Virginia offers a dazzling array of trout-fishing possibilities. Here are 13 of the most enticing. (April 2007)
Barry Loupe of Saltbill prepares to land a brown trout from the South Fork of the Holston.
Photo by Bruce Ingram
Largemouth bass are the pot-bellied bullies of the playground, striped bass the angry agitators of the back alley, flathead catfish the top dogs of a street skirmish. But there is something different about a trout -- something primitive, pure, and even poetic. One of the strongest months for trout fishing in Virginia is April; as you plan your trout outings for the spring, consider one or more of the following 13 Old Dominion destinations.
Late last January, I began my trout-fishing year by venturing forth on Rockbridge County's Buffalo Creek with guide John Roberts of Lexington and his niece Sidney Huffman from Roanoke. Roberts, who along with his wife Ellen, operates the Llewellyn Lodge B&B, is an outstanding guide and flyfisherman.
We were fortunate to have a relatively warm January Saturday to be outdoors, something that doesn't occur often in midwinter. Huffman outperformed both Roberts and me, landing the best fish of the day -- a beautiful 14-inch rainbow. Similar size fish are common on the Buffalo as portions of it come under the designation of Special Trout Stream areas.
Specifically on this creek, the special regulation section is from the confluence of Colliers Creek upstream 2.9 miles to the confluence of North and South Buffalo creeks. On this portion, a 16-inch minimum exists, as does a two-fish-per-day restriction. As a whole on special trout areas, only single-hook artificial lures may be used unless otherwise noted, and no bait may be in possession. Other streams feature different minimum size and creel restrictions.
Buffalo is a picture-worthy creek, flowing through scattered woodlots, fields and farms. Husbands and wives, as my wife Elaine and I did, may enjoy combining a guided trip with a stay at the Llewellyn. For guided trips and reservations, contact Roberts at Llewellyn Lodge, (800) 882-1145 or (540) 463-3235, www. LLODGE.com. For information on visiting Lexington and Rockbridge County, call Rockbridge Regional Tourism, (877) 453-9822, (540) 463-3777, or www.lexingtonvirginia.com.
NATIVE BROOK TROUT STREAMS
The past several years I have become more interested in visiting the western Virginia mountains to fly-fish for native brook trout. This is one of the most relaxing, soul-renewing experiences an angler can have. According to a recent Trout Unlimited report, Eastern Brook Trout: Status and Threats, both good and bad news exists in this area.
The good is that Virginia hosts the strongest remaining populations of brook trout in the Southeast. The bad news is that brook trout have been eliminated from almost 40 percent of their historical habitat in the state (an area nearly the size of Connecticut) and greatly reduced throughout more than 50 percent of their historical habitat. Only 9 percent of historical habitat contains significant populations. These are concentrated in the Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests.
These results reflect the condition of brook trout across their entire Eastern range. Traditionally, brookies thrived from Maine to South Carolina, but habitat loss and land use changes have resulted in isolated populations, often restricted to the headwaters of high-elevation streams.
The report also contains comments from Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) trout biologist Larry Mohn and Gary Berti, Trout Unlimited's Eastern Brook Trout Campaign Coordinator.
"While these results are sobering, we are already pursuing many opportunities for conservation of remaining high-quality habitat as well as restoration of impaired streams," Mohn said. "Our collective challenge is to protect our remaining brook trout habitat and restore populations wherever possible."
"Brook trout are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to water quality," Gary Berti added. "The presence of brook trout in a watershed indicates that water quality is excellent. Declining brook trout populations can provide an early warning that the health of an entire stream, lake or river is at risk."
Nevertheless, some success stories do exist, according to the report.
"Brookies are quick to respond to habitat improvements," said John Ross, the chair of Trout Unlimited's Virginia Council. "We have already seen the results of our work with state and federal partners on the St. Mary's (River). By scaling up these programs throughout the state and region, we will see wild brook trout returning to our streams. And that's great news for all of us who love to fish locally with our families and friends."
For more information, contact Trout Unlimited at TU.org. or Kathleen Campbell at (571) 274-0597, KCampbell@tu.org.
In early March, I traveled to Lake Moomaw, which lies near Clifton Forge and Covington and in Alleghany and Bath counties. The VDGIF stocks sub-catchable brown trout and the McConaughy strain of rainbows in the 2,530-acre impoundment. The creel limit is two per day with a minimum size of 16 inches.
