Our Overlooked Special Regulation Trout
September 30, 2010
Chances are that if you are a trout addict, you already know the more famous Virginia trout streams, but here are some other destinations that you might want to get to know better.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Jane had long blond hair, wore bright red lipstick and dressed in short skirts, except when she wore hot pants, and during the nine months that we dated in 1970 and 1971, I was the envy of all my male friends. She was a glamorous Virginia Tech sophomore from Ohio and liked parties and dancing, and I was a middle-class sophomore from Salem and attending Roanoke College, and I favored fishing and the forest. So even then at the tender age of 19, I knew deep down that we had no future together.
Still, a fellow can dream, especially about convincing his girlfriend about the joys of fishing. My plan was to drive to Tech, pick Jane up and then take her on a picnic to the Cascades Waterfall on Little Stony Creek in Giles County. After a suitable time spent eating and conversing, I would mention to her that I happened to have a couple of rods in my '58 Ford and wouldn't she like to try for some trout in Little Stony.
The eating and conversing part of the game plan went just fine, but Jane frowned when the subject of angling was broached. And she positively whined when we went walking along the picturesque rhododendron-covered banks of Little Stony. I was enamored with the beauty and tranquility of Little Stony; Jane was horrified at the fact that she was in the "wilderness," that cobwebs existed and that spiders and bugs dwelled along the creek. I cut the fishing trip short and not long afterwards Jane cut me loose for a guy named Malcolm.
Looking back, Jane did me a favor by dumping me, for our relationship had already severely curtailed my fishing expeditions in the early 1970s. Today, Little Stony remains a marvelous destination for trout addicts, and this Giles County creek is just one of the many lesser-known special regulations streams that Old Dominion fishermen may want to sample this spring.
LITTLE STONY CREEK IN GILES COUNTY
As I discovered in 1971, Giles County's Little Stony Creek is a wonderful getaway for those living in the Roanoke/Salem/Blacksburg corridor, as well as for those sportsmen residing in southwest Virginia. Most of the special regulation section is below the Cascades where plenty of fair size rainbows between 7 and 12 inches swim.
Above the waterfall, anglers can attempt to fool the stream's native brook trout contingent. To me, this is the most scenic part of the stream and it is also the part that receives the least fishing pressure. The lower reaches below the waterfall is a popular destination on weekends for Virginia Tech and Radford hikers and picnickers, so I would recommend visiting Little Stony on weekdays. The worst possible scenario would be to travel to the Cascades on the first warm Saturday of the spring, when hordes of college students will likely be awaiting you.
The portion of the stream within the Jefferson National Forest is under special regulations. A 9-inch minimum size limit is in effect, and only single hook artificial lures may be used.
One other possibility merits mention. Anglers might want to spend the early morning hours jousting with Little Stony's trout and then travel to the nearby New River for an afternoon of fishing for smallmouths. Little Stony lies near Pembroke, and many fine floats exist upstream and downstream from the community.
NORTH CREEK IN BOTETOURT COUNTY
This past spring, friend Alan Weeks of Troutville and I drove from our Botetourt County homes to nearby North Creek outside of Arcadia. We found the stream as it typically is, that is, replete with pools shaded by hemlocks and speckled alders, runs filled with boulders and chunk rock, and lies populated by rainbows and the odd brook trout.
Our visit was in May, and we saw only two other anglers working the stream. To be honest, those anglers were a teenage boy and his girlfriend and they seemed much more interested in each other than fishing -- that and throwing sticks into the water for their dog to chase.
The point is that North Creek typically does not receive a lot of fishing pressure after April and is a delightful stream to fish anytime. A major reason that North Creek receives even a little pressure is that the stream is a tributary of Jennings Creek, one of Western Virginia's most popular stocked trout waters.
The special regulations section is that portion of the stream upstream from the North Creek Campground. That campground makes for a convenient base for those sportsmen who want to spend several days in the vicinity, either fishing North and Jennings creeks or the native trout streams in this mountainous area.
North Creek is catch-and-release only, and only single-hook artificial lures may be used. The rainbows typically run between 7 and 12 inches.
