Copyright 2017 James Marsh
Fly Fishing the Rapidan River Virginia
The Rapidan River is located in the northern part of
Shenandoah National Park. It is near Camp Hoover
named after President Herbert Hoover who used it as a
retreat. It is still preserved for use by U. S. Senators. The
camp is located near the headwaters of the Rapidan. It is
a brook trout stream with large boulders and deep pools.
The stream is under fly fishing only regulations. It is
considered the best trout stream in Shenandoah National
The middle and lower part or the Rapidan River can be
reached by your vehicle. Hiking in from Skyline Drive
takes about an hour and a half downhill. It is getting back
that is the problem for those who don't enjoy hiking.
All the trout, except a few stocker brown trout that move
upstream to enter the lower section of the river outside
the park, are brook trout. The brook trout probably
average from six to twelve inches. A rusty colored fly, the
Mr. Rapidan, was named after this stream.
The Rapidan River falls on a steep gradient. It consist
mostly of plunges and pools but there are some areas of
riffles. It is best fished in an upstream direction. Dry flies
usually produce well unless the water is very cold. The
brook trout are usually not very picky. That written, it is
still much more productive to fish imitations of the most
plentiful and most available aquatic insects and other
foods the trout eat. This will always increase your
We consider the Rapidan River the best brook trout
stream in Shenandoah National Park and that's saying a
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Recommended Tackle & Gear
4, 5 or 6 weight
Dry fly: 9 to 12 ft., 5 or 6X Nymphing:
71/2 ft., 3 or 4X, Streamers 0-2X
Dry fly: 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 3 or 4X,
Best Fly Rod:
Perfect Fly Supreme Four, Superb Five
or Ultimate Six
For 4/5/6 fly line
Fly Floatants and Misc Items:
Loon Floatants, KISS Strike Indicators
Tools & Accessories:
Nippers, forceps, retractors, etc.
Rapidan River Fly Fishing Guide:
Fly fishing the Rapidan River is a real treat for those that
enjoy small stream fishing. The first time we fished the
Rapidan River, Angie and I caught as many brook trout
as we wanted to catch in the first two pools we fished.
The fishing was incredible. I don't think a single brook
trout was under seven or eight inches long. They
averaged about eight inches long. I don't remember the
number we caught. We fished the stream on one other It
turned out to be very similar to the first trip we made. We
caught lots of large brook trout.
The water was quite deep - maybe eight feet deep. The
pool was about the size of a large family room. If you
cast to the base of the short waterfall at the head of the
pool, the fly would drift about ten feet before it began to
decelerate and drift at a very slow pace. At about that
point, you would see a brook trout come out from under
the white water beneath the water fall and take the fly. At
times you could see the trout come as far as ten feet to
take the fly. I have no idea how deep the brook trout
were holding beneath the white water. It was very difficult
not to take the fly away from the trout before they ate
the fly. It looked like they were feeding in slow motion. It
was similar to the way cutthroats that are seldom fished
to take a fly. In fact we missed some of the first ones by
attempting to hook them before they actually had the fly
in their mouth. We just had to wait until we saw a swirl
before setting the hook. We saw every brook trout we
caught come at least a few feet
before taking the fly. It was an exciting ordeal.
This stream can become crowded in some areas in the
summer. It is located within two hours of Washington D.
C. Many come just to play in the water and camp. There
are no official campsite but camping is allowed.
All the streams in the Shenandoah National Park
requires the use of single hook artificial flies.
Trout can be caught year-round in
Shenandoah National Park.
You can catch trout in the Rapidan River in
the winter on nice warm days.
Springtime is considered the best time to
fish the river because of the hatches.
Rapidan River Hatches and Trout
Our information on aquatic insects is based
on our stream samples of larvae and nymphs,
not guess work. We base fly suggestions on
imitating the most plentiful and most available
insects and other foods at the particular time
you are fishing. Unlike the generic fly shop
trout flies, we have specific imitations of all the
insects in the Rapidan River and in all stages
of life that are applicable to fishing. If you want
to fish better, more realistic trout flies, have a
much higher degree of success, give us a
call. We not only will help you with selections,
you will learn why, after trying Perfect Flies,
92% of the thousands of our customers will
use nothing else. 1-800-594-4726.