During my outing, I repeatedly saw trout disturbing the surface as they fed on baitfish. Interestingly, however, the only trout I caught was a rainbow that went for a jigging spoon. Anglers employ a number of tactics here; jump-fishing is my favorite.
This gambit involves using surface minnow plugs. Anglers hurl these imitations into pods of surface rampaging trout with the hope that one of them will latch onto the bogus minnow. Still-fishing with baitfish and trolling crankbaits and minnow plugs are two other effective strategies. For information on facilities, contact the U.S. Corps of Engineers in Covington at (540) 962-1138.
Immediately below Flannagan Reservoir in Dickinson County lies a tailrace fishery, the Pound River. Beginning at a sign 0.4 miles below Flannagan Dam and extending downstream 1.2 miles almost to the confluence with the Russell Fork River, a 16-inch minimum size limit and two-trout-per-day restriction is in effect. Only single-hook artificial lures are allowed. (Note: The Pound River immediately below the dam remains in the standard catchable trout program.)
The VDGIF stocks brown trout fingerlings to complement the existing wild brown fishery. VDGIF biologist Tom Hampton told me that both of these fisheries are very po
pular with local western Virginia anglers. I passed by the tailrace last July, well past prime fishing time, while on a visit to Flannagan Reservoir. And I found even then that a number of anglers were seeking trout. The Pound fishery is well worth an outing, especially for those sportsmen living in the Bristol, Abington and Marion areas, and especially in the spring.
UPPER JACKSON RIVER
Because of a quality fishery and access issues, the Lower Jackson below Lake Moomaw receives much notoriety. But the upper river above Moomaw sports a marvelous fishery in its own right. The special regulations section extends from the United States Forest Service (USFS) swinging bridge (located just above the mouth of Muddy Run) upstream three miles to the last ford on FS 481 D.
The Upper Jackson receives stockings of catchable-sized trout several times a year. I have visited this area as late as August and found trout present even then. Regulations are the same as they are on the special regulation section of the Pound River.
TROUT HERITAGE STREAMS
This year, the now annual Trout Heritage Day falls on Saturday, April 7. Heritage Day is a celebration of the traditional trout opener the first Saturday in April -- an event that was much looked forward to for generations of Virginia anglers -- before year-round trout fishing became the norm.
As a budding angler growing up in Salem, the first Saturday in April meant going with my school chums to trout streams in the area. In fact, my favorite stream from that time in my life is one of the 16 bodies of water on the Heritage list -- Jennings Creek in Botetourt County. Other noteworthy Trout Heritage Waters include Passage Creek in Shenandoah County, the upper Pedlar River in Amherst County, the Pigg River in Franklin County, the Rose River in Madison County, and Tinker Creek in Roanoke County.
The state's three fee-fishing areas make the lineup (Clinch Mountain, Crooked Creek and Douthat Lake) as do such lakes as Beartree in Washington County and Bark Camp in Scott County. Fee-fishing areas are closed to angling from April 2 through 6 and all Heritage Waters are closed on April 6. These streams and lakes are a wonderful place to bring a kid or a novice angler -- or for an older angler to re-experience the opening day atmosphere of his youth. For more information, consult the VDGIF Web site at DGIF.Virginia.gov.
SOUTH FORK HOLSTON RIVER
Number seven on our trout fishing card is the South Fork of the Holston River in Smyth County. The special regulation section is situated between Marion and Sugar Grove off Route 16 -- a major road in far western Virginia. The section itself covers about four miles, from 500 feet above the dam at Buller Hatchery upstream to the Jefferson National Forest boundary above the crossing of the Appalachian Trail.
Both rainbows and browns in great abundance fin this area. The regulations are the same as on the Pound and Upper Jackson special sections.
The South Fork of the Holston has the look of a mountain stream, with rhododendron-covered banks and densely vegetated shoreline, but it lacks the plunge pools of a highland rill. That's because in reality the South Fork flows through a Smyth County valley. Plenty of 10- to 14-inch trout thrive in the stream, as do a fair number of bigger fish.
LAUREL BED LAKE
Laurel Bed Lake, which lies within the Clinch Mountain WMA, has an interesting history and an intriguing future. Until 1999, the 330-acre impoundment was part of the Big Tumbling Creek fee-fishing area and is still used to augment the flow of that mountain rill. But even though Laurel Bed still receives stocked trout (sub-catchable brook trout in the fall), anglers no longer need a trout license or a daily fee-fishing permit to go after the fish.