ST. MARY'S RIVER IN AUGUSTA COUNTY
Back in the mid-1980s, I traveled to the St. Mary's River in Augusta County and immediately became a fan of the stream. A friend and I backpacked into the hinterlands, walking along a winding foot trail that parallels much of the stream. The stream's rhododendron shrouded banks, isolated setting and plunge pools bedazzled the both of us. Once while hiking along a trail, I remember spotting a huge rainbow and trying for some 30 minutes to convince the trout to take a crayfish pattern. And I recall very fondly spending the night along the stream and listening to the cascading sounds of its waterfalls as I drifted off to sleep.
Unfortunately, over the next 10 years or so, stream acidification steadily worsened, destroying the wild rainbow fishery and negatively impacting native brook trout reproduction and, of course, the population itself. Aquatic tragedies such as the one that befell St. Mary's is yet another reason why sportsmen should be aware of clean air and water issues and how those issues impact our outdoor pastimes.
Fortunately, in the spring of 1999, positive measures were taken. The U.S. Forest Service, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and other organizations arranged to lime the stream in order to improve water quality. The river has now rebounded, and the brook trout population is higher than it was during the 1970s, according to the VDGIF.
The special regulations section is that portion of the St. Mary's and its tributaries upstream from the gate near the George Washington National Forest property line. The regulations are the same as those on Little Stony Creek.
STEWART'S CREEK IN CARROLL COUNTY
Situated near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Carroll County, Stewart's Creek may just be one of the most beautifu
l highland rills in the Commonwealth. The stream cascades through its namesake Stewarts Creek WMA (1,087 acres), which ranges in elevation from 1,580 feet to 2,955 feet.
Major reasons why anglers consider the creek such a jewel are its plunge pools, deeply shaded lies, and a canopy characterized by rhododendron, mountain laurel, alders and striped maples. Another reason, of course, is the fact that Stewart's can harbor native brookies in the 9-inch range -- huge by Southern standards.
Some 4.5 miles of Stewart's Creek, and its two major tributaries (North Fork and South Fork Stewart's Creek), are under special regulations. The regs are the same as North Creek. If sportsmen want to experience the stream at its most beautiful, consider coming in early to mid June when the great rhododendron may be blooming.
BIG AND LITTLE WILSON CREEKS IN GRAYSON COUNTY
This past July I fished Big Wilson Creek in Grayson County. But that angling attempt, if indeed it can be considered even that, was only a few random casts as I floated by where Big Wilson enters the New River near Mouth of Wilson. I suspect that many Old Dominion anglers know Big Wilson only as a tributary of the upper New.
Actually, Big Wilson, Little Wilson and their tributaries (Quebec Branch, Wilburn Branch and Mill Creek) together offer outstanding action for wild rainbows and native brookies. Adding to these streams' appeal is that the special regulations sections fall within the confines of Grayson Highlands State Park and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
As one would expect, the native brookies dwell in the upper reaches of these streams and the rainbows thrive just about everywhere. This watershed is known for its large boulders and relatively deep pools and the fact that anglers can often experience the best fishing by hiking well back into the mountains. The regulations are the same as those on Little Stony Creek.
Sportsmen and women may want to take their families to Grayson Highlands State Park. Scenic vistas exist from peaks more than 5,000 feet high, and, in the past, my wife and I have taken our children for hiking expeditions along the many trails that wind upward to those peaks. Horse trails also exist, as do a visitor center, campgrounds and picnic areas. For more information, call (800) 933-PARK; www.dcr.state.va.us.
CONWAY RIVER IN GREENE AND MADISON COUNTIES
It is the misfortune, or perhaps the blessing, of the Conway River to be located so close to the Rapidan River, which is often considered the best-known trout stream in the Old Dominion. As such, the Conway is often ignored, whereas people from across the United States make pilgrimages to the Rapidan. But the Conway, which lies in Greene and Madison counties and also within the Rapidan WMA (10,326 acres), certainly possesses wonderful qualities of its own.
One of those attributes is the fact that the stream hosts one of the better wild brown populations in the state. The browns fin mostly the lower portions of the river, whereas predominantly brook trout hold in the headwaters. Those brookies often run from 7 to 11 inches whereas the browns can reach 18 to 20 inches in size. Another positive is that anglers can find opportunities to camp in the WMA. And, finally, the stream features gorgeous rushing runs, boulder-strewn pools and shaded pocket water.
