Virginia hosts three fee fishing for trout waters: Douthat Lake, Crooked Creek, and Clinch Mountain. If you like plying classic mountain rills with plunge pools, pocket water, and runs, there’s no question which one you’ll prefer – Clinch Mountain and its signature attraction, Big Tumbling Creek, plus two major tributaries, Briar Cove Creek and Laurel Bed Creek. Together, the three streams sport sublime trout habitat in a setting replete with rhododendron and tree-shaded pools and cold, clear water.
Great rhododendron adds to the charm of Big Tumbling Creek.
“The Clinch Mountain Fee Area is stocked four times per week from the first Saturday in April through September 30th,” says Steve Owens, DGIF Fisheries Biologist in Marion. “A basic freshwater fishing license in addition to an $8 daily permit is required. No trout license is needed. Roughly seven miles of stream are included in the fee area, which are broken down into four sections that are stocked on different schedules. Trout fishing is very good throughout the entire fee season, and opportunities exist for anglers to catch trophy trout. Refer to our website for more detailed info.”
Tommy Cundiff operates River Monster Guide Service but also frequently gravitates to Big Tumbling Creek, which lies west of Saltville on Route 613.
“The two lower sections, A and B, have classic pocket water and probably get the most fishing pressure,” Cundiff says. “Section C consists of basically a mountain gorge with very steep sides and lots of plunge pools. It doesn’t get as much fishing pressure because it’s harder to access. Section D is at the top of the mountain.”
The guide says that on his most recent visit to Big Tumbling he caught and released 17 trout from Section C.
“Section C is my favorite of the four,” Cundiff says. “I really enjoy the mountain setting and fishing below all those little waterfalls. I think C also gives fishermen a better chance to catch holdover trout.”
Cundiff says when he spin fishes he uses spinners and Powerbait. When fly fishing, he employs Sizes 6 and 8 hopper and streamer patterns.
At this writing, there is a road blockade where Section B ends and C begins. Temporary access to Laurel Bed Lake (at the top of the mountain) is being provided via the Flattop Mountain Road. For more information on fishing and the road closing: Marion DGIF regional office, 276-783-4860,
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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.
The browns are the major attraction at Whitetop Laurel.
Plus, two special regulation sections exist (12-inch minimum size limit, six fish-per-day creel limit, single hook artificial lure only) as well as three segments managed as stocked trout water. Steve Owens, DGIF 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.
Zac Stovall selecting a fly for Whitetop Laurel. Prince beadhead nymphs work year-round there.
Recently, 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.
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). DGIF Marion office (276-783-4860). For more information: http://dgifwebtest.gooutdoorsvirginia.com/waterbody/whitetop-laurel-creek/
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Spring has sprung and we are in the peak of our stocked trout season. There are a lot of misconceptions about the way we stock trout. Watch us debunk the top five trout stocking myths.
Some trout streams are just, well, special. They might have lots of wild trout, they may have some big fish or they might be unique in some other way. Whatever they are, the 40 rivers and streams designated as “special regulation” all have one thing in common: They are high-quality fisheries that provide days of fun and relaxation to thousands of anglers every year.
They include everything from hop-across native brook trout streams and grass-lined spring creeks to big, bold tailwater rivers and mountain streams loaded with wild rainbow and brown trout. Some are catch-and-release. A few have tackle restrictions. Others have slot limits or minimum size requirements to protect certain sizes of trout.
“Biologically speaking, minimum size limits, slot limits or a combination of other regulations are designed to protect the size structure of the trout,” says district fisheries biologist Steve Reeser. “In the past, they were generally meant to increase overall populations, but the catch-and-release ethic is pretty much the norm among many trout anglers now. That does the same thing.”
So why do we still place special regulations on some streams if fewer anglers are keeping wild trout? Simple. Trout anglers love them.
“A growing number of trout anglers are seeking a different experience than they can get on designated stocked trout waters. They are less interested in harvesting fish and are more interested in a greater challenge, as well as catch-and-release opportunities,” says Reeser. “Special regulation streams give those anglers an opportunity to fish for wild trout with a high probability of success.”
That’s why the number of special regulation streams has increased over the past decade or so. For a complete list, visit the Special Regulation Trout Waters section of the DGIF website. In the meantime, here is a look at some of our top special regulation trout waters.
Jackson River Tailwater, Alleghany County
It’s true that access is sketchy on a large part of this 20-mile long tailwater trout fishery below Lake Moomaw. Thanks to a 1996 Virginia Supreme Court ruling, some landowners have exclusive rights to the stream bottom and the trout that hover over that bottom. As such, those sections of the Jackson River are off-limits.