Starting at the first of the year in January, the
first aquatic insects to hatch are the Little
Winter Stoneflies. They usually hatch through
the first of March. In March and April you can
expect to find some Brown Stoneflies hatching.
Blue-winged Olives, consisting of several
species, hatch from February through June
and then again in September through the first
week or two of November. Little Black caddis
hatch in late March and April.
Blue Quills are among the first mayflies to
hatch. They normally start about the first of
March and last through the month of April
depending on the weather. Almost the same
time, hatches of Quill Gordons will start
hatching. They usually are through hatching
by the end of April. A few Hendricksons in the
lower section start hatching about the middle
of May and last for about three or four weeks.
American March Browns will hatch from the
middle of April until the middle of May. Slate
Drakes start hatching in April and last until
June. They reappear in September and last
through October. In the lower sections, some
Sulphur mayflies and Eastern Pale Evening
Duns will start hatching about the middle of
May. The Pale Evening Duns last for about
three weeks but the smaller Sulphurs last on
into the middle of July.
There are some Cinnamon Caddis and
Spotted Sedges species in the Rapidian
River. These caddisflies hatch from
about the first of May into the middle of
July. Different species of them hatch
again in September.
Large Great Brown Autumn Sedges
hatch in late August and last through
most of October. This stream has a huge
hatch of them. Green Sedges hatch in
late May and June.
Little Yellow Stoneflies, or Yellow Sallies,
start hatching about the middle of April
and last through the month of June. The
large Giant Black Stoneflies hatch from
about the first of June through mid July.
There are a few Golden Stoneflies that
hatch in May.
Don't forget to have plenty of streamers
ranging from imitations of sculpin, baitfish
Starting in July, imitations of terrestrial
insects become important. Ants, beetles
and grass hopper fly patterns produce
until early October. Don't forget about
the mighty midge. This river is full of
them and they hatch year-round. They
can become very important in cold water
when nothing else is hatching.
We recommend our "Perfect Fly"
imitations. They are the best, most
flies you can purchase and use
anywhere trout exist. Give them a try and
you will be glad
you did. Our Great Autumn Brown
Caddisfly pupa and adult fly was
developed on the Rapidan River.
The water can become low during
periods of hot weather and low rainfall,
but all in all, the fishing remains good
throughout the summer.
Fall is certainly the most beautiful time to
fish the river.
Rapidan River Fly Fishing Report:
11/14/13 Local contact reporting stream
levels have been high and weather very cold
with snow in the mountains. Little fishing
opportunity for the past week.
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
Fishing Report Updated 02/20/17
(Bottom Of Page)
11/24/13 Judging from the recent heavy
rainfall in this section of the park and the
NWS precipitation map, it appears the stream
is flowing very high. Recommend waiting a
couple to three days before considering it for
a destination to fish.
12/31/13 Stream is flowing at 1700 cfs
near Culpeper. Normal flow is 395 cfs, so
it is going to take three or four days for it
to settle down.
01/07/14 Flows are back up to 1530
cfs at 2.78 or high.
01/21/14 The flows are finally low enough
to wade but the cold temperatures will
continue to happer the fishing. Yesterday,
our local contact reported catching two
brookies for the first time this year but he
had to work for them.
01/28/14 No reports of anyone fishing last
week but better weather is in the forecast
this coming weekend.
02/11/14 A customer ordered flies for a
March trip but we have no reports of
02/18/14 Much warmer weather is in the
forecast with decent stream levels.
Should be the best opportunity for the
past few weeks.
02/25/14 We received several orders for
flies for the Rapidan River this past week
but no reports from anyone fishing. The
stream levels are very high and that's the
03/04/14 One report came in from a
customer who managed 3 brookies in
about 2 hours of fishing, but noted water
was only in the high thirties.
03/11/14 Weather was better this past
week but we had no reports from anyone
fishing. One customer ordered flies,
mostly Blue-winged Olives for the Rapidan.
