Road trip: South River trout just a mountain pass away

It may seem counter intuitive, but my favorite time of year to get outside is during the winter. While the cold temperatures keep a lot of folks inside, I am of the philosophy that it isn’t cold if you are wearing the right clothes, and it isn’t wet if you are wearing a rain jacket.

Sure, I love a beautiful spring day as much as everyone else that leaves house and home and heads to the water, fishing rods in tow. The problem then is everyone else who leaves house and home, fishing rods in tow. Fishing gets crowded on those days, far more crowded than on a day in January with projected highs in the upper forties and a 20 percent chance of rain. Plus there are less distractions and obligations in the winter. Little league is over, the pools are closed, and getting the neighborhood kids together for a romp in the backyard and throwing some burgers on the grill won’t start back up for another three months.

Stocking the South River in December. Credit: South River Fly

Stocking the South River in December. Credit: South River Fly Shop

One of the beauties of living in Virginia and specifically central Virginia is the multitude of outdoor activities available on any given day throughout the calendar year. It can be overwhelming, especially during the summer time when the rivers are low and cool. The winter offers fewer choices perhaps, but some darn good ones, nonetheless. My favorite thing to do on a Sunday in January is trout fish. From Richmond, one of the closest and best opportunities for hooking up to a nice rainbow or brown is just over Afton Mountain in Waynesboro. I can be putting on waders and walking into the river in just under an hour and a half from my house.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries opened a delayed harvest section on the South River in Waynesboro in the mid to late 80’s. Stockings on the delayed harvest section start in October and continue through early spring. The state usually stocks the two-mile section of river in downtown Waynesboro three times during that period.

This year, the Shenandoah Chapter of Trout Unlimited was able to stock the section of river three additional times by acquiring a permit from the VDGIF. The additional stockings have been funded by anglers, Waynesboro tourism groups, and a generous donation from South River Fly Shop.

A nice South River 'bow. Credit: South River Fly Shop

A nice South River ‘bow. Credit: South River Fly Shop

“We get a better return putting fish in the river than we do on print advertising,” says Kevin Little, at South River Fly Shop.

The additional stockings have included rainbows up to 22 inches and 4lbs, says Little.

The easiest access to the delayed harvest section of the South River is at Constitution Park on Main Street in Waynesboro. This is trout fishing in an urban setting, but the beauty is you are a block from the fly shop and even less from a burger and some time to warm up. The fishing in the delayed harvest section stays good until June and then picks back up in the fall even before the stockings begin again as a good number of fish holdover through the summer.

Tommy Lawhorne at the South River Fly Shop says anglers should stick primarily to “nymphs and streamers this time of year, but occasionally might find a fish willing to eat a dry fly on a warm afternoon during a midge hatch.”

Spring will offer some different options and more surface action. Lawhorne’s favorite technique then is skating large caddis flies on the surface.

While the delayed harvest section of the South River is more of a standard riffle/run trout stream, just fifteen minutes down the road, anglers can fish the Upper South River Special Regulations Section. This is spring creek, technical fly fishing where anglers may find more fish willing to eat on the surface, but also more challenging fishing conditions.

Another solid South River rainbow trout. Credit: South River Fly Shop.

Another solid South River rainbow trout. Credit: South River Fly Shop.

The proximity of the two sections leaves an angler with plenty of options, even in a single day.

The Special Regulations Section does require a free permit that can be acquired at the South River Fly Shop, Stone Soup, Dominion Outdoors, or online at the VDGIF website.

It is a good idea to call up to the fly shop before heading to Waynesboro to check river levels and fishing conditions.

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