Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Five Great Virginia Stream for Tenkara (part 3)

So far we have looked at Ramsey’s Draft, in part 1 and Skidmore Fork, in part 2. The third and last river in the George Washington National Forest is the St. Mary’s River.

The St. Mary’s River.



The St. Mary’s River is located in the George Washington National Forest’s St Mary’s Wilderness area. It flows through a beautiful canyon like area in the mountains and is one of the more scenic fishing spots in the Old Dominion.

The St. Mary’s is near the town of Vesuvius. One way to get there is from I81/64 to exit 205. Take Route 606/Raphine Road to Route 56/Tye River Turnpike to 608/South Bottom Road-Cold Springs Road to St. Mary’s Road. There is a parking area at the end of the St. Mary’s Road.

Like Ramsey’s Draft you can start fishing very near the parking area. I prefer to hike in for a bit and start my serious fishing above Sugartree Branch.

St. Mary's Falls

St. Mary’s Falls

This section from Sugartree Branch to the falls is really a beautiful area and you will find yourself looking around as much as looking at the water. Like the previous rivers in this series it is a typical riffle-pool-run system. The area plenty of open area’s making casting very easy and enough tight spots to make it challenging.

Depending on the water conditions Sugartree Branch is worth looking into to. It is a reasonably steep gradient with a trail running along side. You can take this trail up and around a section of the river and come out at the falls. You will cross a couple of branch that lead down to the river but the going can be steep and tangled. Think first before you blindly head down. This section is deep in the wilderness area so plan accordingly.

As with the other streams, a dry or dry-dropper rig works well; either Adams or BWO parachutes. For nymphs try a Pheasant Tail, Gold Ribbed Hare’s ear or Copper John. A few Quill Gordons, March Browns and Sulfurs for mayfly imitations; little black stoneflies, yellow sallies and some tan and olive caddis round out the assortment. Of course if you want to go the full tenkara route then try an Oki or Ishigaki. Check with Mossy Creek Fly Fishing to get the latest on what’s working.

Above the falls

Above the falls

Fishing St. Mary’s is a commitment and will eat up a day very easily. The numbers and size of fish in the St. Mary’s are fewer and smaller than the other rivers; the scenic nature of the canyon however more than makes up for it. It is great hike and fish river, but you need to be sure you are up for it. Take some emergency gear, food and water with you. You may want to look at topo map to see what you are getting into.

If you go let me know what you think.


  1. Just fished St. Mary’s yesterday before this ridiculous snow storm started!? I would agree that this small valley is absolutely gorgeous. This was the first time I’ve fished the area in the spring so I was surprised at how different it was with so much water. Thankful for chest waders! I can’t say I had a great day of fishing but the breathtaking emerald pools around every bend made up for it! Only landed one small 4″ brookie at the end of the trip on a copper John. Tom, have you fished above the falls much? I’ve heard rumors the trout are bigger and more plentiful upstream. I’ve heard the same about the fishing way upstream near the confluence in Ramseys draft? Haven’t made it up that far at either place yet.

  2. It really is a pretty river to fish. I have not spent a lot of time above the falls but it is worth the trip. Those are not unfounded rumors…

  3. Thanks for the info Tom. And good seeing you over at Mossy Creek the other day. I think Jeremy and I will head into St. Mary’s when it’s ready.

  4. Likewisw Cardo. Let me know how you do!

  5. Chris M. says:

    Tom, I’m going to be headed down to the summit a little early from NJ, and was looking for some places to fish once I got down there, so thank you for the info.
    Any chance that you’re going to finish parts 4 and 5 this up coming week?
    Thanks Again!

  6. I hope so, but my new job is keeping from getting it finished. If you call Mossy Creek Fly Fishing at (540) 434-2444 they can give you some suggestions as well.

  7. Chris M. says:

    Thanks Tom, will do. Looking forward to getting down there.

  8. Fly Fisherman says:

    I greatly dislike these post you have been making on the top streams in VA. While it is great to help others out in the sport of fly fishing, stuff like this kind of takes the fun out of the sport. St. Mary’s and Rapidan are really no big deal because they get pounded with pressure as is, but the hot spotting on the internet of Ramseys, NF of the Moorman, and Skidmore are kind of a big deal in my book. While they are not “secret spots” by any means, the added pressure of these streams negatively affect them. While I know you mean well, there are a lot of lurkers on the internet who do not. Added pressure to the streams are not my concern, but the people who are looking for places to trout fish when stocker season is over is my concern. This is not purist ideology, but a fact that most people who catch stocked trout to eat, don’t realize the damage of keeping everything you catch can be on a brookie stream. Ramsey’s Draft is a prime example of a stream that should not be mentioned on the internet. It is easy access, and holds big brookies. If the wrong group figures it out, that stream could go to pot. Even though it is a big stream, I would hate to see this happen.
    Now on the note that it takes the fun out of the sport, part of the thrill of fly fishing is figuring out what streams are good and which are bad, access, and techniques. Just googling Top great Virginia trout streams brings up these post making it easy access to information. I’m all for helping out fellow anglers, but it is good to make people work for it. Pointing people to an area or drainage and telling them to explore it and figure it out for themselves is a very rewarding thing for that person to experience and a major part of fly fishing that is lacking in today’s age. I really regret seeing VA streams being hot spotted by someone so involved in the sport as you. It is generally practiced by most fly fisherman the don’t ask don’t tell method of small stream fishing. This is not for snobbiness, but for preserving of streams and keeping the tradition of getting rewarded with hard work in late night topo map studying. Hope this message is not received wrongly by you and hope you have a great day.

  9. Thanks for the comment and I appreciate your thoughts. I disagree with your reasoning, especially in this case. The 5 streams are not secrets, telling people where to fish does not take the fun of it, the poachers are not likely to suddenly start cleaning them out, (if you were as concerned as you profess to be about info on the internet why did you say “It is easy access, and holds big brookies.” in your comment? Don’t you think that you just hot spotted it?), and more people should be happy to share info with new or old anglers. I do agree that finding new streams and figuring them out is fun. I am writing about 5, as you well know there are plenty of streams left for folks to discover. By the way, why didn’t you sign your name?

  10. Fly Fisherman says:

    Ramsey’s Draft is just an example I was using. The guys at Mossy have been letting everyone know about that stream for a while now from what I’ve been told. I consider sharing info with people to be good, but smacking it up on the internet is not. That’s why many fishing forums now have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy for small streams. I know a local stream that another fly shop has been blabbing about to all that come in and it has been affected in the past two years. I use to catch a couple 10 inch fish out of there regularly and never would see a soul up there, but now there is always someone fishing it and I haven’t caught anything over 8 inchs in a long time from there. I also do not prefer to whore my name around, that is why I don’t sign in with my name. I understand your opinion though and you have a right to do whatever you want with your blog. Just respectfully disagree is all.

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