North River, Three Streams in One
Updated: Mar 19
Tumbling east from the Augusta County/West Virginia border, North River starts as a tiny run that collects steam at it flows through George Washington National Forest. The small, high gradient stream is paralleled by a forest road so access and camp sites are widely available. The upper reaches hold a fair amount of native brook trout, and several miles are open and avoided by the masses since there are widely stocked waters downstream.
Avoid the crowds as you cast dries to runs and pools.
The stream continues to fill with feeders and enters around 4 miles of state stocked Put and Take waters. Fly fishing tends to be a bit less consistent in these areas as there are no restrictions on lures. Poaching and harvesting of undersized fish have left a stretch that looks great, but sometimes does not hold many fish. Stocking continues in Elkhorn Lake, the first impoundment of the North River. Trout and bass are present in the small lake, and many people canoe or boat with electric motors during the warmer months. Expect to see some cars by the lake as it is a popular weekend hangout.
Below Elkhorn Lake, the North River goes into a 1.5 mile stretch of Delayed Harvest Water. That means that the stream is stocked through the year, and it is catch and release only until the summer temperatures cannot keep fish alive. Also only artificial lures are permitted, and no bait may be in possession. These basically means it gets little attention as it requires walking, and is surrounded by more easily accessible Put and Take waters. Even in May on the weekends I seldom see another person. The state does a good job with this stretch despite it being remote, but low water is a problem in the summer so best to hit it in the early Spring.
Once again North River is dammed up to create Staunton City Reservoir. Directly below the dam is the final stretch of fishable water. Again Put and Take fishing spots dot the roadside and down to the camping area. Below the camp is the Gorge Section of the North River. There is only an upper access point through the campground or the lower access point by Todd Lake that allows you to enter this steep canyon. Trails and footbridges cross the stream and fly fishing can produce great results for stocked fish and the few natives that hang around.
Eventually North River tumbles out of the mountains and into Shenandoah Valley as it heads east through Stokesville to Bridgewater, VA. It connects with Mossy Creek and becomes a warm water fishery. It continues to cuts east across the valley floor and becomes one of the main tributaries to the Shenandoah River. Primitive camping is all that is available and there is no cell service in the area. Treading around these remote forests should not be taken lightly and you should always register with the Forest Service. The campground at Todd Lake does offer better camping options, and is only miles from Stokesville store and cell service.