about the same on Sunday, but in about half as much time. For the most part we caught smallies in the 8 to 12 inch range, but the largest fish of the weekend was 17 inches and a number of 14 to 16 inch small mouth bass where boated. A number of pan fish were also caught, but none of any real size. The SP2 trip from the State Park to Karo landing is always my favorite stretch of water to fish, probably because I have the best luck there. Since the water was above a 2.0 on the hydro reading, we never had to get out of the boats to cross the riffles but at the same time, we still had some fun with some of the rapids. Besides a few bad decisions on where to anchor, the water level and speed was never a real concern, even for the less experienced kayaker’s in our group.

On Saturday when we put into the water it was lightly raining and that continued on and off until about noon. Then the sun came out and besides a few rolling clouds, it was a beautiful day on the water. We never got cold from the rain but also no one ever complained about being too hot. On Sunday, the sun was shining through the whole day but there where passing clouds. Again, we never got cold, even in the early morning or hot. All in all, the weather really was perfect on Sunday and besides the rain mudding up the water a little on Saturday, we couldn’t complain much.

We fished a number of different lures including 5” Senkos (green pumpkin), a few different colored flukes (green pumpkin, pink and chartreuse), different creature baits like hogs, craws, lizards (pink, green pumpkin, and blue), a black generic brand rooster tail, Mepps #2 white rooster tail black and chartreuse), a few different color and size crank baits, swim baits, and some different colored spinners.

The rods and reels used were as follows; I mainly used a Shakespeare Ugly GX2 Stick 6-15 pound 6 foot rod with a Penn Fierce FRC200 reel, 15 pound braided line and 8 pound mono leader and a four piece travel rod with a Penn Battle 2 2000, 15 pound braided line and a 8 pound mono leader. The other anglers pretty all had Shakespeare Ugly Stick GX2’s, 6-15 pound 6.6 foot rod with the Shakespeare GX235 reel and 8 pound mono line.

Matt T.

7/29/18 9:00 – 5:30
Water clear to mild stain – 77 degrees
Partly sunny/low 80’s
SP2 , State Park to Karo
The SP2 section of the South Fork is at a real nice level, high enough to get through without any canoe dragging. The fishing was fairly good. It started off well enough in the morning. I was fishing a #3 Mepps inline spinner (gold blade) and a 7 inch Berkley Power Worm (green pumpkin) on a 1/8 oz. Carolina Rig. Right off the bat I started to catch some big bluegill on the spinner, several went eight inches. Turned out that would be going on all day. I caught more big bluegill yesterday then I’ve caught in a long time. I was also catching smallmouth at a nice steady rate through the morning fishing. Most of my fishing followed my usual pattern of working the spinner across the river in the slack water around rock ledges. When I got into flat areas of water, I usually bottom fished the plastic worm in the deeper holes. Most of the smallmouth were in the ten to twelve inch range, the bigger proportion towards the ten inch side of the ruler. Not particularly large smallmouth, but still aggressive and fun. Like I said, the fishing was not a red hot bite, but it was steady. Never a long wait for a fish. Occasionally got a midsize smallmouth here and there, one sixteen inch around eleven o’clock. All but a couple of smallmouth were caught on the spinner. The bluegill were tearing the spinner up. The afternoon fishing was essentially more of the same. I did catch a few fish with a Bandit 100 crankbait (shad), but switched back to the spinner. It was just hard to find something that worked better than the Mepps. End of the day, a few less than forty smallmouth and almost twenty bluegill. A good portion of the bluegill were around eight inches. An eight inch bluegill puts up a surprising fight. Needless to say, there were many more fish that hit, but never made it to the boat. But then, that’s fishing as usual, right. Well, not exactly. They were tapping and smacking the spinner constantly without hooking up. More so than usual. Reeling the spinner in I would constantly feel taps and swipes without getting one on. But fairly often someone would slip up and get the hooks. Game on. Varying the speed while reeling in helped. Go fast, then slow. Occasionally just stop reeling for a second. All in all, it was a fun day of fishing. I would rate it as about average for this time of year on the South Fork. Fairly steady bite. Good fun and reasonably easy to catch some fish. When it gets too hot you just wade, or if you’re like me, you just do a little swimming, then get back to fishing. A hot summer day on the Shenandoah is a special treat. A beautiful and unique way to get away from it all. Good luck with your fishing.

Date 7/18/18, 9:30 – 5:30
Water clear, 78 degrees
Weather partly cloudy, 84 degrees
Trip SP2, State Park to Karo Landing

The river was getting just a little shallow through this section, but not too bad. Had to drag the canoe over the rocks a couple of times, but maybe could have avoided it if I had been a little more careful where I was going. Started out fishing a #3 Mepps spinner (gold blade). Caught a couple of smallmouth and a couple of bluegill pretty quick. I only stayed with the spinner for a little while, then switched to a Rebel Wee-craw crankbait (brown crawdad), alternating with a 3” Zoom Fat Albert grub (green pumpkin) on a 1/8 oz. Texas rig. I was fishing the Craw around the rock ledges and throwing the grub up near the banks. The craw was catching a mixture of smallmouth and bluegill. Most of the time the smallmouth hit the lure in the slack water just upriver of the ledges. In other words, in front of the ledges instead of past them. The crankbait fishing was fun, but tossing the grub up under overhanging tree branches was much more productive. Either way, the bass were mostly around ten to eleven inches, I only caught a couple that went twelve. The morning fishing was ok, not great but not bad. By noon I had boated eleven smallmouth and a few bluegill. From twelve to one, I caught twelve bass, a few with 4” senkos (green pumpkin), most of them with the Craw around the rocks. A few bluegill in the mix as well, though I gotta say the bluegill were not biting as well as the last couple of times I was out. The crankbait fishing was lots of fun ‘cause the bass were nice and aggressive, really hitting the lure hard. Coming out of the water, dancing around. Mostly ten and eleven inch fish that felt a lot bigger. There were times when I was worried about breaking the line only to find a twelve inch fish when I landed it. Really, you’re only a foot long bass? The bite slowed down after one o’clock for a couple of hours. During that time I was mostly fishing 4” and 7” Berkley Power Worms (green pumpkin) on 1/8 oz. split shot rigs. You know, slow bottom fishing. It was slow and I wasn’t getting near as many fish as I had right after noon, but when the bite slows, you have to go with the flow. Eventually I switched back to the spinner and started getting hits both around the rocks and up near the banks as well. And once again they were hitting the lure hard and aggressive. After the bite picked up a little more, I started using Zoom Super Flukes (green pumpkin). Smallmouth were hitting them nice and steady, fair amount of topwater action. Since they were hitting the flukes so well, that was all I fished the rest of the day. I must say I’m rather partial to flukes. As often happens, the bite was steady getting better right up to the end of my fishing. I scored twenty-three smallmouth from noon ‘til four-fourty, which was when I had to stop fishing and paddle on to Karo Landing for my pickup. I caught my last three fish in about the last five minutes of fishing just above Thunderbird Farm. Interesting day of fishing. I had to change lures and patterns several times during the day. It was decent fishing in the morning, pretty hot for an hour after noon, then slow, then warmed back up to decent fishing again. I never caught a bass over twelve inches, and the majority were an inch or two smaller than that. That was not all that surprising, warm summer fishing is not what anyone considers lunker time. In fact I’m always a little surprised if I catch a large bass in the summer. I had a good time fishing yesterday. Nice weather, good fishing. Hope you get a chance to get out on the South Fork. Good Luck with your fishing.

Update: Lunker fish reported being caught on Thursday and Friday. Will update weekend activity later.
Book Now