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

Five Great Virginia Streams for Tenkara (part 4)

When I started Five Great Virginia Streams for Tenkara on March 5th I had hoped to get all five covered in a couple of weeks. Now here we are on May 4th and I am just getting to number 4, the Rapidan River. Sorry about that, but life and new job keep me away from this chronicle.

a typical pool

The Rapidan is probably my favorite brook trout water. I have spent more time and logged more miles on the water then any place else on earth. It truly is my home water.

The Rapidan, located in the Shenandoah National Park, is a high gradient mountain stream with a variety of riffles, pools, runs, and falls. You can drive right to the water but you will be on a dirt road of varying quality much of the way. It doesn’t require a 4×4, but a sports car is not recommended.

To reach the Rapidan take state route 29 to Madison. Head west on route 231 toward Banco. Bear right onto route 670 toward Criglersville and Syria. Go about 2 miles and turn left onto 649/Quaker Run Rd. Follow Quarker Run Rd. until it becomes a dirt road. Stay on the dirt road and you go up on over the ridge, crossing a fire road and head down into the Shenandoah National Park. You will bottom out at the Rapidan with a 4-5 car parking area on your left.

You can start fishing up or down from here and there are miles of water either way. If there are more than two cars, I would continue on the road until you find a pull off that suits you and start fishing.

If you continue on the road you will cross the first of two wooden bridges. There are 4-5 car parking areas near each bridge. When you cross the first bridge you will be entering the state’s Wildlife Management Area. You can camp in this area if you want.

President and Mrs Hoover's Rapidan Camp

President and Mrs Hoover’s Rapidan Camp

Continue past the second bridge you will pass an in-holding (not open to the public) and further along you will come to a locked gate. If you hike up the trail you will reach Rapidan Camp, President Hoover’s summer getaway. This is where the Mill Prong and the Laurel Prong form the headwaters of the Rapidan. The U.S. Park Service maintains an interpretive operation at Rapidan Camp. It is an easy ½ hour hike and worth the trip if only for the historic value of seeing a rustic presidential retreat.

A typical run

pocket water

If you have read the other posts then you already know what flies work in these mountain brook trout streams; a dry or dry-dropper rig 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.

Because the Rapidan has more gradient it offers more complexity to the water. You can spend a lifetime fishing the Rapidan and will always find interesting water to fish. I have fished it in every month of the year and covered most of the water and still look forward to fishing it again.

Give the Rapidan a try and let me know what you think.


Photo courtesy of Marty Hayden


  1. I have never fished the Rapidan (preferring Jeremy’s Run, Piney, and the North Thornton). These are great directions. Think I’ll follow them.

  2. Tom Sadler says:

    Al, you have been missing out on some of the best brook trout fishing in Va. Give it a try it is made for tenkara!

  3. Tom, first let me say that I enjoy your writing a lot, e.g., in Gray’s Sporting Journal. I have been almost exclusively a small stream tenkara angler for the last five years or so. Last month I had the opportunity to fish Mill Prong and Laurel Prong near Hoover’s Camp. What an enjoyable experience! My question is: not being a gear nut and basically being a cheapskate, my only tenkara rod is the 12′ Iwana, fished with a 4.5 level line. On streams like those mentioned above, the length can be either a help or a hindrance. When fishing tight streams I usually shorten my line and tippet to compensate for tight casting conditions, using sidearm steeple, or roll casts. Have you found shorter rods to be an advantage on these small wild-brook-trout streams? Also, concerning floating fly lines, it seems that the inherent greater weigjht of these lines vs. monofilament would make them harder to keep off the water, not to mention possibility more susceptible to drag. What has been your experience? Thanks.

  4. I’ve used different rods and lines to adapt to location and fish variables. I have collapsed my Iwana done one or two sections at the handle and fished it that way, have used the Rhodo in those instances and use the Patagonia 8’6″ rod as well. SO yes I like the smaller rods for close quarter fishing. I like the floating line more and more and use different ones for different situations. The Cortland line Patagonia is selling has a small-diameter, hard mono core that reduces line drape. While they may be a bit heavier, many folks find them easier to cast and they are significantly better in the wind.

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