A moderate to large brook trout stream for Virginia, it has over four miles of fishable water.
The Saint Marys River is located in the Saint Marys Wilderness Area of the George Washington National Forest near the village of Steeles Tavern. It has bottom access from a parking area and trailhead on Forest Road 42, and the trail follows the stream closely for miles. It flows west from its headwaters near the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are beautiful waterfalls in the canyon! The main waterfall, about a two-mile hike from the parking area, is an attraction for hikers and swimmers. The fishing is great below and above the falls. At nearly 10,000 acres, The Saint Marys Wilderness area is the largest wilderness in the state of Virginia, and a great location for an overnight trip. Make sure if you camp you follow all wilderness camping rules.
Local Guide Tip: Avoid hot summer weekends on Saint Marys, as it is a very popular spot for hikers and swimmers. The stream and trails are less crowded on weekdays or when the water is too cold for swimming.
The bug life on the stream has been studied for decades. Due to impermeable sandstones and acidic rain, the stream has suffered from low PH. Many PH sensitive mayflies and other macro-invertebrates were disappearing from the drainage in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Cooperatives between the National Forest, TU, and James Madison University lead to liming the stream from the late 90’s through 2013. Crushed limestone in the tributary creeks helped buffer the acidity for years at a time. Acting as a band aid, this has always been a temporary solution for the stream. Fortunately, acidity levels in the rainwater in Virginia have diminished over the years. Saint Marys hasn’t been limed since 2013 and it is doing quite well. Trout numbers range from 1,200 to 1,600 fish per mile, and although most fish are 4-8 inches, there are fish 10-12 inches. Saint Marys fishes best in the spring, and fishes better than most streams during the summer lows due to its size and the amount of habitat. There are miles of water, and like most streams the further from the parking lot you hike, the more you will be rewarded. There are many large, long pools, but there is a lot of pocket water as well. Bushy attractor dries will work well on most spring days. Ants and beetles will work well in the summer. Small attractor nymphs are producers in the fall and winter. The stream is full of Black Nose Dace and Darters, and is conducive to streamer fishing due to its larger size.
Saint Marys is one of the most scenic book trout streams in Virginia. The size allows for several anglers to fish together and have plenty of water. Fishing under Saint Marys Falls makes for a very memorable experience!