3/18/14 Received a good report about a
week ago from a gentleman who often
fishes the Rapidan who caught several
brookies and reported 2 others with very
03/25/14 More good fishing reports from
customers ordering flies. Blue Quills have
shown up and Quill Gordons expected
04/01/14 We received no reports this
past week and it was probably due to the
high water levels. Conditions should be
better very soon.
04/08/14 Several good reports came in
this past week. Water levels subsided and
lots of brook trout were taken. Blue Quills
and Quill Gordons started hatching.
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (email@example.com)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
All orders are shipped free in the
U. S. Orders over $50 are shipped via
04/15/14 The stream levels are in good
condition and the water warm enough
hatches have started. Two more anglers
provided good reports this past week.
04/22/14 There's a lot of different
aquatic insects hatching at this time and
a lot of trout are being caught by those
fishing the Rapidan. American March
Browns have started hatching.
4/29/14 Two customers reporting catching
from ten to twenty brookies each during a
trip this past week using our Perfect Fly
Blue Quills and Quill gordons.
05/06/14 More reports of fish being caught
on everything from streamers, Blue Quills,
Quill Gordons, Hendricksons/Red Quills
and BWOs. Water has been high and more
rain is forecast.
05/13/14 High water levels have hampered
the fishing opportunities for the past few days.
06/03/14 The stream is flowing a little high.
It is fishable but running strong. We didn't
receive any reports from the past week.
06/10/14 Several excellent reports from
anglers catching lots of brook trout.
Several hatches are underway.
06/24/14 The Rapidian has been fishing
very good this past few days with anglers
catching lots of brook trout. Three good
reports from customers this past week.
07/08/14 Several good reports have come
in the past two weeks. Anglers are
catching plenty of trout. HIke in the
backcountry fro the best results..
07/22/14 Fishing has been excellent the
past two weeks except when water levels
have been high. Customers ordering
terrestrials and Little Yellow Stoneflies
08/12/14 We have received several reports
this past week about the good fishing the
creek has provided. Lots of brook trout are
being caught, especially by those that are
matching the hatches.
09/02/14 Two good reports from our
customers catching plenty of brook trout.
Water levels are in better shape.
09/16/14 The best brook trout stream in the
park just got better. The Rapidan is
producing as good as it gets. They have
just changed into their spawning colors.
09/23/14 A good report from this past
week indicated Great Autumn Brown
Sedges were hatching. Great fall like
conditions and good fishing opportunity.
10/07/14 Recent rain has helped and more
is on the way. Two good reports of lots of
brook trout caught.
10/14/14 Excellent reports have been
coming in. Watch the stream levels but
they should be fine by this weekend if they
get high from the passing front. .
10/28/14 No reports from the past week but
conditions have remained very good.
11/11/14 Cold weather is on the way but
anglers are still catching some brook trout.
BWO nymphs is the main fly to use.
12/04/14 We have only had one fishing
report within the past three weeks. High water
and cold temperatures has been a problem
but the conditions are currently much better.
12/16/14 Two reports fo nice numbers of
trout caught during the past two week.
BWO nymphs and Midges are key.
12/23/14 No reports from the past week but
the conditions remain very good.
12/29/14 Still no reports but the water
levels are in good shape.
01/19/15 We just got a couple of good
reports. The levels are good and much
warmer weather is occurring. Anglers were
using cream midge larva and pupa.
01/26/15 Two more good reports from the
past week but the weather is changing fast.
Better keep a close check.
02/02/15 We didn't receive any reports
from anglers this past week but conditions
are good at this time.
02/16/15 Still no reports from anglers
fishing. Very cold water and weather exist.
03/02/15 We have had two good reports
week before last but none this past week.
Conditions will be much better near the end
of this coming week.
03/09/15 One good report came in this past
week. Good stream levels (right now) and
warming water is helping the "catching".
03/16/15 No reports from the past week but
the water levels have been high. They have
receded some and fishing should be good
this coming week.
03/23/15 Still no reports but stream levels
were high until recently..
03/30/15 No reports but the weather has
been very cold the past week. Next week
looks much better.
