When you plan a trip on the New River in southwest Virginia, you will be floating into the past. The New River is an ancient river system, the oldest on the North American continent and second only to the Nile River in Africa as the oldest river in the world. It begins as two streams in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, before merging into the New River four miles from the Virginia line. And therein lies another quirk of this ancient river – it flows northward rather than southward like most of the other major rivers along the eastern seaboard. It meandors some 160 miles through the counties of Grayson, Carroll, Wythe, Pulaski, Montgomery and Giles in Virginia before it turns into Bluestone Lake in West Virginia and emerges later as the Kanawha River at the Gauley Bridge. The New River ends its metamorphosis when it empties into the great Mississippi River.
Throughout its journey in Virginia, the New River flows through spectacular, untamed mountain scenery complete with craggy rock cliffs and magnificent gorges. Thus, the New River provides plenty of excitement for whitewater enthusiasts, with several major Class II – III rapids. There is also an abundance of flatwater to please motorboaters and canoeists.
Fishing is not to be missed in the New River. Simply stated, New rivals the James and Rappahannock rivers as one of the best fishing rivers in Virginia. It supports outstanding populations of just about every major freshwater game fish in the state: smallmouth bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, striped bass, white bass, hybrid striped bass, muskellunge, walleye, black crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, yellow perch, redbreast sunfish, and bluegill. State records that have been caught in the New River include muskellunge (45 lbs. 8 oz.), smallmouth bass (8 lbs. 1 oz.) which was caught 3/12/2003, yellow perch (2 lbs. 7 oz.). The state record spotted bass came out of Claytor Lake in 1993 at 3 lbs. 10 oz. And the river has the potential to yield many more record-setting catches in the future.
Fast water and big rock outcroppings are a feature of the New River, spelling perfect habitat for big smallmouth bass and flathead catfish. You can pull your canoe up on an island and fish with jigs or spinner baits to hook some fine trophies.
But that doesn’t mean the New is all fast water. Several lazy, slow stretches abound, where you can soak in the spectacular scenery of rock cliffs, old Indian settlements and tobacco farms, and still have luck fishing for rock bass near grass beds. The slow waters near the dams along the river will yield big flathead and channel catfish as well as walleye and smallmouth bass when fished with jigs and live bait.
Outdoor recreation activities abound along the river. New River Trail State Park parallels the river for over 50 miles from Pulaski to Fries or Galax. It is a beautiful tract of land that allows hikers, horseback riders and bicyclists to take in the beauty of the river as it sweeps through southwestern Virginia. Plus, a trip to the historical Shot Tower State Park near Jackson Ferry is a must. The 4,500-acre Claytor Lake in Pulaski County was created out of the river in 1939 by a hydroelectric dam, and is now a well-used recreational spot. The 400+ acre Claytor State Park adjoins the lake, providing campgrounds, cottages, a marina, and hiking trails for visitors.
Outfitters can be found all along the New River, so a quick call to a local chamber of commerce will put you in touch with an experienced guide who will eliminate much of the worry about planning a float trip along this historic Virginia waterway.
Maps & Directions
Five dams impede the free-flowing New River in Virginia: Fields Dam, Fries Dam, Byllesby Dam, Buck Dam, and Claytor Dam. But many of these can be portaged, and often provide some good flatwater fishing. Thanks to a new program, Partners in Rivers, portage access around Byllesby and Buck Dams ins now available. Be warned that large volumes of water are frequently released from these dams to generate electricity, so be ready to move ashore if you notice a sudden rise in the river.
Plan on floating one hour per mile under normal conditions, especially if you plan to fish.
NOTE: Approximately half of the access points noted on the map are developed public areas. The remainder are traditionally used sites that can accommodate a canoe or light johnboat and are designated on the map and on the float trips by a letter. Please respect all property by refraining from littering, blocking gates or access roads, and from camping in prohibited areas.
