Fly Fishing in Shenandoah Valley on Mossy Creek
Updated: May 15
Southwest of Harrisonburg rolling almost silently through the Shenandoah Valley farmlands is Virginia's most famous trout stream, Mossy Creek. Virginia fly fishing clubs like Trout Unlimited and many other anglers have enjoyed a traditional limestone spring creek like many others that dot the valley floor along the Appalachian Mountain chain. Mossy Creek is released from its spring-fed lake in nearby village of Mt. Solon to the west. It starts a solid 5-6' brook flowing through rolling farmland and backyards. All along it's way it picks up more water from other small springs and becomes wider and bolder. Banks and runs start to form and solid aquatic vegetation provide both cover and bugs for fish.
Tough-to-catch brown trout inhabit these waters, and some can get quite large after a while. The water stays a consistent 50-60 degrees throughout the winter and summer, providing perfect growing conditions for fish. The Virginia Department of Game has also stocked fingerling brown trout or above sized trout since the late 1970's to grow out in the stream. Thousands of young brown trout have been stocked by Virginia DWR over the years and special regulations on size and a fly fishing only area is also imposed. The result is a fishery full of good sized fish with a chance to catch a trophy. Browns have also spawned, creating a small population of wild trout.
Thanks to an arrangement with private landowners and the department of game and inland fisheries public fishing is allowed, but anglers must abide by the regulations. A landowner permit (which is a free permit) and obviously a valid Virginia fishing license is required to fish mossy creek: license.gooutdoorsvirginia.com/Licensing
The public section of Mossy Creek runs through open meadows and is around 3 miles of stream that is accessible from two parking areas. Wading is not allowed at all so be prepared to walk, and the stream is not open to the public, so no hiking or bringing dogs. I always find the fishing better the further I get away from the parking spots. I always bring water, something to eat, and triple check that I have everything I need to avoid a trip back to the car.
Fly fishing here can be quite challenging, even for experienced fishermen. Deep cut steep banks and undulating masses of aquatic vegetation make presentations very technical, and the smooth stretches of water require quiet, accurate casts. There are many species of scrub bushes to catch and nick up your 6x tippet, make casting difficult. As popular as this stream is, these fish have seen a lot of flies. Patience, line management, and tackle maintenance are imperative for success. The last thing you want is to finally hook up a nice brown, only to have your line snap because you didn't retie after a casting knot. To land a mossy creek brown trout requires fly fishers to consider how a fish must be approached, and the biggest browns seem to have gone to fly fishing school!
There are a few ways you can better your chances of success. You'll have to hire me to get them all, but I always like people to do well and have a good experience when they visit the area so some free advice:
Browns, especially larger ones, are active ambush fish. When the water gets up on Mossy, discolored, but not flooding brown, you can fish big, and I mean big streamers and really be surprised. Zonkers and articulated flies in dark colors seem to stand out well. This is the one of the rare times and angler can break out the larger fly fishing gear. Many of Mossy's largest browns have been caught and released after a good rain storm. In the Summer throughout the Fall the farmlands hold a lot of terrestials. Ants, beetles, and grasshopper patterns equal a lot of protein for smaller browns. I often use a hopper/dropper rig as well as an ant if I spot individual fish so windy days provide some of the best fly fishing days. Lastly many species of mayflies hatch but you'll want to fish blue winged olives, sulphur, and trico hatches. These flies are very small and not for the visually challenged to fish with. Fly recommendations are size 18 and 20's on 7x tippet, but there is usually an hour or so in the morning and in the evening pretty much around the year when it is warm enough. Hundreds of browns seem to appear out of nowhere and dry fly fishing can be quite good, but anglers have to be on with what flies to use and size. Eventually Mossy Creek flows into more private land and into it's confluence with the North River in nearby Bridgewater. Here the river is dammed up and it quickly turns into a warm water smallmouth stream. This is a great area to come and cool off after a tough day. Make some open casts as wading is allowed and catch a few easier fish. Other options to fish are Beaver Creek near Ottobine, which requires a signed permit card and is on a first come, first served basis, Smith Creek, and you are also surrounded by an abundance of mountain streams to the West and Shenandoah National Park to the East full of brook trout.
I strongly recommend that everyone give Mossy Creek a shot. You will more than likely come away humbled on this trout water, but that's okay. There are a few good breweries and wineries in the area to drown your sorrows after drowning some flies. It takes a while to get the gist of the stream and it's intricacies. Even after two decades I have both unproductive days and great days, but I always feel like my casting and presentation need to be tight. It's a challenge I don't often get with any other stream in the area, and catching a large brown trout or rainbow trout out of there is always something to appreciate.