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Five Great Places in the Northern Shenandoah Valley to Fish After Work

By Dr. Peter Brookes

Photos by Dr. Peter Brookes

Based on the dawn rising of Sirius (aka the “Dog Star”—the brightest star with the exception of the Sun), the hot and humid days of summer are upon us, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

It’s no surprise that the ancients called this blistering period of high temps after the Summer Solstice the “dog days” of summer. It’s the time of year when life (happily) slows down a bit due to the oppressively warm weather.

But even dialing it back a skosh can include—rather, I should say, should include— getting outside into Nature and fishing some of the miles and miles of wonderful waters that Virginia offers.

Last month, I scribbled about Five Great Places in Northern Virginia to Fish After Work and this month I wanted to give you some ideas for angling after (or before!) work in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

For some insights on this matter, I rang up Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) District Fisheries Biologist Jason Hallacher to get his thoughts on summer fishing in the northwestern part of the state.

In no particular order of recommendation, since these waters range from large rivers to small lakes and hold various species of fish, here’s what we came up with:

Mr. District Fisheries Biologist, the envelope, please…

The South Fork of the Shenandoah at Inskeep Landing.

The South Fork of the Shenandoah at Inskeep Landing.

South Fork of the Shenandoah River

Pound for pound, one of the greatest game fish around this time of year is the smallmouth bass—and one of the best waterways for smallmouth bass is the South Fork of the mighty Shenandoah River.

The catch rate on this section of the Shenandoah for smallies is high, according to Hallacher; the bronzeback population is, thankfully, healthy, with lots of fish in the 12-inch to 16-inch range.

The South Fork also holds good-sized sunfish, large catfish, and scattered musky that can stretch the tape measure to the 45-inch to 50-inch range. Yes, that’s correct, I wrote 50-inch (monster) musky.

The heck with traipsing all the way to Wisconsin with your rods, reels, and terminal tackle for these “river wolves;” there’s certified trophy musky right here in the Mother of Presidents.

The Main Stem of the Shenandoah at Morgan Ford Landing.

The Main Stem of the Shenandoah at Morgan Ford Landing.

Main Stem of the Shenandoah River

The South and North Forks of the Shenandoah River come together to form the Main Stem of the Shenandoah River at Front Royal before emptying into the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

The Main Stem is also a good waterway for chasing smallies; the catch rate is generally lower than the South Fork of the Shenandoah, but the smallies are often a bit bigger, running in the 14-inch to 20-inch range.

Not interested in bagging bronzebacks?

The Main Stem is also a great fishery for walleye, with fish sampled by DWR in the 30-plus-inch range, Hallacher shared. This section of the Shenandoah also has good-sized sunfish, cats, and carp.

Lake Frederick

Lake Frederick

Lake Frederick

This 117-acre impoundment is in Frederick County and contains a variety of fish, including cats, largemouth bass, sunfish, and crappie. The largemouth are known to be finicky, but you have the opportunity to hook into a solid fish. A few fish tipping the 10-pound mark are caught each year, noted Hallacher.

You can also catch northern pike in the mid-30-inch range. Gnarly northern pike? Yes, please!

There’s also a bait and tackle hut at the lake. The folks there have a knowledge of the fishery that’s second to none, so make sure you stop in to see what they’re biting on before you hit this beautiful water.

Lake Frederick has a spacious fishing pier and fantastic bank fishing opportunities. As such, don’t hesitate to invite a young or new angler to catch a mess of always-eager-to-play panfish.

Clearbrook Lake

Clearbrook Lake

Clearbrook Lake

To the surprise of many, this small body of water holds some big largemouth bass; it’s hard to comprehend, considering the size of the lake at just three acres, but the forage must be good. We’re talking largemouth in the 4-pound to 5-pound range, Hallacher told me.

Can you say “lunker”?!

It’s also a good fishery for catfish, and the lake has good access. It’s surrounded by a park that can provide entertainment for those not so in love with the fine art of angling—if such a disposition is even possible.

Wilkins Lake

Wilkins Lake

Wilkins Lake

The last—and smallest—water on our list is Wilkins Lake, adjacent to Shenandoah University in Winchester. The two-acre lake contains largemouth, sunfish, crappie, catfish—and even trout in the stocking season.

And since Wilkins Lake is spring-fed, there are spots where the water is cooler even in the summer. Hallacher mentioned that this means there’s a bit of a chance that you’ll lip a late-season, stocked rainbow trout (or two).

Of course, before you head out make sure you have a valid Virginia freshwater fishing license, which is available online. Also, minimize the chance of “gotchas” by checking applicable websites for the latest on hours, regulations, and any facility fees.

And anglers, don’t forget to check out DWR’s FishLocalVA website for more information on other fabulous fishing holes in the area as well as around this great fishing state!

Hey, I’m Sirius, er, serious, don’t let the dog days of summer get you down. Even with the heat and humidity, this is a great time to get out and do some fishing, especially in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

  • July 13, 2023