Peter Brookes: Fly fishing on the South River

Peter Brookes holds a rainbow trout he caught in the South River in Waynesboro. Courtesy photo

I was at the point that I needed a “fix”– and bad.

No, not like something out of the smash series “Breaking Bad”– nothing like that. I was thinking something healthful and outdoorsy like out of Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Fly Fisherman or American Angler magazine.

You know what I mean.

Not having a lot of time or wanting to travel too far to feed my “habit,” I had one of those rare — at least for me – “Ah-ha!” moments: I decided to hit the South River in Waynesboro for some fly fishing.

I’d spent a morning on the South River a bit ago while attending a Project Healing Waters fly fishing event for disabled vets with its Shenandoah Valley chapter.

The fishing had really intrigued me ever since because on that day the vets were hooking some nice sized-rainbows on the river just a short cast from downtown Waynesboro.

After the fishing, we walked from the riverbank to our vehicles on the bluff above the water, stripped off our wet waders and were ordering lunch for 20-some hungry vets at a nearby eatery in what seemed to be just a few minutes.


Besides the fishing, I was also interested in hearing about the new – and upcoming – South River Fly Fishing Expo (www.southriverexpo.org) being put on by Destination Downtown Waynesboro April 23-24 at Constitution Park.

So, I booked a trip with Tommy Lawhorne, one of the owners of the South River Fly Shop (www.SouthRiverFlyShop.com ). His outfit also sponsors the expo. You got it: I hooked two fish with one rig.

The shop is located near the South River and within 10 minutes of leaving the store we were geared-up and on the water – despite some ongoing street construction.

It turns out the South River is quite a fishery despite its proximity to a good-sized town. The river is part freestone and part spring-fed,which makes it pretty much fishable year round for both rainbow and brown trout.

It has plenty of fishy food like caddis, too.

The river benefits from both state and private stockings. Besides Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ fall-winter-spring stockings, the South River Fly Shop also throws in a bunch of fish – with permission, of course.

Lawhorne told me that his shop funds and or raises money to put in about 1,200 stocked trout a year beyond Inland Fisheries’ four stockings. In the “delayed harvest” section (i.e., catch and release for nine months) through town, he believes that there are about 500 fish per mile – and the river could support more.

Best of all?

The two miles up- and down-stream from Waynesboro’s Main Street is public water – open to anyone with a Virginia fishing license. This is welcomed news, for sure.

My opinion, but it would be great if the Inland Fisheries changed the “delayed harvest” to “catch and release” year-round, increasing the chances of more holdover and wild fish, which – I think we all can agree – are a lot “fishier” and feistier than those from the hatchery.

Are you listening, Inland Fisheries?

In fact, one of the rainbows I brought to hand with Lawhorne had a lot more fight that I thought I would get from your run-of-the-mill Virginia stocker. From its more vivid color to the “sharpness” of its fins, we were pretty sure it was a wild fish.

We didn’t get into any “Moby Trout” that morning, but Lawhorne insists that there are some real “pigs” in there, including some 25-plus inch browns that clearly have been bellying up to the river’s buffet line for a few years now.

I’m glad to see the expo highlighting Virginia fly fishing and the South River with the some awesome speakers on salt and fresh water fly fishing and casting and fly tying demonstrations. If you have time, you can also hit the water to fish!

What else is to like?

The expo is also “run by all volunteers and 50 percent of all net proceeds will be used for habitat improvement and conservation projects on the South River watershed,” according to its website.

The show is certainly doing right by the outdoorsman – from establishing a new fishing event in central Virginia for the fly guy or gal to improving the angling opportunities on the “South.”

And last but not least, though I hate to admit it: I got my fix on the South River that day – but I’m also pretty sure I’ve now got a new angling “addiction.”

Dr. Peter Brookes, a Fort Valley resident, writes about the great outdoors here whenever he can. Email: BrookesOutdoors@gmail.com