Mouth of Wilson to Bridle CreekMap
Distance: 6 miles
Put in on the west bank of the river near the intersection of Routes 93 & 58. Cartop launch only. A one-mile backwater from Fields Dam, an old woolen mill, immediately greets the boater after launching. This slow water yields good catches of smallmouth bass and muskellunge. Portage the dam on the right side before continuing your journey to Bridle Creek. With the entry of Fox Creek just below the dam, an occasional trophy brown or rainbow trout can be hooked. Easy riffles and scenic countryside can be experienced on this float. Take out on the left bank prior to the Route 601 crossing at Bridle Creek.
Bridle Creek to IndependenceMap
Distance: 10 miles
This is the float for whitewater enthusiasts. Put in at Bridle Creek landing off Route 601 about 1.5 miles south of Bridle Creek community. The river spills over four sets of ledges to create some Class II and III rapids. For those who prefer to bypass such action, Penitentiary Shoals should be portaged on the left and Big Island Falls (near the north Carolina line) can be portaged from the right side. Fast water and big rock outcroppings always spell big smallmouth bass and flathead catfish. Take the opportunity to pull your craft up on a cobble bar or an island and fish with jigs or spinnerbaits around the ample structure. Exit the river on the left side just beyond the Route 21 bridge.
Independence to BaywoodMap
Distance: 12 miles
This is a trip for those in love with flat water and gorgeous scenery. Put in about three miles south of the town of Independence off Rout 21. Be sure you get an early start or you will be doing more paddling than fishing. Short easy riffles and a few sharp ledges characterize all the fast water you will experience. Try casting into the numerous pockets for lively spotted bass action and near the grass beds for rock bass. Takeout is on the right side of the river just under the Route 58 bridge.
Baywood to RiversideMap
Distance: 8.5 miles
Another quiet float for the most part, Baywood can be reached from either Galax or Independence via Route 58. Here, the New River winds around old Indian settlements and tobacco farms. Around two miles above the take out, you will encounter Joyce’s Rapids, challenging your boating skills and providing some outstanding smallmouth bass opportunities. Be sure to fish the cool waters of Elk Creek where it joins the river directly above the take out. For those who opt for a longer float, there are camping facilities available in the vicinity of Riverside. Take out on the left near the intersection of Routes 274 and 94.
Riverside to OldtownMap
Distance: 6 miles
A wide cannel, big islands, and grassy backwaters typify this stretch. Be sure to probe around the islands for muskellunge, smallmouth bass, and flathead catfish. Your trip can be cut in half by taking out at a popular spot on the south side of the Route 94 bridge. Check out the local guide service for camping and boating opportunities. The Oldtown take out is on the right bank two miles past the Route 94 bridge.
Oldtown to Fries Dam (A) Map
Distance: 2.5 miles
This is a short trip to take advantage of the power pool above Fries Dam, a 40-foot rock structure that once powered a thriving textile mill. The power pool harbors largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, yellow perch, and an occasional muskellunge. Be sure to look for signs of blue barrels strung across the river to warn boaters of the impending danger from the dam. Portage the dam on the left bank, following a very steep foot trail up to a public wayside off Route 94.
Fries to Byllesby Reservoir Map
Distance: 7 miles
Launch at the VDGIF boat landing on river left off Rt. 94 at Riverside Park in the town of Fries. A broad river channel and loads of ledges and rock structure greet the boater. If you can pick your way up to Fries Dam one-half mile upstream, sharp rock ledges and deep currents produce trophy smallmouth bass and cannel catfish all the way to the slow waters of Byllesby Dam just below the confluence of Chestnut Creek. These waters can be jigged or live bait fished for big flatheads and cannel catfish, as well as walleye and smallmouth bass. Take out about one mile above Byllesby Dam at a ramp at the end of Route 739 near Riverhill.
