Fly Fishing the Shenandoah River for Smallmouth Bass

A Shenandoah River smallmouth on the fly. Photo by author.

Fly fishing Virginia’s Shenandoah River Valley offers excellent angling surrounded by incredible historic sites. Noted smallmouth bass expert Harry Murray specializes in putting fly anglers on fish in the valley. A trip I took to fish with him remains one of my favorite fly fishing adventures.

While browsing bookshelves one day, Harry Murray, struck a nerve with his title Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass. I bought and read the book, and afterwards visited Harry’s website, While exploring the many pages, I noticed Harry offered smallmouth bass fishing trips near Shenandoah National Park. I had long wanted to visit the park, so I decided to double up and do so while also fishing.

History and ambiance of early American culture appeals greatly to me, and since I was taking my wife on a fly fishing trip for our anniversary, I decided to find a special place to stay. The Inn at Narrow Passage ( is a 1740’s Bed & Breakfast located on the Civil War Trail running along side the Shenandoah River. Stonewall Jackson utilized the inn as a headquarters during 1862 and dispatched orders from the dinning hall. The beauty of the property, coupled with the elegant country charm of the surrounding area, provided us a wonderful stay.

Sitting alone in the dimly lit dining hall eating breakfast, I stared at the original fireplace Stonewall Jackson warmed himself beside. I could see him rubbing his hands together over the open flame, contemplating his next move. Taking a bite of some fancy pastry, I remembered I was there to fish. After thanking Ed, my host, for a wonderful breakfast, I hit the road for Murray’s Fly Shop in Edinburg.

Murray’s reminded me of what you would see out west; a fly shop right in the middle of the small town main street shops. Harry, a pharmacist by trade, also runs a pharmacy out of his shop. His customers can stop by to pick up a prescription and some poppers in one trip.

I was excited to take part in Murray’s fly fishing class, which was limited to 10 students and 2 instructors. Jeff Murray (Harry’s son) and Chuck were our instructors for the two day course. Day one started with a slide show of the basics: rod selection, casting, flies, and tools. Some of the students had never held a fly rod before. Upon assuring each student’s comfort level, Jeff moved into the most important topic, reading water. Using slides that are actual pictures of where we would fish, Jeff pointed out riffles, runs, pools, seams, eddies and so on. Once the class had a grasp on what to do and expect we caravanned down to the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.

The fishing was great for beginners. There are so many smallmouth bass in the river, that a novice can catch fish all day long. The only downside is most of the fish were small. A 10” bass is average and many are smaller, but big ones are in there. I saw them rolling and flashing their bronze bodies along the bottom, and pictures don’t lie. Remember though, these guys get real excited about 6” brook trout as well. The area just isn’t blessed with fish the size of those in Indiana. Jeff Murray can hook you into a big one on a guided trip, if that’s what you really want. But for a beginner, who really needs to gain the basics of knowledge and confidence of catching, Murray’s school is outstanding.

Shenandoah National Park did not disappoint. For the first time ever, I stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail. I hope to see each and every foot of the trail someday. Virginia was beautiful and meeting legendary angler, Harry Murray, and his son Jeff was an outstanding experience.

Brandon Butler
Long-time outdoor writer and native Hoosier Brandon Butler lives in Missouri and serves as the Executive Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. Previously, he worked with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as Governor Mitch Daniels’ liaison to the department, Director of Sales and Marketing for Dominator365 and as the Marketing Manager Battenfeld Technologies, Inc.


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