Whether you’re an experienced angler or you’ve never picked up a rod in your life, you have something to gain by wading into the easily accessible waters of the Rappahannock River in the Fredericksburg region and casting a line.
For some perspective on fly-fishing in the Fredericksburg region, I turned to Dan Dutton (pictured above). Dutton grew up seeking aquatic life in any corner he could find it in Alexandria, earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in fisheries science from Virginia Tech and William and Mary and now shares his knowledge as a fly fishing instructor with River Rock Outfitter in downtown Fredericksburg.
The Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg has long been known as a spring fishing destination for the shad run that happens in March and April. American and Hickory shad swim upstream from their saltwater habitats to spawn each spring, and the event is popular among anglers in the know. Pick up a rod a few times this summer, and you could be ready to join them by the time the shad come around next year.
Here’s why Fredericksburg is a great place to cast a line all season long.
Sheer beauty – Most of the land from Fredericksburg about 25 miles upstream along the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers is protected by permanent conservation easement. The Rappahannock is also the longest free-flowing river in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, thanks to the 2004 dismantlement of the Embrey Dam. This results in a pristine landscape that allows you to imagine what early Virginia explorers saw when they navigated these rivers. “You can be on a river an hour away from Richmond or Washington, D.C., and not see a house for almost two days,” Dutton said.
There’s more than just fishing here – So you want to fish, but you also wouldn’t mind a gourmet meal, luxurious bed and breakfast or high-quality performing arts options to go along with your fishing. Or maybe your travel companion would rather peruse boutiques and galleries while you’re out wading. In the Fredericksburg region, that’s not a problem. You could stay in one of downtown Fredericksburg’s bed and breakfasts, pick up your rod in the morning and not have to walk more than three to five blocks before finding good river access. “There’s good fishing right in town,” Dutton said. Take the Rappahannock River Heritage Trail to the Virginia Outdoor Center on Fall Hill Avenue, hike or bike along the Rappahannock Canal to the river and follow the riverside trails to find some great fishing spots that will make you feel like you’re a world away, right inside the Fredericksburg city limits. “There’s good access here, and the further you walk in the better it’s going to be,” Dutton said.
The river here is ever-changing – It’s been a decade now since the Embrey Dam was removed, and river enthusiasts continue to watch the patterns of migratory fish respond to the removal of this impediment. “Since the dam came out, … every year, the shad are a little bit further up, the stripers go a little bit further,” Dutton said. Every little change to the ecosystem breeds others, making this a fascinating landscape for nature lovers to watch. “It’s changing every year, and it’s getting better and better.”
You might learn something – Want some history with your fishing? Try this trip: Put in at Ely’s Ford on the Rapidan in Spotsylvania County, an important river crossing during the Civil War, and the location of a skirmish that happened just as Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart learned that Stonewall Jackson had been wounded, and that he was to take command of Jackson’s corps at Chancellorsville. For about a mile and a half after the Rapidan empties into the Rappahannock, you might be able to find dry locks that remain from the old Rapidan Dam Canal, an important transportation network in pre-Civil War Virginia that was quickly eclipsed by the railroad. As you get closer to Fredericksburg, keep in mind that both Fredericksburg and Falmouth started as port towns, due to their location at the falls of the Rappahannock.
Anyone can fish – Everyone from complete newbies to veteran fishermen can find something to love in the Fredericksburg region. Sign up for a fly fishing class with Dutton through River Rock Outfitter this summer. The shop also offers fly-tying classes and other events through the winter months. “If you have never ever touched a fishing rod before, you can go catch fish the same day,” Dutton said. “It’s accessible to anybody.”
Find a full listing of Fredericksburg region destinations for fishing and other water sports here.