Southwest Virginia has been a well-guarded secret among outdoorsmen in the know for decades. However, with so much of the region accessible from the I-81 corridor and the increased demand for outdoor recreation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the secret is out. It’s no exaggeration to say that in the past few years the region has seen unparalleled attention and growth, and it is currently in the midst of a vibrant renaissance that is putting its outdoor resources, Appalachian culture, and small-town charm on full display.
Destinations like Grayson Highlands State Park, the connected Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, the iconic Virginia Creeper Trail, and the nearby outdoorsy hubs of Damascus and *Abingdon *have been on the radar for quite some time, and for good reason. But every year new areas of the region are starting to be explored and "discovered" by recreationists, and in doing so many folks are realizing the vast outdoor recreation potential of southwest Virginia. Along with numerous hiking, mountain biking, birding, rock climbing, and paddling possibilities—there’s also great fishing. And to be specific here, I’m talking about mountain stream fishing.
The Blue Ridge Highlands that form the topography of this pocket of Virginia create many deep valleys and and natural drainages that the amount of fly fishing possibilities in the region is staggering. Sound management practices, diverse fishing experiences, and quality outfitters and guide services only add to the allure. When you add in the fact that southwest Virginia gets an annual rainfall of nearly 50 inches, surging many of the smaller creeks and streams to fishable levels, you begin to realize that this area is an anglers’ paradise. Here are just some of the best rivers and streams to fish in southwest Virginia.
Whitetop Laurel Creek
Whitetop Laurel Creek, widely regarded as the best trout stream in the Old Dominion, is both stunningly beautiful and extremely accessible. By using nearby Abingdon, Va., as a launching off spot, and utilizing the Virginia Creeper Trail to get to some of the best holes, an angler is set up for a great day. Its location within the Mount Rogers NRA means that this area is taken care of, and more than seven miles of this waterway are stocked with both rainbow and brown trout. For the angler looking for a more remote setting, the small nearby tributaries such as Beaverdam Creek and Tennessee Laurel Creek are great alternatives and allow one to go after native brookies and soak up the beautiful backcountry of the region.
South Fork Holston River
The South Fork Holston River originates in Smyth County near the community of Sugar Grove. This portion of the Holston River is formed by several cold-water streams, and it has been called by some the best trout fishery east of the Mississippi. In fact, this waterway has produced the Virginia state record for the biggest brown trout caught at over 15 pounds. Although many will enjoy the stocked trout sections, the SFHR also contains many special regulation areas where native brookies thrive and provide the experienced angler a tougher challenge. "The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has done a great job of preserving wild trout sectors in this area," says Bruce Wankel, a fly fishing guide at the Virginia Creeper Fly Shop. “The stream raises its own.” This highlights that local agencies recognize the importance of keeping things as naturally sustainable as possible.
Middle Fork Holston River
The Middle Fork Holston River is a medium-sized river that contains many different sport fish species. With the headwaters located near the Smyth-Wythe County line, the river flows approximately 56 miles and then connects with the South Fork Holston River to form South Holston Reservoir. Many anglers choose to float sections of this river to maximize their experience. Along with smallmouth bass and sunfish, this river has two designated stock trout areas around the towns of Atkins and Marion.
Wild Trout Streams in Grayson Highlands
Special regulation trout streams in Grayson Highlands State Park include Big and Little Wilson Creeks, Quebec Branch, Mill Creek, Wilburn Branch, and Cabin Creek. These "Blue Line Creeks," according to Wankel, are for the real fly fishing connoisseur. He explained that these high-country streams require solid backcountry skills. Yet with a little information, these areas easily accessed by most folks. If the idea of hiking into rugged mountain streams, surrounded by Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, mature hardwoods, and large rock outcroppings sounds like fun, you’ll want to do some exploring.
The New River, considered to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, offers a variety of fishing opportunities in southwest Virginia. Some of the most popular access spots are along New River State Park, that stretches from Pulaski to Galax. This stretch is mostly slow-moving and provides great opportunities to fish off of a canoe, raft, or kayak and contains real trophy fishing potential. Walleye, muskellunge, catfish, crappie, sunfish, perch, and bluegill, along with many varieties of bass are all found here.
Trout Steams around Wytheville
Within both George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and the surrounding towns found around Wytheville are a handful of great fly fishing spots. Cripple Creek and East/West Fork Dry Run, both located near Speedwell, are two popular wild trout destinations. Cripple Creek is stocked, whereas East/West Fork Dry Run is a special regulated trout area. Venrick Run, located in the Wytheville town-controlled Crystal Springs Recreation Area, is another great example of an area where you’ll find abundant native brookies. Higher up in the mountains, near Big and Little Walker Mountain, there are a handful of remote mountain streams that can be fished.
It is the quality of Virginia’s mountain streams that makes this region so great. "Folks need to plan to come down for more than a day," Wankel says. “(You need) a long weekend, or even a week, to soak up the natural flavor of southwestern Virginia.” As much as Wankel would love to have this place to himself, he knows it’s just too good not to share.
Originally written for AbingdonVA.