04/06/15 Stream levels have been high but
back down now with a chance of rain forecast
from tonight though the next week.
04/13/15 Excellent conditions. Good levels
and several insects hatching. Quill Gordons,
blue quills, Little Black caddis.
4/20/15 March browns have started to hatch.
One good report from a customer last week.
04/27/15 Two good reports from the past
week. Lots of brook trout being caught.
05/03/15 Good stream levels, lots of hatches
and lots of trout being caught by our
05/11/15 American March Browns, Little
Yellow stoneflies, Light Cahills and others
starting to hatch.
05/18/15 Lots of brookies being caught. Lots
of hatches going on and good stream levels.
05/25/15 Great conditions although the
water is a little low. Two good reports
06/08/15 Stream levels are in good shape and
lots of hatches are taking place. Light Cahills
have started hatching.
06/15/15 More good reports from last week. It
has been as good as it gets. Good levels.
06/29/15 The river has been very high but
falling fast. Watch the levels. Terrestrials are
becoming important trout food.
07/06/15 Stream levels are still high but very
fishable. You can fish most of the stream from
07/13/15 The stream is high right now but falling
fast & should be fine within another day or two.
07/20/15 The stream is back down in good
shape with anglers catching lots of brook trout.
08/03/15 Good stream levels and weather right
now. Two good reports from this past weekend.
08/10/15 Slightly cooler weather and good
stream levels equal excellent conditions.
08/17/15 Terrestrials, ants, beetels and
hoppers, are catching their fair share of trout.
08/24/15 We finally are getting a break in the
heat with cooler weather on the way. Good
levels and plenty of caught trout being reported.
08/31/15 Two good reports from the past
week. Little Yellow stones produced some nice
brookies from the lower river.
09/07/15 Expect cooler weather and better
fishing this week. Slate drakes are hatching.
09/21/15 The bad news is the Rapidan is very
low but the good news is it is raining right now
and will continue into tomorrow.
09/28/15 Last week's rain helped but it is still a
little low. Anglers are still catching a lot of brook
trout. Great Autumn Brown sedges are hatching.
10/12/15 Stream levels have been high but
getting back down near normal. Great Autumn
brown sedges are hatching.
10/26/15 Stream levels are fine but there is
rain in the forecast. Great Autumn Browns are
at the peak of the hatch. The brook trout are
11/02/15 Stream levels are still a little high but
falling fast. It should be in good shape in a day
or two. Great weather is in the forecast.
11/09/15 Stream levels and the weather are
both good right now. It is raining but there's
little in the forecast after today. We are still
getting some good reports on the brook trout.
11/16/15 Two more good reports even though
the water was high. Currently the conditions
11/30/15 The Rapidian has been high for the
past several days but falling. There is more
rain/snow from today through Wednesday, so
it will be a few more days before it gets down.
12/14/15 The river has just gotten back down
to a normal level in good shape to fish.
Winter Stoneflies are hatching.
12/21/15 Great conditions exist right now. Good
stream levels and very warm weather. Watch
the levels. There is rain starting Tuesday.
12/28/15 The river is running high and badly
stained. There is more rain coming, so this is
likely to remain the case.
01/11/16 The roads are likely to be covered
with snow but rain is forecast for this weekend.
Stream levels are still high but hopefully, will
fall back to normal by the weekend.
01/25/16 The river is flowing at 745 cfs and
495 cfs is normal. It is highly stained due to
snow melt. You will need to keep a check on
02/01/16 The river is high, currently 1140 cfs
with some more rain in the forecast. You will just
have to keep checking the levels and weather.
02/08/16 The river is still too high to wade
(1160 cfs) and the water 35 degrees. You
would need a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
02/22/16 The warm weather is nice but the
stream too high to fish except maybe with
streamers from the bank. (1250 CFS)
02/29/16 The river is flowing at 1490 cfs and
median is 460 cfs. There is a chance of rain
Wednesday and Friday only, so maybe it will
fall back down soon.
03/07/16 The stream levels are down to a
normal flow and the water is clear. The
weather is unreal and it is a great time to fish
the Rapidan. Use BWO nymphs and midges.