Now fishermen can have the unique experience of fishing for brook trout -- and, as a bonus, smallmouth bass -- in a gorgeous highland setting. The smallmouth bass fishing remains good throughout the summer and fall, but the brookie action slows noticeably in July, specifically as water temperatures rise.
BIG TUMBLING CREEK
While you are visiting Laurel Bed Lake, you might want to extend your stay in the Saltville area and ply the waters of Big Tumbling Creek. This is simply one of the most gorgeous streams that I have ever had the pleasure to fish. Plunge pools, rhododendron shaded pools, boulder rimmed pockets and misty morning vistas all characterize this cascading stream.
Overall, between Big Tumbling and its two major tributaries, Briar Cove and Laurel Bed creeks, anglers will have seven miles of highland streams to explore. Among all this beauty, sportsmen will find major concentrations of trout as this fee-fishing area is stocked daily except Sunday.
The fee-fishing period begins the first Saturday in April and continues through September. During the fee-fishing period, anglers will need a regular fishing license and a daily permit. The creel limit is six trout per day. As a bonus, camping is available in the area. For more information, check the VDGIF Web site.
Number 10 on our list is the Roanoke River. As a boy growing up in Salem, I eagerly anticipated going to the Roanoke River for opening day of trout season; and it was there that I caught my first salmonid. I well remember standing in a circle of goodness knows how many scores of other anglers as we flung salmon eggs, corn and night crawlers into a pod of trout.
Waiting until the official opening of the trout stream (some years it was noon, I believe, and some it was 9 a.m.) and listening to the men argue about whether cheese-flavored salmon eggs were better trout catchers than the "regular" ones was a delightful experience. For the record, regular eggs, of course, outperform any jazzed-up version of salmon eggs -- at least that was my opinion at age 12.
Today, trout enthusiasts can experience the Roanoke in a number of ways. Much of the river as it flows through Salem and Roanoke is a Category A stream. This means it is stocked once in October, once in November or December and January or February, and three times from March through May 15.
A second way to enjoy the river is through its two delayed harvest areas. In these two sections, catchable-sized trout are released in the fall, winter, and spring. From Oct. 1 through May 31, only artificial lures are permitted and all fish must be released. From June 1 through Sept. 30, general trout regulations are in effect, which means fish may be creeled.
The first section is the well-known Green Hill Park in Roanoke County, just outside of Salem off Route 11/460. This section extends from a sign posted at the upper end of the park downstream to the Route 760 Bridge/Diguids Lane. Although anglers can easily wade-fish this section, I have enjoyed float-fishing it, putting in at the park and continuing downstream to the Route 419 bridge.
A canoe trip also has the advantage of covering the second delayed harvest section, which begins along Rivers
ide Drive in Salem and continues downstream some two miles to the Route 419 bridge. The later in the season you float -- or wade -- these delayed harvest sections, the more likely that you will also catch smallmouth bass, rock bass and redbreast sunfish. I have caught smallies up to 14 inches on this float and have seen bigger ones.
Our penultimate choice is Peak Creek in Pulaski County. This is another delayed harvest stream, specifically from the confluence of Tract Fork downstream 2.7 miles to the State Route 99 bridge. The local New River Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited performed yeoman work on this tributary of the New, both improving and creating habitat. The organization removed trash and anchored logs to create holding cover and deeper water.
Interestingly, about a mile of the stream flows through the town of Pulaski, which will mean that Peak will become a type of urban trout fishery -- always a good thing to create. The first trout were stocked in October 2006.
PUT-AND-TAKE POSSIBILITIES NORTH<br
The majority of this story has concentrated on streams that feature special designations in some way. But, of course, Virginia's standard put-and-take streams have much to offer as well. Often stocked heavily and located conveniently, these streams exist in some 40 Virginia counties.
Some of the most popular destinations in northern Virginia are the North Fork of the Shenandoah and Hawksbill Creek. In the northwestern corner, good choices are the Bullpasture River, the South Branch of the Potomac and the Tye River -- all of which I have fished and can recommend.
PUT-AND-TAKE POSSIBILITIES SOUTH
In southwest Virginia, possibilities include Tinker Creek, Jennings Creek and Runnett Bag Creek, which possesses my favorite name for a trout fishery. And in western Virginia, don't forget Poverty Creek, upper Craig Creek and the Little River. Of course, there are scores of others.
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Yes, trout are a unique game fish in so many ways. And certainly, the Old Dominion offers some of the best trout fishing in the South.
Find more about Virginia fishing and hunting at: VirginiaGameandFish.com