Fowler’s Ferry (B)Map
Distance: 2.5 miles
This is a short piece of water sandwiched in between Buck and Byllesby dams. Put in off Route 635 on right side of river at an informal cartop launch. Beautiful bluffs, scattered islands, and rock ledges characterize this area. Nice stringers of channel catfish can be taken near the base of Byllesby Dam, while smallmouth bass, spotted bass, and walleye also abound throughout the entire reach. Plan to paddle back to Fowler’s Ferry or prepare for a long left bank portage around Buck Dam.
Fowler’s Ferry (B) to AustinvilleMap
Distance: 7.5 miles
After working your way around Buck Dam, prepare for a scenic float through a bit of history. The area around Ivanhoe and Austinville were extensively mined for lead into the 1800s. Today, the landscape is dotted with cabbage farms, small towns, and towering cliffs. For the boater, easy water lies ahead along with terrific fishing. Walleye make their way all the way to the foot of Buck Dam and the last four state record walleye (all over 14 lbs.!) were caught in the stretch. The deep pools of this reach yield trophy catfish and muskellunge as well. Trout are caught occasionally near the mouth of Cripple Creek, a premier trout stream that enters the river here. Take out is a ramp near the Rout 636 bridge at Austinville.
Austinville to Jackson Ferry (C)Map
Distance: 3.5 miles
This is a short but scenic float. Put in river right off Route 636 at a new, state-of-the-art boat ramp. New River Trail State Park hugs the river here. A deep, slow pool of water under the old steel bridge is sure to harbor lunker muskellunge and channel catfish. Take out at New River Trail State Park, Foster Falls Village either above Foster Falls, a Class III-IV rapid, or below it. Be sure to visit the historical Shot Tower State Park before leaving the vicinity of Jackson Ferry.
Jackson Ferry (C) to AllisoniaMap
Distance: 13.5 miles
For those with a love of whitewater, you can put in above Foster Falls, a Class III-IV rapid, at one of the two new ramps constructed in New River Trail State Park, Foster Falls Village. For the more faint of heart, put in about 300 yards downstream below Foster Falls at the second ramp in the park. The Foster Falls area contains numerous rock gardens and sharp ledges – home to big smallmouth and spotted bass. Downstream, beach your canoe on one of the many islands and fish the deep runs for walleye, white bass, and catfish. Closer to Allisonia, the river begins to slow as you enter the deep waters of Claytor Lake. Take advantage of the cool water being supplied by Big Reed Island Creek, just above the landing. A nice, 10-car parking area and concrete ramp is available to Allisonia off Route 693 for those who prefer to do a little outboard motoring.
21 miles in length
Claytor Lake is a 4,500-acre hydroelectric facility built in 1939 by Appalachian Power Company. Two major boat landings, one owned by VDGIF and one by Claytor Lake State Park are located close to Claytor Dam on the north side of the lake. Three other private ramps also give access to Claytor Lake. The 472-arce Claytor Lake State Park has four campgrounds, cottages, a marina, and hiking trails. Claytor Lake has an array of game fish species to satisfy the needs of any freshwater angler. Striped bass, hybrid stripers, white bass, walleye, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, black crappie, yellow perch, channel catfish, and a variety of sunfish lurk below the rocky cliffs of the lake. Walleye run up the river as early as February and white bass make their annual spawning runs in April and May. Boats with outboard motors are recommended to navigate the water of the lake.
Claytor Dam to Peppers Ferry (D)Map
Distance: 11 miles
Launch on the east bank off Route 605 after passing under I-81. Maneuver up to Claytor Dam to take advantage of some great smallmouth bass, spotted bass, and flathead catfish angling. Muskellunge are stocked from Claytor Dam to the West Virginia line. Be sure to fish the mouth of Little River as it enters New River directly below the dam. Water conditions from this landing to the West Virginia line can change rapidly (2-3 foot rise in a short period of time) when power is being generated at the dam. Be sure not to camp too close to the shore or get caught wading in mid-river when APCO is releasing water. This is a relatively mild float with no major rapids and modest scenery. Exit the river on the left just above the Route 114 bridge at Peppers Ferry. Or, you can cut the trip in half by taking out or launching at a ramp near the Dedmon Sports Complex of Radford University.
