Brian Dauer and Jason Hughes Showing Off Shenandoah River Smallmouth Bass

Shenandoah River Bass Fishing with Brian Dauer

The Shenandoah River is a famous and popular fishing destination in Virginia. We caught up with Brian Dauer. Brian has spent the last 5 years getting to know the Smallmouth Bass on the Shenandoah with both his fly fishing and spinning gear. Brian provides information on his approach to fishing the River. His insight provides a great starting place for all of us to approach a trip to the Shenandoah River.

What are your favorite aspects of fishing the Shenandoah?

I started fishing the Shenandoah just five years ago. I enjoy the nonstop Smallmouth action in the Spring and Summer months. If you dodge the stretches with tubers, it’s peaceful and receives light pressure. The fish are willing to take anything from topwater poppers to streamers on the fly rod. I really enjoy taking rookie fishermen out since the consistency of the ‘Doah can be appreciated by all skill levels of fisherman.

You mention on your blog that the Shenandoah’s reputation has dropped for big fish but that you also think the condition of the Smallmouth fishing is not as bad as some have suggested. What do you consider the current health of the River and its Smallmouth Bass fishing?

The biologist reports do not change much year over year, but the size of the fish has improved during my five years on the river. I’ve heard that the North Fork Shenandoah holds higher quality fish, but accessibility is not as easy. It becomes very low and vegetated in the summer months. I’ve only fished the South Fork and I’ve yet to leave a day long trip without netting at least one over 14 inches. My early Spring trips have yielded multiple 20 plus inch fish, but these beasts seem to get sluggish in the heat of Summer.

Certainly, quantity of fish is not lacking on the Shenandoah. What do you consider an average summer day fishing the Shenandoah?

Spring and Summer definitely fish differently. I’ll do a 5 to 7 mile float on the river. In the Spring I’ll catch 15 Smallies, with 3-4 in the 16 to 22 inch range. In the Summer I’ve landed 50 to 60, but only 1 to 2 above 14 inches. It’s easy to lose count in the Summer.

What sections of the Shenandoah do you like to fish?

I bounce between Front Royal and Luray, but the entire river offers high numbers of fish. We catch the majority of our fish in deep pools near riffles and in all of the pocket water within rapids. Catching these feisty fish in rapids makes for some exciting fights, and I’ve had some fish break off before. The slow moving deep sections are known to hold Muskie, but I’ve never specifically targeted that species. Some day…

Black Bear Downstream on the Shenandoah River
Black Bear Downstream on the Shenandoah River

What safety aspects should newbies to the Shenandoah be aware of for floating the river?

I float on a canoe with a fishing buddy. My only safety advice is to be careful when the water is high and muddy. It can get pretty swift out there if the water is above 2.0 on the Front Royal gauge.

I ran into a black bear and her cubs out there once. They were docile, but fishermen should keep their eyes peeled when they’re on the river alone.

I saw you enjoy fly fishing the river. What is your favorite fly rod setup for summertime on the Shenandoah?

I use a 9 foot 5 Wt rod to fish the river. I actually taught myself how to fly fish out there and I continue to use my first rod, an Orvis Clearwater rod and reel since I don’t mind it taking a beating in the canoe. I’ve seen people with heavier artillery, but I don’t think it’s necessary for these fish. It’s also shallow enough to use standard floating line with a 3X leader.

What are your favorite summertime flies for fishing the Shenandoah?

The Tequeely Streamer is hands down the most effective lure I’ve used. The color and legs of this fly make it look like a baitfish or a crawfish. I let the fly float down a run and then slowly strip it back in. The small erratic jerks seem to get the fish going. In the summer, I will also throw on topwater flies which work great in the morning and evening.

What is your setup for summertime when using spinning gear on the Shenandoah?

The easiest thing to do is throw on a bright shallow diving crank bait. I will also put on spinnerbait or a weightless Senko for deeper water. These Smallies are feisty so it’s not rare to catch a 7 inch fish on a 6 inch Senko.

Big Smallmouth Bass on the Shenandoah River
Big Smallmouth Bass on the Shenandoah River

What are the keys to being successful with these baits?

The fish don’t seem too picky, but you need to be smart about identifying which holes to cast into. Hit the deep holes and slack water near riffles hard. Make sure your lure is set up to be in the strike zone when it goes through these little honey holes.

What do you consider the 5 most important pieces of advice for anyone doing a summertime fishing float on the Shenandoah?

1) Use lighter setups if you can – it’ll make fishing for these feisty Smallies much more fun.

2) If you do not have an anchor, you should park your canoe or kayak somewhere when you come across the best looking spots. Don’t just breeze right by them.

3) It’s a great place to learn how to fly fish. Plenty of room and you should get plenty of practice landing fish if you’re doing it right!

4) Bring some pliers or something to get the hooks out. It’s time consuming to take small fish off of treble hooks over and over again. Nice problem to have!

5) If you catch a nice one in a spot then continue fishing that same spot. I’ve seen big fish stack up in certain areas of this river many times before.

Thank you so much Brian. This is great information and one that has me trying to figure out when I can make a trip to the Shenandoah River this summer. Until then, I will be reading Brian’s Fish The DMV blog.