Access & Resources
A three-day stay costs $695 per person, which covers lodging, all meals, fishing gear, lessons, and guide. Burnett also offers drift-boat fishing and backcountry trips in the national park. 800-866-9958 www.shenandoah-lodge.com
TEN MINUTES AFTER WADING chest-deep into the South Fork of Virginia's Shenandoah River, my fellow gueststhree brothers from Bostonand I have all caught fish. No troutyetbut we've landed spirited bluegills and smallmouth bass, not bad for lifelong spin casters taking a crack at fly-fishing. Our guide, Alec Burnett, a native Virginian, chain-smoking former chef, and owner of the Shenandoah Lodge, nudges and cajoles us: Try that hole there. Slow down your cast.
Burnett's two-story wood-frame inn, tucked into walnut, locust, and oak forests on a dead-end dirt road 20 minutes west of Shenandoah National Park and the town of Luray, looks the part of a woodsy Appalachian retreat. The 12-year-old lodgeone of three in the state endorsed by Orvissits on a knoll above the rocky river, surrounded by the northern ridge of 3,000-foot Massanutten Mountain.
Despite the lodge's appearance and pedigree, it's not all good ol' boys and cigar smoke. The proprietor's infectious passion and encyclopedic knowledge of fish ensure river pleasures for novices as well as experts. He is patient with beginners, and his approach is occasionally unorthodoxthe river has trout and bass, yet he sees fat-and-fighting carp as sport fish, not junk-eating rubber-lips, as would many of his peers.
When it gets too dark to cast, the diversions are simple: cold beer, bourbon, meat-and-potato meals with a hint of gourmet (chateaubriand is a house specialty), and kicking back on the wraparound porch, surrounded by wilderness. Guests, usually no more than four to six at a time, stay in two bedrooms adjacent to an airy great room; there's also a shared bath. The fish-themed bedrooms come with an ample supply of fishing tomes. Some afternoons, it's hard to choose: Return to the river and try for a 20-pound carp, or get comfortable by the fireplace with McClane's New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia?