Destination File 90: Maury River
Glen Maury Park to Locher Landing
By Doug McCotter
When all else fails, nothing puts me back in balance like a couple days on a river. It really starts at the first glimmer of an idea. The planning of a river float is a good part of the fun. Getting the logistics right is an art that few master, but the effort does get the mind off the grind of day-to-day duties. By the time you see the river, all else is beginning to fade and your mind switches into a more primitive state.
Back in early April I enjoyed five days on VirginiaÕs Maury River (ranked second on W2Õs List of Great Rivers) and thought others might want to hear the tale.
The first thing anyone considering a river trip should arrange to be accompanied by a great fishing buddy. My partner for this trip and I go back to our days spent at Longwood. Both of us have been assimilated into the workforce now, some 15 years later, but weÕre still fishing and exploring whatÕs around the next bend of every darn river we can put a raft or kayak on.
My buddy has a raft, a serious craft that many outfitters use. It has an aluminum frame, fore and aft casting platforms and a central rowing thwart. We take turns on that, but I usually get to cast more. ItÕs a trade-off, because I bring the food and cook.
For three great days we were on the Maury this early spring (March 30-April 4) fishing for smallmouth bass, our favorite. The stretch we fished, Glen Maury Park to Locher Landing, was near Buena Vista. Some of you might know the Maury as a tributary of the better known James River. The two join at Balcony Falls.
The conditions we met on our float were varied, as this spring has gone for much of Virginia. The first two days the winds blew 15-25 mph. On the third day it laid down to a decent 10 mph. The nights were in the 40Õs and the days had temperatures soaring into the low 80Õs. Water levels began at over five feet and receded to 3.5 feet by the final day. Water clarity went from turbid to gin clear on day three.
We tent camped each night off the river at a place called Wildwood Campground in Elon, about 20 miles away from Buena Vista near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thankfully there was plenty of hot water in the showers and firewood. The owner was right friendly, too.
As I wrote above, our vessel is a whitewater raft rigged for fishing. We paddle but also have a trolling motor.
A word of caution to would-be river runners, this section is not for novice paddlers. There are multiple Class II rapids and one Class III. There are several dam remnants and narrow chutes with rapids that can push you into overhanging trees. It is technical water for canoeists and kayakers. You will encounter some drops over two feet and boulders in the middle of the Class II water. But, the river is full of smallies and receives light fishing pressure.
HereÕs how each day went.
We pushed the raft into the water at the Glen Maury Park. They have a canoe launch, but they do not have a boat ramp. Each day we huffed the raft off the trailer onto the riverÕs edge.
On day one we realized quickly that the fishing would be tough because the water was very high and moving at a tremendous rate. This day the river was well over five feet but this was the only fishable water in the Old Dominion due to recent heavy rains. The James River, The New River and the Staunton were un-fishable due to high water conditions.
On a previous trip and maiden voyage to the Maury we did fairly well on deep diving crawfish colored crankbaits made by Bandit and Bomber. We hoped to replicate the earlier success on this visit.
With the river moving so fast our jigs and weighted soft plastics did not have a snowballÕs chance in hell of staying on the bottom. So we hoped for a reaction bite and threw crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
Well, after nine hours we did not catch a fish all day and got off the water humbled because of the fast moving and high water conditions.
With this possibility in mind, we had decided to not go all the way to Glasgow where the ramp is, and instead we had left a truck about nine miles downriver. We found a spot that we thought would be easy to pull the raft up from and get her loaded onto the trailer.
Boy, was that a mistake of large scale proportion. With only two of us, we quickly realized that lifting/moving the raft was a monumental undertaking. With little grace, a bunch of fortitude and brawn we managed to get the raft up the embankment. This was brutal and my back is still not the same.
This was a day of exploration. After yesterday we realized we might as well go and do some exploring on the upper stretches of the Maury since our favorite stretch was running too high to be productive.
We wished we had brought kayaks with us because the there is a lack of ramps and public access up river. We did put the raft in at Jordan Point Park in Lexington, and got on the trolling motor hard and worked our way up stream until the current got too fast for us to go any farther.
This section was right next to the road on one side and a jogging trail in the woods on the other side. We were only able to go upstream about a mile or so because the current was still ripping along.
Here we focused on slow moving water towards the tail end of rapids. We managed a whopping two fish on this little excursion. Both eat craw-colored crankbaits that went about eight feet deep. Neither fish was of any size worth noting. A little dejected, we floated back down and pulled the raft out.
We then drove further up river by car, checking out various other floats north of Lexington. The area is beautiful and the river is gorgeous in this area. If you want to go fishing you have to get permission from landowners, which we did not have. If we had our kayaks we could slide them in at a number of places, though.
We decided to stop on one particular section that has an old torn down bridge coming in over a tributary to the Maury. We then decided to walk around and take a chance at wade fishing. Keep in mind that the weather was breezy but really warm - about 80 degrees.
We found a large back eddy just before a set of small rapids. The eddy was about feet deep and slow moving. The water was slightly stained from the recent rain. We managed to land four fish out of this one hole. Continuing the wade effort, we managed to land two fish in the 16-inch range and we caught a few other 12-14 inch fish. All were taken on crankbaits that were craw-colored. The bait would contact the bottom and bounce off of rocks and the fish would pick it up. We were very excited about this minor wade fishing success and optimistic that the coming days could be very fruitful if the river level continued to come down.
In summary our day of exploration was well worth the time. We found new area that we want to come back to with our kayaks due to accessibility. We caught a few decent fish wading which is always fun, and overall we learned more about this beautiful river.
We hit the river today with 85 degrees forecasted and 10 mph winds. In the end we managed seven fish, all smallies and all taken on crankbaits that ran from six to 10 feet deep. The fish were holding in slow moving water where rocks or brush were present.
We floated all 12 miles and found the first half more productive that the second half. The first half had much more deep pools and slow moving water. This proved to be prime habitat for spring smallies.
We left the river today with brightened spirits knowing that the warm temperatures would continue, the wind would diminish and that most importantly the river was finally falling to a reasonable level.
The weather conditions were prime and the river level was about 3.5 ft.
We launched with high hopes. We again floated the 12 miles and picked apart the deep, slower moving sections. This day we managed nine total fish. The largest was a 19.25 inch pig that weighed over four pounds. We also landed several fish in the 15 to 17-inch range with a couple dinks thrown in as well.
This day the fish were tight to the bank as opposed to middle river structure. The warm temps had really drawn them into the bank. They were probably looking for crawfish and minnows. Several fallfish were also taken on crankbaits as well. While these fish hit hard, they offer little else in a sporting sense.
We did an abbreviated float on Sunday. We got a late start after packing up camp, so we decided to only float about eight miles this day. Right away we experienced success.
There was a pool that looked perfect yet had disappointed us all week by not giving up any fish. Today a 16.25-inch chunk and a dink came off of a Lucky Craft jerkbait. The fish were a bit more aggressive, too. Eight fish were caught on this shortened float. The river was running about 3.3 ft and was gin clear. We wished we had these conditions all week but we could not complain. I liked what we saw from our second foray to the Maury and recommend it highly for those looking to challenge themselves.
Let tell you it was difficult saying goodbye to the adventurerÕs life after five days on the river. As I sit here and write this at home, IÕm already dreaming and planning of my next river float.