Peppers Ferry (D) to WhitethorneMap
Distance: 8.5 miles
Informal put in on river left at the Route 114 bridge. The river slowly winds around tall cliffs, residential development, and the Radford Army Ammunition Plant. Scattered ledges and easy riffles characterize much of this float. Boaters beware of a Class II drop known as Arsenal Rapids. The rapid should be scouted and portage on the right bank. Excellent smallmouth bass fishing can be found from the falls to Whitethorne, along with the usual river fish assemblage, including a few largemouth bass, black bass, black crappie, and channel catfish that have made their way out of Claytor Lake. Take out is at Whitethorne, a developed VDGIF boat landing off Route 623 on the right side of the river.
Whitethorne to Big Falls (E)Map
Distance: 7 miles
Put in at the end of Route 623 at Whitethorne. This section is punctuated by several small ledges and riffles. Smallmouth action in this reach is nothing short of fabulous! It is not uncommon to hook several fish in the 2-4 lb class while using hell-grammites, jigs, or crayfish imitations. This is also one of the best areas on the lower New River to tangle with trophy muskellunge. As soon as the river leaves Montgomery County and flows into Giles County (approximately 5 miles), it roars over a two-foot ledge known as Big Falls. Take out along Route 625 above or below the falls. This is a Class II-III run depending on water conditions. It is also a popular tubing spot for students from VA Tech and Radford University, so expect a lot of activity in the river during the warm months.
Big Falls (E) and Eggleston (F)Map
Distance: 2.5 miles
This beautiful reach is typified by towering cliffs, deep pools, and a few challenging riffles. One difficult rock ledge is located on the right side of an island one mile above the Eggleston bridge. Anglers can expect to catch big muskellunge in this section. Some of the largest catches of this fish have come from the area between Whitethorne and Eggleston. Be sure to cast large plugs or use adult chubs to increase your chances of landing a trophy musky. Smallmouth bass fishing is outstanding as well. Take out on left bank just before the Eggleston bridge (Rout 730) along Rt. 622.
Eggleston (F) to Pembroke (G)Map
Distance: 6 miles
This is a short but beautiful float. Towering palisades line the water’s edge as the boater drifts slowly through the bends in the river. Short riffle areas are interspersed through this reach, inviting the angler to beach his craft and try flycasting a wooly bugger in the swirling pockets and runs. Take out off Route 623, on the right side above the bridge.
Pembroke (G) to Ripplemead (H)Map
Distance: 2 miles
The outstanding scenery continues through this short piece of the river. Walker Creek, a notable tributary, enters the river about halfway through the trip. Several small islands dot the channel, offering a good opportunity to stretch and fish for rock bass and smallmouth bass in and around the channels. Fishing below the many small ledges can be productive as well. Take out off Route 636 on left bank, just under the Route 460 bridge.
Ripplemead (H) to Bluff City (I)Map
Distance: 7.5 miles
Be on your toes for some whitewater action after entering the river at Ripplemead. A Class II rapid awaits approximately one mile form the put in, followed by several more ledges that produce great canoeing fun. A long series of Class II riffles and ledges are located a mile below the confluence of Big Stony Creek. Clendennin Shoals, located near the tow of Pearisburg, is the strongest rapid in the float and provides some excellent opportunities to land a big smallmouth bass or monster flathead catfish. Bragging size muskellunge can also be caught in the deep holes. Take out on the left side of the river below the Route 460 bridge near Bluff City.
Bluff City (I) to Rich CreekMap
Distance: 5.5 miles
Flat water dominates this run. Several small ledges and rock gardens can be handled easily, but beware of Narrows Falls, located below the town of Narrows. This is a Class III rapid that should be scouted thoroughly before attempting to run it. Narrows Falls drops around 7 feet in 50 feet of river. An old, crumbled dam at the end of the run forms several hydraulic that can be lethal to unsuspecting boaters. Fish the confluence of Wolf Creek at Narrows for smallmouth bass, rock bass, muskellunge, and catfish. Take out at the VDGIF landing the right bank just below Narrows Falls. A new informal take out is at the mouth of Wolf Creek, just above the falls.
