By Alex McCrickard, DWR Aquatic Education Coordinator
Virginia anglers are truly blessed with an abundance of trout streams in the Commonwealth. The diversity of these streams provides opportunities for every trout angler whether you prefer fishing for wild trout or stocked trout, spin fishing or fly fishing, or fishing with bait versus artificial flies and lures. No matter what you enjoy, Virginia has you covered.
However, with 3,500 miles of trout streams across the state it can be hard to know where to start. One could truly spend a lifetime exploring all the trout opportunities that Virginia has to offer. If you are wondering where to get started, consider these eight destinations listed below in alphabetical order.
Fee Fishing Areas (Clinch Mountain, Crooked Creek, Douthat State Park)
The Department’s three Fee Fishing Areas provide excellent “put and take” trout fishing opportunities. These fee fishing areas also have the added bonus of being stocked numerous times a week throughout the season. Both fly anglers and spin anglers will enjoy the fee fishing areas.
During the fee fishing season, which opens the first Saturday in April, the daily permit is $8. The Clinch Mountain fee fishing area is an excellent opportunity for anglers in the southwestern portion of the state as you can try your luck on Big Tumbling Creek, Briar Cove Creek, and Laurel Bed Creek. The Crooked Creek fee fishing area is in Carroll County, not far from Galax. Here anglers can try their luck fishing for stocked trout. Finally, the Douthat State Park fee fishing area provides opportunities to target stocked trout on the 60-acre lake and in Wilson Creek. These fee fishing areas are great places to take family members and beginners when teaching them how to trout fish.
Anglers looking to fish a larger river for wild trout should look no further than the Jackson River tailwater. Wild brown trout and wild rainbow trout thrive in the tailwater from Gathright Dam 18 miles downstream to Covington. This larger river provides anglers the opportunity to fish from a raft or drift boat for wild trout, with many in the 12- to 16-inch range. There are six public access points, giving anglers a variety of float options. Please note that some riverfront landowners have brought successful trespassing claims to anglers fishing in a couple of distinct sections of the river. Reference the map on the DWR website for additional information on access points.
Both fly and spin anglers will enjoy the wild trout opportunities on the Jackson. High spring flows can be the best time of year to hunt for larger brown trout with streamers and sinking line. Spin fisherman will also find luck pursuing some of the river’s larger specimens with trout magnets, live bait, or spinners like the Joe’s Fly during this time of year. A variety of caddis and mayfly hatches keep the trout happy throughout the spring, summer, and fall and can provide for technical fly fishing situations. Since the Jackson River is a tailwater, make sure to check the river flows and release schedule before planning your trip.
Mossy Creek is a limestone spring creek in the Shenandoah Valley and is most known for its large and wary brown trout. This special regulation stream is fly fishing only and there are 4 miles of water open to the public thanks to a partnership between DWR, Trout Unlimited, and local landowners. Fly anglers fishing Mossy Creek must carry the free landowner permit, which can be acquired online at www.gooutdoorsvirginia.com. DWR stocks Mossy Creek annually with advanced fingerling brown trout as natural reproduction is limited. These fish grow quickly with the abundance of food in this spring creek.
The slow currents and masses of aquatic vegetation can make Mossy Creek a particularly challenging place to fly fish. One of the best times to fish this stream is after a heavy storm event. High and off-color water conditions align to make for some of the best streamer fishing in the state. Hatches of sulphurs, caddis, BWOs, and tricos keep the trout busy throughout the year. Terrestrial fishing in the summer months is especially exciting with ants, beetles, crickets, and hoppers. Nymphing with scuds and small bead head pheasant tails can work well year-round if you are skilled enough to work your flies through the channels between the aquatic vegetation. Flowing through rolling farmland, this spring creek offers challenging conditions but is worth putting in the time for a shot at a large brown trout.
