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Whitetop Laurel: Virginia’s Most Unique Trout Stream

By Bruce Ingram

Photos by Bruce Ingram

Whitetop Laurel just might be the most unique trout stream in the Old Dominion. Located in Washington County in far Southwest Virginia near Damascus and Abingdon, Whitetop features mountainous scenery and classic trout habitat with plunge pools, runs, and pocket water. But as pristine as the setting is, the Virginia Creeper Trail runs along much of the stream, making it one of the most accessible wild trout fisheries in the state. There are even wheelchair accessible pools where anglers can roll their chairs along wooden rails to prime pools. Docks suspended above the stream add to the accessibility.

An image of an angler holding a brown trout

The browns are the major attraction at Whitetop Laurel.

Plus, two special regulation sections exist as well as three segments managed as stocked trout water. Within the special regulation sections of Whitetop Laurel the stream is managed as catch and release, in addition to a single hook artificial lure-only regulation. A freshwater fishing license and National Forest Permit is needed to fish the two special regulation sections. Within the stocked portions of the stream, there is a seven-inch size limit, a six-fish-per-day creel and a trout license required from October 1, through June 15 in addition to the statewide freshwater fishing license. A National Forest Permit is required on some sections of the stocked portion of stream.

Steve Owens, DWR fisheries biologist in the Marion office, says that both wild and hatchery trout can be caught in good numbers throughout the length of the stream. He adds that most wild rainbow trout range from 9 to 11 inches while brown trout can reach substantially larger sizes. Most stocked trout range from 10 to 14 inches.

An image of an angler selecting a fly for night fishing

Zac Stovall selecting a fly for Whitetop Laurel. Prince beadhead nymphs work year-round there.

I spent a morning on Whitetop and a major tributary, Green Cove Creek, with Zac Stovall of FeeldTrips Outdoors in Damascus. At our first stop, I promptly lost one of those “substantially larger size” browns that Owens referred to. Stovall agrees with the biologist about the length and girth of Whitetop’s browns.

“Browns are the main attraction, but there are some nice size rainbows, too, and a few native brook trout,” Stovall says. “Basically, you can fish plunge-pool type water all day, year-round here. Size 14 prince beadhead nymphs will work all year. Purple, red and silver bands seem to attract trout any time.

“From October through March, I use a cinnamon colored caddis for a dry fly and am successful in the mornings until about noon. Caddis come in May, and the famous green drake hatch arrives usually in early June. Beetle, grasshopper and ant patterns are favorites in the summer months. We also market what we call the Whitetop Box, a custom fly box with patterns for throughout the year.”

Stovall says he prefers a 3-weight fly rod with a 7-foot, 6-x leader for Whitetop and Green Cove Creek.

“That rod is perfect for the swift, shallow water that exists here,” he says. “Those big browns don’t have much room to roam when you hook them. So you need a rod with a little give.”

After Stovall and I finished plying Whitetop Laurel, we went to Green Cove Creek and caught rainbows, considerably lessening my misery about losing the large brown. Both streams will make you understand why the long drive to this area of the state is well worth it.

An image of an angler fishing at green cove creek; it is a rock stream with little pools of deeper water throughout it

Green Cove Creek features plenty of pocket water and plunge pools.

Guided trips: FeeldTrips Outdoors (276-728-8866); Lodging and dining: Damascus Old Mill Inn (276-475-3745). My wife and I stayed and dined at the inn, which lies on the banks of Whitetop Laurel. Virginia Creeper Trail (276-783-5196). DWR Marion office (276-783-4860). For more information: https://dwr.virginia.gov/waterbody/whitetop-laurel-creek/

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