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Ready for Shad Season?

Fishing the Rappahannock

The tri-county region has an amazing and largely untapped asset – the Rappahannock River.  Recreational opportunities are abundant from kayaking, canoeing, standup paddle boarding, and fishing.  Take a walk along the Heritage or Quarry Trails in Fredericksburg and it is immediately obvious.  Better yet, cruise up to Kelly or Elly’s Ford public access points to fully appreciate the quaint, quiet flow of the river.  Protected for decades by local conservationists, the river has few obstructions along its banks.

No matter your interests, you must try fishing on the Rappahannock River!

Why?  The river is warm water meaning you can wet wade a large portion of the year; you can fish from a kayak or canoe making your way down the river or into adjacent tributaries. There are several varieties of fish to keep you entertained and the banks are quiet and pristine.

Dan Dutton, educator with the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School and fly fishing guide for River Rock Outfitter, knows the Rappahannock River fish better than most.  Every spare minute he is fly fishing on the river and enjoys showing new fisherman hidden spots and techniques to catch fish.


“If you have never touched a fishing rod before, you can go catch fish the same day,” Dutton said. “It’s accessible to anybody.”

We have an interesting event to look forward to every spring (March through April) on the Rappahannock River – the Shad run.  This is unique to our area and worth celebrating.  Since the removal of the dams, there is a resurgence of the annual spring spawning runs.  Tens of thousands of Shad make the trip from the Atlantic Ocean, to the Chesapeake Bay, and up the Rappahannock River.  If you stand above the river and look down, you will literally see nothing but shad, in rows, fighting their way upstream.

The American Shad have a long history supporting our local community.  From the Native Americans who first taught colonists how to catch Shad in order to feed their families, sustaining troops along the river banks, and even providing fertilizer to enrich our local farm land, Shad played an important role throughout history and to our community.  This is especially true for fisherman who eagerly await the spring migration of Shad.  Take some time to pay attention this spring and be on the lookout for the annual Shad run.

Regardless your preference – fly fishing or spin fishing – the Rappahannock River is a great place to fish.  Get out there, enjoy our amazing river, and fish!

Dan Dutton is available for guided trips, casting instruction, or fly tying throughout the year.  He can be reached through River Rock Outfitter or check out two of his intro classes below.

Fly Fishing 101: Casting a Fly

Fly Fishing 102: On The Water

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