Now, the Smithfield Police Department is trying to figure who the woman was and how she got there.
"I was coming up from down stream, and I saw the body hanging over in a trash pile," said Jeff Thornton, who found the body.
He said the body appeared to be partially decomposed.
"It wasn't good," he said. "I don't like seeing anything like that."
Thornton called 911 from a nearby bait shop, and he took rescue workers to the body.
Investigators spent several hours slowly removing the body from the river and searching the area for clues.
They said it's too early to tell who the person was. But they said the woman was white and under the age of 30.
"At this point in time, we have more questions than answers," Captain Bruce Gentry of the Smithfield Police Department said.
Gentry added that there are no missing person cases in Smithfield, so investigators are contacting other cities and counties for leads.
The body also has been sent to the North Carolina Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy, which could help investigators identify the woman. The results from the autopsy are expected in about a week.