North River above Elkhorn Lake
North River feeds Elkhorn Lake in the George Washington National Forest and is part of the North River Recreation Area. Forest Road 95 follows the stream west from Elkhorn and crosses the North many times along the way. There are primitive campsite pull-offs all along the way, which makes this the perfect place for backcountry camping along a trout stream.
From where the North flows into Elkhorn for approximately 2 miles upstream, the state stocks trout several times a year. Historically they stock rainbows and brook trout, with fish up to 5 pounds! This water is managed as put and take, and it can be busy immediately after stockings. The further you head upstream, the more native brook trout you will catch.
The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources has done stream restoration work on the North River Upper. The restoration has produced some excellent stream habitat for a stretch of water that often suffers from low summer flows. The native brook trout population has responded very well to the efforts.
Spring is the best time to fish this water. Every major mayfly and caddis will hatch from March through May when the fish will also have the best water flows for oxygen, food and cover. Typically, by mid-June, water levels will drop. The water can get relatively low, and many anglers will simply wait for better flows. Fishing after a big summer thunderstorm can be quite productive. Fish will find it hard to resist an ant or well placed nymph on a summer afternoon.
Fall usually brings low water as well, but fishing small dries and long, stealthy leaders can be quite fun. Some blaze orange or other bright clothing is a good idea during hunting season when the National Forest will be full of hunters. Mid-October is spawning time for brook trout, and responsible anglers give the stream a break until later in the winter to avoid trampling redds (nests).
Winter fishing can be worthwhile, although the roads don’t get plowed when it snows. The average elevation on North River Upper is above 3000 feet, and the roads can stay snow packed for weeks. Fishing small, heavy nymphs on the bottom will give you the best results in the winter.
North River Upper is a shop favorite. Many of our guides head there looking to catch a brook trout and avoid cell phones, paved roads and crowds. It is an absolutely beautiful stretch of water!