Rich Creek to Glen LynMap
Distance: 5 miles
This is a gentle float, interrupted by a few short riffles and several large islands. The VDGIF Glen Lyn landing is located at a beautiful small park on the right-hand side, just above the Route 460 bridge. Take the kids on this short float and introduce them to the joys of float fishing. Catches of smallmouth bass, redbreast sunfish, and rock bass can be expected in this reach of the river. Around seven miles of the river flow through Virginia before leaving the state at this point, but finding a take out can be difficult. Paddling the slow waters of Bluestone Lake when it is at full pond in not desirable either, so many boaters consider Glen Lyn to be the final stop on the scenic New River in Virginia.
The New River offers a variety of fishing opportunities as well as some real trophy fishing potential. Largemouth bass, spotted bass, and smallmouth bass (called black bass) are all found in the New River. Smallmouth bass are, by far, the most abundant of these black bass in the river.
March, April, and May are the top months to catch trophy-smallmouth bass from the river, but a good number of trophy “smallies” are also caught in July, August, and September.
Techniques that produce these large smallmouth bass include fishing nightcrawlers, soft plastics, and top water lures in the summer months. Anglers should do well year-round with any bait that mimics crayfish, which are smallmouth’s preferred prey. During summer months, buzz baits worked around downed trees or weedbeds (particularly water willows) often produce strikes from lunker smallmouths.
While smallmouth bass are the top species to catch from the New River, sections of the river hold trophy largemouth bass as well. This is particularly true of the Montgomery County portion of the New River (from Claytor Dam to Big Falls). In September 1999, Gloria Treadway hooked into an 11-pound giant in this section of the river. According to Department records (dating back to 1963), this was the biggest largemouth bass ever caught from the New River. Prior to Mrs. Treadway’s catch, the biggest largemouth bass caught in the New River were 10-pounders caught in April 1991 and May 1994.
The muskie is the largest game fish found in the New River. They are stocked throughout the entire New River from North Carolina to West Virginia. The current Virginia state record, a 45 lbs 8 oz trophy, was caught in the lower New River in June 2007. From 1997 through 2003, 190 citation size muskie (15 pounds or 40 inches) were registered in Virginia. In fact, from 1990 through 2003, 45% of all muskie citations registered in the state were caught in the New River.
A four year research project on the lower New River muskie population was recently completed by a Virginia Tech graduate student. This study, funded by the VDGIF, looked into seasonal muskie movement in the river, habitat preferences, feeding habits, and growth patterns. The food habit portion of the study consisted of pumping the stomachs of over 200 muskies collected during electrofishing surveys. The released muskie probably never knew they lost a meal! Young muskie ate primarily shiners (a small minnow), mid-size muskie fed on rock bass and sunfish, and the largest fish mainly fed on suckers. Although a muskie is an opportunistic feeder and will eat almost anything, only 5% of the recovered food items were smallmouth bass. Anglers have a much greater impact on the smallmouth population than do the muskie. For additional information on the research and New River muskie in general, contact Joe Williams, Fisheries Biologist in Blacksburg, at 540-961-8304, Ext 3.
Catching a muskie can be a real challenge. It can take many, many casts to hook into one of these “toothy critters” but the excitement of fighting one is well worth the effort. Good numbers of muskie can be found near every boat landing and in the river reaches in-between. Large crankbaits, jerkbaits, and in-line bucktail spinners are all good baits for muskie. Live bait fishing (including the use of trout) can be an extremely effective fishing method in the winter months.
We know more about the New River walleye population than ever before thanks to a graduate research project conducted in the late 1990’s. This Virginia Tech study, also funded by the VDGIF, identified a genetically unique native walleye population in Claytor Lake and the upper New River above the lake. Despite stockings of other genetic strains since the 1930’s, this native strain has continued to reproduce, but in very low numbers.