03/14/16 The stream level is in good shape
and wading easy. The water is warming up fast
and Quill Gordons, Blue Quills, Little Brown
stoneflies, and little Black Caddis will soon
begin to hatch in addition to the Blue-winged
03/28/16 The stream levels are good right
now, below normal and safe to wade. Several
insects are hatching, including all those listed
above in the 3/14/16 report.
04/11/16 The river is back down to a normal
level. The cold weather is over and the water
should warm up and the hatching listed above
should start taking place.
04/25/16 The river is in great shape with lots
of insects hatching, Blue-winged olives, Quill
Gordons, Blue Quills, Little Black Caddis and
little Brown stoneflies.
05/02/16 The stream is a little high now and
there's rain in the forecast every day for the next
week. The levels will most likely remain high..
05/09/16 The river is very high and will
probably take a while to clear up and get back
down. You can fish from the banks.
05/16/16 The stream level is down just above
normal and the water clear. Lots of hatches and
brook trout being caught, even from the banks.
05/30/16 Good stream levels, good weather,
and lots of hatching insects make this a great
choice for the coming week.
06/06/15 The stream levels are a little high but
it should fall out fast. You can still easily fish it
from the banks. Good conditions, otherwise.
06/20/16 The stream levels are in good shape
and lots of hatches are taking place. Little
yellow stoneflies, light cahills, sulphurs, & more.
07/04/16 Stream levels are near normal and
lots of insects are still hatching. Late afternoon
action has been real good.
07/18/16 Good reports coming in. Conditions
are good. Terrestrials are becoming improtant
to imitate but some hatches are occurring.
08/01/16 The stream is just a little high right
now but otherwise in good shape. Cream
Cahills, little Yellow stones, Cinnamon caddis,
and Tricos are hatching.
08/15/16 The stream is just a little below
normal. Notice we added directions on how to
reach the lower end of the river at the park.
This shows where you access
the river at the national park
line. Access to the stream can be
found by heading west on Rt. 231
from the town of Madison. Turn left
at Banco onto Rt. 670 and then
turn left onto Rt. 649. Continue on
Rt. 649 till you reach the
headwaters. The road that follows
the river (dirt) is called Rapidan
08/22/16 Stream levels in good shape and
water cooler. Good conditions.
08/29/16 The stream levels are low and you will
have to stay well hidden. There are few hatches
but terrestrial imitations are working good.
09/26/16 Stream levels are just a little low but
the weather is much cooler and warm water no
longer a problem. Mahogany duns, Great
Autumn Brown sedges and larger BWOs are
10/03/16 Good conditions are continuing. Now is
a good time to fish the river.
10/10/16 Good conditions. Good stream levels
and weather forecast. BWO's and Great Autumn
brown sedges are hatching.
10/24/16 Stream levels are low but the water is
much cooler and fishing should be good if you
can stay hidden. Blue-winged olives are hatching.
11/07/16 The stream level and flows are low, 80
cfs, but the water is cool and the trout still eating.
You will have to stay hidden to catch them.
11/14/16 The stream levels are still very low but
stay hidden, and you can catch trout.
11/28/16 The stream levels are very low but
rain in on the way this week. Blue-winged
olives and midges are hatching.
12/05/16 The stream levels are still low but
better due to recent rain. Midges, creams and
reds and Winter stoneflies are hatching.
01/02/17 The stream is in very good shape and
with warmer weather the first of this week should
be great soon. Fish Blood (red) or Cream
midges with the larva and pupa in tandem.
01/16/17 As most everyone knows, the weather
and water are much warmer. There are some
little Blue-winged olives hatching as well as
midges. The water is low but in good shape.
01/30/17 The stream levels is just a little high
but clear. The water is about 39 degrees. Fish
midges and winter stoneflies.
02/06/17 Stream levels are down a little below
normal. We received a good report this past
weekend. Midges are the main insects to imitate.
02/20/17 Stream levels are low but some rain is
in the forecast along with very warm weather.
Conditions are excellent. Midges and BWOs.