The special regulations portion of the Conway River and its main tributary, Devils Ditch (certainly a non-typical trout stream name), lie within the Rapidan WMA and the Shenandoah National Park. The regulations are the same as those on Little Stony Creek. The stream lies near the community of Graves Mill.
RAMSEY'S DRAFT IN AUGUSTA COUNTY
I expect very few people who read this article to venture into the 6,725-acre Ramsey's Draft Wilderness Area, which is part of the George Washington National Forest in Augusta County, to fish for native brookies. That's because Ramsey's Draft resides in a very remote, mountainous setting.
Another reason why Ramsey's Draft receives little fishing pressure is that it lies far away from population centers. The nearest community is West Augusta on Route 250.
But for those few hardy souls who do like to experience backcountry trout fishing, the Ramsey's Draft option is certainly a compelling one. Ramsey's and its tributaries feature over 10 miles of native trout water, and obviously the farther back one travels into the hinterlands, the less the likelihood that he or she will encounter other humans. The regulations are the same as those on Little Stony Creek.
ROARING FORK IN TAZEWELL COUNTY
Another stream located in a wilderness area is Roaring Fork in Tazewell County. In this case, the 6,375-acre Beartown Wilderness Area, which is part of the Jefferson National Forest, is the home of Roaring Fork. The segment of the stream under special regulations is that portion upstream from the southwest boundary of the wilderness area.
Potential visitors should note that Roaring Fork has suffered from acidity, which has obviously negatively impacted the native brook trout fishery. The stream is now under catch-and-release regulations, and only single-hook, artificial lures are permitted. The creek is located near the town of Tazewell.
EAST FORK OF CHESTNUT CREEK IN GRAYSON AND CARROLL COUNTIES
Travelers to the East Fork of Chestnut Creek in Grayson and Carroll counties can be forgiven if they ask for directions to the stream in the many small communities that rest near it. That's because locally the stream is known as Farmer's Creek. And residents of far western Virginia can be forgiven that they know of Chestnut Creek only as a tributary of the New River, a rather slow-moving stream where it enters the New near Fries Junction.
But upstream, the East Fork of Chestnut is very much a typical highlands trout rill. A sharp gradient and native brook trout from 8 to 13 inches characterize the upper reaches, as do rhododendron and alder copses. Similar size brookies live in the lower reaches, as the stream becomes deeper with rocky pools.
The portion of the stream under special regulations is that section and its tributaries upstream from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The East Fork is catch-and-release only, and only single-hook, artificial lures are permitted.
NORTH FORK BUFFALO RIVER IN AMHERST COUNTY
Certain names seem to characterize streams in Virginia; many creeks seem to be named after elk, deer, bear and laurel. Add to that list the word buffalo in the form of the North Fork Buffalo River in Amherst County. The Buffalo is a typical George Washington National Forest stream with its large boulders, deep pools, and heavily forested banks. Add native brook trout in the 8- to 10-inch range to the stream's calling cards.
All of the North Fork and its tributaries that course through the national forest come under the special regulations designation. The regulations are the same as those on Little Stony Creek. Sportsmen in the Lynchburg area will find the North Fork to be a relatively close destination.
LITTLE STONY CREEK IN SHENANDOAH COUNTY
The lower section of Little Stony Creek in Shenandoah County is certainly not an unknown waterway, as it is quite popular with northern Virginia anglers. That section below where Forest Service Road 92 crosses the stream unquestionably can experience fair numbers of anglers, particularly on warm spring weekends.
For a more aesthetic experience, consider hiking to the upper reaches of Little Stony. The stream is noticeably smaller in its headwaters, and only a foot trail winds along it. The portion of Little Stony that lies within the George Washington falls under special regulations, which are a 9-inch minimum and the requirement that only single-hook, artificial lures be used. The stream itself lies near Woodstock.
Until I sat down to write this article, years had passed since I thought of my old girlfriend Jane. I seriously doubt that she married a fisherman or that she has ever returned to Little Stony Creek in Giles County or even been once to Little Stony in Shenandoah County for that matter. And readers of this article are not likely to meet Jane or as many other anglers on the streams mentioned here as compared to the anglers they might encounter on the state's better-known trout rivers and creeks.