Since completion of the study, efforts have been made to protect and enhance the native walleye fishery through selective broodstock collection and fingerling production at hatcheries in Virginia and West Virginia. We have been fortunate to stock over 61,000 native fingerling walleye and more than 600,000 baby walleye into the river from 2000 through 2003. No other genetic strains of walleye have been stocked in Claytor or the river since 1996.
Walleye fishing in the New River is best during the winter months and peaks from February through May during the walleye spawning season. Two main spawning grounds for river walleye were identified during the research study, Fosters Falls (in Fosters Falls Village, part of the New River Trail State Park), and the area upstream from there at Buck Dam. There are two boat ramps in the Village, both of which are best suited to shallow running jon boats. Below Buck Dam is a newly constructed parking lot and bank fishing access site at the end of State Route 636 in the Austinville area. The current Virginia state record (15 pounds, 15 ounces) was caught from the upper New River near one of these two areas. Small jigs tipped with minnows, plastic grubs, and minnow type jerkbaits are all effective walleye baits.
All sections of the river have populations of flathead and channel catfish. Good areas to fish for catfish downstream from Claytor Lake include the river just below Claytor Dam, below Pepper’s Ferry Bridge (Route 114), the Whitethorne and Belspring areas (all three locations are in Montgomery County), and Narrows, Pearisburg, and Eggleston in Giles County. Upstream from Claytor Lake, catfish are numerous from Foster’s Falls to Allisonia (Pulaski and Wythe Counties), near Foster’s Falls in Wythe County, and in the Baywood and Independence sections in Grayson County.
Panfish typically caught from the river include redbreast sunfish, bluegill, and rock bass. Rock bass are found in the highest numbers, but their sizes vary between areas of the river. Good locations for nice-sized rock bass include Radford and Whitethorne in Montgomery County, and Old Town, Baywood, and Mouth of Wilson in Grayson County. Many of the major tributaries of the New River provide an opportunity to catch numerous sunfish in solitude. Some of the streams to check out include Big Walker and Wolf Creeks in Giles County, the Little River in Floyd and Montgomery Counties, and Reed Creek in Wythe County. Since these streams are primarily on private lands, anglers should ask streamside landowners for permission to fish them.
Bass – Effective January 1, 2015:
New River-Fields Dam (Grayson County) downstream to the VA-WV state line and its tributaries Little River downstream from Little River Dam in Montgomery County, Big Walker Creek from the Norfolk and Western Railroad Bridge downstream to the New River, and Wolf Creek from the Narrows Dam downstream to the New River in Giles County (This does not include Claytor Lake which is delineated as: The upper end of the island at Allisonia downstream to the dam.) No bass 14 to 22 inches, only 1 per day longer than 22 inches, 5 per day in the aggregate.
- New River upstream of Buck Dam in Carroll County: No walleye less than 20 inches, creel limit 5 per day
- Claytor Lake and the New River upstream of Claytor Lake Dam to Buck Dam in Carroll County:
- February 1 to May 31: 2 walleye per day; no walleye 19 to 28 inches
- June 1 to January 31: 5 walleye per day; no walleye less than 20 inches
- New River downstream from Claytor Dam: The statewide limits of 5 walleye per day, no walleye less than 18 inches apply in this section.
- 1 per day
- no Musky less than 42 inches (includes Claytor Lake)
North Carolina fishing licenses or permits are honored on the mainstream portion of the river from the confluence of the North and South Forks of the New River in North Carolina (Alleghany County), downstream to the confluence of the New and Little Rivers in Virginia (Grayson County).
The Department has numerous boat ramps along the river, including new facilities at Byllesby, Austinville, and Pembroke. A float guide, showing the location of public access to the New River is available under the Maps section.
The New River Trail State Park does have a variety of facilities and camping areas adjacent to the river. Information on these facilities can be found on theDepartment of Conservation & Recreation’s Web site.
Please contact the Marion Regional VDGIF Office.