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Fly-fishing for trout on the South River

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

Waynesboro, Virginia has a world-class urban fishery

a nice South River rainbow (photo courtesy of Jed Miciak)

Urban fishing in the Washington, DC area

In the DC area we are lucky to have a great number of options to fish in an urban setting. Whether fishing for big catfish off piers along the Anacostia with Nationals Park as a backdrop, casting a fly into the Potomac for striped bass (stripers, or rockfish) at Gravelly Point under the airport’s flight path, or angling for largemouth and smallmouth bass downstream of the water treatment plant on Four Mile Run in view of South Arlington’s high-rise apartment complexes.

But my preference is fly-fishing for trout and, except for the DWR stocking trout in a couple of local waters a few times between October and May, I generally must go a fair distance to follow my passion. My local Trout Unlimited chapter (NVATU) has a robust calendar of speakers at our monthly meetings that often includes presentations on great fishing opportunities, and one of those events was an introduction to trout fishing on the South River in Waynesboro. When I learned that you could park and gear up in a downtown city lot, walk through the city park and straight into 2 miles of river teeming with trout, well that sounded awesome. When the DWR included the South River on its list of 8 destinations to try in 2021, I decided I had to check this off my bucket list.

A top urban trout water in Waynesboro, Virginia

So I talked a few fishing companions into meeting in Waynesboro for a day of fishing on a bright but brisk November morning. The plan was to have a guide show us the water for a ½ day, break for lunch and then fish again until twilight. While I am not shy about hiring a guide when fishing new water, in this instance, it probably wasn’t necessary. Nothing against the guide, who was very friendly, knowledgeable and put us on fish, but in retrospect, this is not very technical water.

comfortable wading and very readable water

In fact, I found the South River to be accommodating in that it was easily readable and held plenty of fish. I might have just dropped into South River Fly Shop for advice on fly patterns for the trout and kept my powder dry for one of their excellent float trips on another day. Having said that, I always learn something from these guided fishing excursions; not to mention we shared some good laughs with our guide that morning.

wading in straight from the Greenway trail a few steps from Constitution Park

Various resources, including the DWR website, will tell you that there are several fishing opportunities along the South River, but we settled on the 2+ mile catch-and-release section between the Wayne Avenue Bridge and the Second Street bridge, which lies downstream of Constitution Park in downtown Waynesboro. In reality, a day of fishing does not give time to cover that much water, so we focused on the roughly 1-mile stretch that parallels the Greenway trail between the former Dupont factory and W. Main Street.

nymphing in chilly conditions

As I said, the day started out chilly (20’s) with sunlight refracted by a patchy fog hanging over the town, and we were on a stretch along Constitution Park by 9am. The water here was about knee deep and clear and the flow a reasonable 80-90 cfs. Thankfully, we were not standing around thinking about the cold very long as all three of us were hooking up on small browns and rainbows. When the action cooled down, we would exit the water onto the Greenway and move upstream to either a deep boulder pool, a meandering current abutting a string of rip-rap on the opposite shore, or a nice riffle. The South River offered a lot of these different conditions that made the water a very interesting fishing experience.

ripples, runs and rip-rap

Effective flies for winter fishing on the South River

Because of the chilly conditions, we stuck to a two-nymph rig suspended under an indicator. The flies that were most successful in these conditions were a jig head caddis pupa, duracell jig nymph, walt’s worm, squirminator jig and an egg pattern. And while it was not an epic day in terms of numbers of fish caught, we were pretty satisfied with having caught both browns and rainbows of a variety of respectable sizes.

Best of all, because we were only a few blocks from the heart of downtown Waynesboro, we could strip off the waders at noon for a lunch break at a local tavern. I can’t think of a better way to spend a half a day than fly-fishing for trout and, within walking distance, celebrate the morning with a good burger and a draught beer!

Note: I am obviously not being paid for my mention of South River Fly Shop, but they are good guys and conveniently located in downtown Waynesboro near to the South River.

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