Don’t let that scare you away from this first-class fishery. Although many sections are posted, there is enough accessible water to keep an angler busy for a long day. One of the best lies just below Gathright Dam. A half-mile section of flat pools, powerful rapids and fast riffles is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE ) and is chock full of rainbow and brown trout.
“There are five public access sites located between Natural Well and Covington where anglers can access the river to float-fish. A map showing the locations of the public access areas can be found on the DGIF website,” adds Reeser.
Anglers are allowed to use any method, including live bait, and they can keep up to four trout. All rainbows between 12 and 16 inches must be released and only one brown trout over 20 inches may be kept.
“There is some harvest, but it does not seem to be having any impact on the quality of this fishery,” says Reeser.
High water releases can make wading dangerous, so make sure you check the release schedule before traveling to the Jackson. A Google search of “Gathright Dam release schedule” will bring you to an USACOE website showing planned releases for two days.
Flows below 600 cubic feet per second are safe for wading, but always wade with caution.
Ramsey’s Draft, Augusta County
Virginia has about 2,000 miles of wild brook trout streams and many of them are loaded with fish. Ramsey’s Draft, located in the Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness Area in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, is one of those high-quality wild brook trout fisheries. It is also one of Reeser’s personal favorites.
“It has an excellent population of native brook trout, although populations can vary from year to year based on spawning success,” he says. “It does get some pressure, but there is plenty of room to get away from other anglers.”
Ramsey’s Draft is located about 20 miles west of Staunton and consists of about four miles of runs, riffles, pools, and falls. A trail parallels the entire length of the stream, offering easy access to the best water. Anglers are restricted to single-hook, artificial lures only and no fish less than 9 inches may be kept.
Buffalo Creek, Rockbridge County
Four miles of spring-fed, freestone stream offers a variety of high-quality trout habitat. Deep, slow pools protected by a tangle of overhanging limbs are home to the biggest trout, but lots of quality fish can be found in the bold riffles and swift pools throughout.
The stream flows through flat farmland and forest and access is abundant along most of the public water. One section requires a moderate hike to reach.
“All of the special regulation waters of Buffalo Creek are on private land, but those landowners allow us to manage the fishery while allowing public access. It is a great example of a cooperative effort between private landowners and our Department,” says Reeser.
The stream is stocked with advanced fingerlings, about 5 or 6 inches, but they grow fast, adds Reeser. There are lots of trout in the 10- to 14-inch range, with some over 18 inches scattered throughout.
Buffalo Creek regulations include a 16-inch minimum size and two-fish per day limit. Anglers are restricted to single-hook, artificial lures and a free landowner permit is required to fish here. It can be downloaded by signing in to your gooutdoorsvirginia account.
South Fork, Holston River, Smyth County
Two special-regulation sections offer a combined five miles of high-quality trout fishing opportunities in southwest Virginia. One lies within the Buller Fish Cultural Station and stretches for about a mile. It is loaded with wild rainbow and brown trout and is supplemented with occasional stockings of large adult fish up to 20 inches. This section is catch-and-release, single-hook, artificial lure only and is a popular destination among fly anglers.
The upper section, also popular with fly anglers, includes four miles of the South Holston and runs almost entirely through National Forest land. Public access is limited to a few trailheads, making this a great destination for anglers who want to avoid crowds. It has good populations of rainbows and browns. Most are in the 8- to 12-inch range, with a few over 16 inches. Only two fish over 16 inches may be kept and anglers are restricted to single-hook, artificial lures.
Whitetop Laurel, Washington County
Spend a day on Whitetop Laurel and you will see why Trout Unlimited ranked it one of America’s Top 100 trout waters. Cold, clear water flows around moss-covered boulders and under rhododendrons hanging over the water. When the flowers are in bloom, Whitetop is nothing short of stunning. In addition, it is loaded with quality rainbows and browns with a few brookies scattered about, as well.
One section in Taylor’s Valley is stocked as put-and-take water, but a large portion of Whitetop within the National Forest is under a 12-inch minimum size limit. Anglers are restricted to single-hook, artificial lures only in the special regulation section, as well.
Access is limited to a handful of parking areas along the Virginia Creeper Trail, but the trail parallels the entire length of the stream. The well-maintained path is popular with hikers, wildlife watchers, and bicyclists because of the steady downhill grade. However, few of those bikers come to fish. Too bad. A bike is a great way to reach more remote sections of Whitetop. Just bike until you see good water, fish for a bit and pedal down to the next fishy spot.
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As the temperatures and the leaves drop, our biologists are stuffing the waters around Virginia with trout for you to catch this fall. The autumn trout stocking season in Virginia is in full effect. Despite the cooler weather, fall is actually a prime time to fish. Don’t miss out on the best time of the year to catch your limit.
Our biologists stock frequently throughout the season, and DGIF has a Daily Trout Stocking Schedule to help you plan ahead for your next trip. If you aren’t sure where to go to catch trout, check out our Stocked Trout Interactive Map to find your destination spot to cast a line this fall.
