One of the finest fly fishing destinations on the east coast offers the healing power of the river to tourists and charitable organizations alike
Story and photos by Ed Felker
When Douglas Dear purchased 200 scenic acres in Madison County 15 years ago, his sights were set on building a cabin as a respite from the D.C. suburbs where he, his wife Jennifer, and their two boys could fly fish the pure waters of the Rose River or just relax. He has since transformed the property into one of the region’s most desirable private fly fishing experiences, and with the addition of unique luxury accommodations on an adjacent property, turned Rose River Farm into a genuine vacation destination.
Dear, an avid fly fisherman, bird hunter and outdoorsman, saw the need for an uncrowded fly fishing getaway that was close to Washington, DC, yet felt far away. With the river limited to only 5 guests a day, an angler might fish all day without encountering anyone else on the river, save for a glimpse through the trees or perhaps a lunchtime meeting at the spacious riverside gazebo. And when you are here, immersed in the splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it does indeed feel far, far away, despite being only about 90 minutes from the Nation’s Capital.
The fishing – catch and release fly fishing only – is excellent. Ilene Smith and her husband Dean have fly fished famous waters all over the world and are regulars at the farm. She finds Rose River Farm comparable to waters they fish in Oregon and Montana, and considers it among the finest fly fishing for trout on the east coast. The easily wadeable river is a fun challenge for beginners and advanced anglers alike. “We personally have fished with expert and beginner fly fisherman at the farm, and both have had the most thrilling and satisfying experiences,” Smith said. Expert individual and group fly fishing lessons and private guiding services are also available at the farm for those wishing to maximize their chances of success on the river.
After a fly fishing trip to Argentina, Dear got the idea for adding accommodations on an adjacent property to the main farm. “I had seen some canvas yurts that I really liked but knew they would never hold up in the humid Virginia climate,” Dear said. “So I decided to build a modern version of a Mongolian yurt but from cedar, glass, and steel.” The three luxury rental cabins are perfect for anglers fishing at the farm or nearby streams, each appointed with angler-friendly details like a fly tying table and a place to hang waders to dry. But with a wall of windows and large porch to capture stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Rose River Valley, and a world of nearby sights and activities to take in, the cabins are perfect for any nature lover looking for a mid-week break, a weekend getaway, or a full vacation.
Staying at the yurts (which are booked separately from the fishing) provides an opportunity for fly fishermen to explore some of the beautiful native trout waters that abound in the area. The Rapidan, the Upper Rose, the Robinson, and many others are within a few minutes of the cabins. “It’s hard to imagine a better experience after an incredible day of trout fishing, than to unwind on the deck of a yurt, watching the sun set over the mountains,” Smith says. “It’s a little slice of heaven.”
Rural Madison County is close enough to Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Tidewater to make it an easy getaway, but rural doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do (unless that’s what you want, of course!). There are countless ways to enjoy the area. Old Rag, just minutes from the farm, was recently ranked one of the top 25 hikes in the world by Outside Magazine. White Oak Canyon, even closer, is one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park. Golf courses, shooting preserves for wing shooting, wineries, craft breweries, and great restaurants can all be found nearby.
It’s easy to see how beneficial it can be to spend time in a beautiful place, “standing in a river waving a stick,” to borrow fly fishing writer John Gierach’s words. Nature, water, and quiet have been soothing souls forever. So it’s natural that Dear has opened the gates of Rose River Farm for many charities. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. uses fly fishing and associated activities to help wounded veterans. Everything about fly fishing – from the act of tying flies, casting, and landing fish to simply being surrounded by nature – is good for the soul. As the founding Chairman of the Board of Project Healing Waters, Dear has hosted annual fundraising tournaments since the organization’s inception at the farm. In 2011, Rose River Farm was named the organization’s National Home Waters.
In addition to the many events for disabled and injured service members, the farm regularly hosts groups such as Reel Retreat, which uses fly fishing as therapy for men with cancer, Casting for Recovery, and The Boy Scouts of America. Dear has recently become involved with the May Fly Project for foster kids, helping to sponsor two kids to come to the farm for Trout Unlimited’s Youth Conservation Camp. It was the first time the two had ever been on a plane. “They both said it was the best week they had ever had,” Dear said, finding both joy and sadness in the statement.
Dear, who was recognized in 2011 as a National LL Bean Outdoor Hero for his work with Project Healing Waters, knows the impact a place like Rose River Farm can have, and works tirelessly to facilitate groups helping those who need healing. “An important aspect of the farm has always been sharing it,” he said.
ROSE RIVER FARM
3099 Old Blue Ridge Turnpike (rt.670)
Syria, Virginia 22743