Brook trout are the only native salmonid to Virginia. These native fish have been in clean, cold, high elevation streams since the last ice age when glaciers receded. There are 600 documented native brook trout streams in Virginia, totaling more than 2,000 miles of native brook trout water. This gives Virginia more native brook trout stream miles than all other southeastern states combined. A large percentage of these streams exist within Shenandoah National Park.
Native populations of brook trout thrive in streams such as the Rapidan, Rose, North Fork of the Moormans, White Oak Canyon Run, and the Hughes among many others. The months of April and May provide fine dry fly fishing in high spring flows during most years. Fly anglers can have a blast fishing caddis and mayfly patterns in addition to general attractors. During the summer months the brook trout key in on terrestrial insects like ants, beetles, inchworms, and crickets. These native brook trout average 6 to 10 inches and are incredible on lightweight rods.
The Smith River tailwater is a popular trout fishery that’s a little over an hour drive south of Roanoke. Located in Franklin and Henry counties, this tailwater provides 31 miles of special regulation brown trout water from Philpott Dam downstream to the Route 636 bridge. The brown trout in the Smith are wild stream-bred fish and some can reach quite impressive sizes, although the average fish is 8 to 12 inches long. There are also two stocked “put and take” sections of the Smith, providing diversity to the fishery with rainbow and brook trout.
Both spin anglers and fly anglers will enjoy the opportunities the Smith has to offer. The Smith not only provides great wade fishing opportunities but anglers with rafts or canoes can float the river to cover more water. Since the Smith River is a tailwater, make sure to check the river flows and release schedule before planning your trip.
The South Fork Holston River is an excellent destination for trout anglers in the southwestern portion of the Commonwealth. The river is located in Smyth and Washington counties, and there are two different special regulation sections and two designated stocked trout fishing areas that lie in the Smyth County portion. The special regulation sections are located near the Buller Fish Cultural Station and one section is catch and release only.
The South Fork Holston River provides anglers with an opportunity to catch some truly large trout. Both fly anglers and spin anglers can find big fish here, and there are both wild and stocked trout present. Anglers looking to target large brown trout will have luck in the fall as the fish become aggressive before the spawn. The wild rainbows alone in the South Fork are worth the trip.
The South River provides excellent fishing for stocked trout in Waynesboro. This river has five different sections that are managed with different regulations, providing a variety of opportunities for anglers. There are numerous designated stocked trout water sections, one catch and release stocked trout water section, and one fly fishing-only section that requires a free landowner permit, which can be found online at www.gooutdoorsva.com. There is also a Youth Only Stocked Trout Water section located in Basic Park that is great for introducing kids to trout fishing. The South River is truly a popular destination in the central part of the state, and many anglers from Richmond travel here for day trips.
The South is a wonderful river to spin fish in the springtime. Anglers will enjoy casting spinners and trout magnets in the higher flows that springtime offers. You can expect to catch stocked browns and stocked rainbows on the South in addition to stocked brook trout. There is some limited natural reproduction of rainbow trout, which is exciting to see. Fly anglers will enjoy nymphing the many riffles and pools on the South. Streamer fishing can be productive in higher stained flows and anglers should look to fish hatches of sulphurs in the spring and BWOs in the fall and winter months.
Whitetop Laurel is a large trout stream located in Washington County near the town of Damascus. This creek offers 7 miles of stocked water in addition to 5 miles of special regulation water in Mount Rogers National Recreational Area. Anglers can fish for both stocked and wild stream-bred trout on this stream. The stocked “put and take” sections of the creek offer opportunities for anglers interested in catching trout for dinner. The special regulation section provides opportunity for anglers to catch trout year-round. Whitetop Laurel has browns, rainbows, and brookies, making this a great destination for anglers to complete the Virginia Trout Slam Challenge, in which anglers are challenged to catch a brown, rainbow, and brook trout all in the same day.
The stream has good numbers of mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, providing for exciting hatches and fly fishing opportunities. Anglers looking to spin fish will find success with single hook spinners and other lures that imitate forage fish. The months of September and October can be the best time of year to search for big browns on Whitetop Laurel as they get aggressive before the spawn.