For information on trout waters, regulations, license requirements, and more, see the Trout Fishing Guide!
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Taking someone new with you? Take advantage of our new Refer a Friend program!
Virginia contains over 2,900 miles of trout streams – that’s not including the numerous ponds, small lakes and reservoirs that inhabit trout. The total includes over 2,300 miles of wild trout streams and about 600 miles of water inhabited with stocked trout. That’s a lot of opportunity for an angler to cast a line in pursuit of one of Virginia’s most decorated fish species.
Trout Stocking Program
The Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) created an announced stocking schedule, so anglers can plan to go fishing at one of these locations weeks in advance.
Spawning from the announced stocking schedule, the Daily Trout Stocking Schedule makes updates on which waters have been stocked for trout each day. This allows anglers to search the most recent stocking dates across the state prior to deciding which fishing destination to go to.
DGIF stocks numerous bodies of water making trout fishing opportunities diverse throughout the commonwealth; many of which are located in the mountainous regions of the state.
“There’s something for everyone,” says Jason Hallacher, DGIF Assistant Fisheries Biologist.
The Department has also established a Youth-Only Stocked Trout Program. Designated waters by the Director will be considered Youth-Only from April 1 through June 15.
“Our goal is to attract youth to the sport,” says Hallacher. He says a potential benefit for getting children involved in fishing will be education on conservation because they will take interest in preserving wildlife and clean water if they enjoy catching fish.
Fees from trout stamps and fishing licenses are the primary funding mechanism of the trout stocking program in Virginia.
Wild Trout vs. Stocked Trout
Virginia offers opportunities to catch both wild and stocked trout through the Catchable Trout Stocking Program and the Wild Trout Program. From a fishing perspective, the difference entails a natural progression from a novice to a purist angler.
Stocked trout are grown at a hatchery and fed regularly, allowing them to grow abnormally large, whereas a wild trout must adapt to survival conditions for themselves, hindering their ability to grow large depending on environmental circumstances. Mostly pristine mountain streams where they live are low in productivity of sources for them. If an angler is fishing for stocked trout, they will undoubtedly be catching larger fish.
Virginia was one of the first states to map out all the wild trout waters in the state. New last year, DGIF offers a trout stocking interactive map. This map highlights the locations of wild trout streams and stocked trout waters, species of trout inhabiting these waters, and fishing regulations pertaining to each waterbody.
Brook trout still accounts for nearly 80 percent of the wild trout resource in the state. The brook trout is Virginia’s only native trout species. Virginia currently has more miles of native brook trout streams than any other southeastern state.
Where Can I Catch Fish?
Hallacher says Ramsey’s Draft, Rapidan River, and St. Mary’s River, are superb destinations to catch wild brook trout. Whitetop Laurel Creek in Southwest Virginia is one of the best wild trout streams in the Commonwealth. Here, anglers have the opportunity to catch the “Trout Trifecta” as wild brook, rainbow and brown trout dwell in Whitetop Laurel.
The Jackson River Tailwater downstream of Lake Moomaw is an ideal destination for quality-size wild rainbow and brown trout. The Smith River Tailwater downstream of Philpott Reservoir harbors an outstanding wild brown trout fishery. Some leading designated stocked trout waters include Elkhorn Lake, South Fork Holston River, Big Stony Creek, Pedlar River, Jennings Creek, Rose River, Passage Creek, and Pandapas Pond. Check out the complete list of Designated Stocked Trout Waters to plan your next trout fishing expedition.
Trout season in Virginia is year-round, but different bodies of water have different regulations and requirements. Regulations have been applied to certain wild and stocked trout waters to manage the species while also providing unique angling opportunities.
VDGIF fisheries biologists work to maintain healthy trout populations and ensure that trout anglers have the best opportunities. Their work has led Virginia to become a chief trout fishing destination in the southeastern United States. Buy your license now to ensure your favorite trout species and pristine water conditions prosper for future generations. As the Department stocks over 1.2 million catchable-size trout in more than 180 waters annually, trout fishing success in Virginia is nearly guaranteed.
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With seasonal changes upon us, now is the perfect time to hit the Appalachian trail in Virginia for a short day trip, or a longer backpacking trip. More of the Appalachian Trail passes through Virginia than any other states and the views can’t be beat. From pastoral scenes, to forest and farmland with creeks running through it, they are sure to make avid anglers and first-timers alike, very happy. Read the rest of this article…
The Jackson River tailwaters is one of the best wild trout streams in Virginia. Tailwaters are unique in that they always have fishable water levels during dry times and even during high water. Here’s a tip for anglers: fish the Jackson when the water is stained—that’s when the big brown trout come out to feed!