Roanoke region trout fishing opportunities By Mark Taylor

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Roanoke region trout fishing opportunities

By Mark Taylor

Western Virginia boasts a wide variety of trout fishing opportunities, from tiny mountain streams holding native brook trout and wild rainbows, to robust tailwaters with trophy browns and rainbows, to technical spring creeks.
Below is a short list of a few of the trout fishing opportunities within a short drive of Roanoke. Again, this is a short list. For more information on trout fishing in Virginia, visit the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website’s Trout Fishing Guide, which includes a special section on Special Regulation trout waters.
License note: Wild trout waters require only the applicable Virginia fishing license. (Resident or non-resident.) Waters stocked with catchable-sized trout -- put-and-take streams AND Delayed Harvest waters -- require an additional Trout license. Licenses are available at retail locations, such as Sportsman’s Warehouse and Gander Mountain in Roanoke, and Walmart. They are also available online.
North Creek is a fairly small freestone stream in what’s known as the Arcadia section of the Jefferson National Forest, just east of Buchanan, about 20 miles north of Roanoke on I-81. The lower stretch of North Creek is managed as put-and-take stocked trout water (as is the lower section of the stream into which it flows, Jennings Creek). Above the North Creek Forest Service campground the creek is managed under special regulations that require the release of all trout. The creek supports a good population of wild rainbow trout in the lower stretches of the special regulation water. The section is adjacent to a road so gets quite a bit of fishing pressure. Above the parking lot at the terminus of the road, the stream holds a mix of brook trout and rainbows, with brookies becoming the dominant species the farther up the creek. Both the brook trout and the rainbows tend to be small, but there are a few 10-inchers to be had. This is typical Appalachian pocket water, with lots of plunge pools. Other wild trout creeks in the area include Cornelius (which runs into North Creek at the above-mentioned parking lot), McFalls Creek, Middle Creek and Jennings Creek.
Roaring Run is a robust stream that originates in a large spring (on private land) then plunges down a series of large waterfalls through national forest land near Oriskany in Botetourt County. The lower section adjacent to a recreation area is put-and-take water, but above the recreation area a 1-mile stretch is managed under special regulations that allows for the taking of two trout 16 inches and above per day. The creek is stocked regularly with fingerling brook trout, and is a popular release point for area Trout in the Classroom programs. Roaring Run is a fertile stream and the fish grow rapidly.
The Jackson River tailwater runs for 19 miles from below Gathright Dam (which impounds Lake Moomaw) down to Covington. There are several U.S. Forest Service-owned public access points along the stretch. The Jackson holds wild rainbows, most of which are in the 8- to 10-inch range. There is some conjecture that wild rainbow numbers are down. It also has decent numbers of wild brown trout, including some trophies. Unfortunately, access can be confusing. The Jackson has been the subject of many ownership and access disputes. Several sections are off limits to public fishing, though floating through the property is allowable as long as boaters do not leave their craft. A relatively newly developed rail trail offers decent access upstream of the Petticoat Junction public access site. The river features a protected slot of 12 to 16 inches for rainbow trout and a 20-inch brown trout limit. Only one brown can be included in a four-fish creel limit. There are no tackle restrictions.
The Smith River tailwater near Martinsville features two distinct fishing opportunities. The roughly 20 miles of water from Philpott Dam to Martinsville features several sections that are stocked with put-and-take rainbow trout. It also holds high numbers of wild brown trout, but the stream has limited productivity in this reach so most of the fish are less than 12 inches long. In fact, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries does not discourage the taking of small browns and has established a protected slot limit of 10 to 24 inches for the entire tailwater. Below a second dam in Martinsville -- a hydro dam that is not a bottom release -- the river is more productive. In this transitional zone there are more forage fish, as well as some warmwater species such as rock bass and smallmouth bass. For approximately 10 miles it also holds some wild browns, and growth rates are much better than upstream. During electroshocking surveys in 2015, assisted by the Smith River TU chapter, samplers found several browns topping 20 inches. Note that due to a recent fire at the power station at Philpott Dam, electricity generation is on hold and release flows have been consistently high due to high water in Philpott Lake. At the current release level of 650 cfs, the upper stretch cannot be safely waded. Smith River TU is working to request a 100 cfs flow for May 20. Flows have also been high in the section below Martinsville, which is best fished by a boat or raft.
Little Stony Creek is a New River tributary near Pembroke, west of Blacksburg. This is a robust freestone creek on forest service land. A trail to the popular Cascades waterfall runs along the creek, providing easy angler access. Little Stony holds wild rainbows and brook trout, most below the 9-inch creel minimum. (Though keeping fish is allowed, most fishing pressure on Little Stony is from catch-and-release anglers.) It’s a steep gradient stream with lots of big plunge pools and plenty of tricky currents to test skilled fly anglers.
Mossy Creek outside of Harrisonburg has long been one of Virginia’s most popular -- and challenging -- brown trout fisheries. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries annually stocks the stream with fingerling brown trout, which grow fast in the creek’s fertile water. Plenty of 20-inch-plus browns lurk under undercut banks, and sometimes show themselves during trico spinner falls and other hatches. A unique public/private partnership allows public fishing on a 4-mile stretch. A free permit is required, and is available online.
Running alongside the popular Virginia Creeper rail trail, Whitetop Laurel is a productive freestone stream that holds a mix of wild rainbows and browns. Green Cove Creek is a small tributary that also holds wild browns and rainbows, as well as some native brook trout. The Virginia Creeper Trail provides excellent access, and a mountain bike or hybrid bike opens up miles of possible fishing water.
The Virginia stretch of the South Holston is completely different from the Tennessee tailwater. Spring-fed and fairly small, the creek has a robust population of wild rainbows. The special regulations section adjacent to the Buller Fish Hatchery holds some really big (and difficult!) fish. Upstream from the hatchery, a trail built with help from TU volunteers provides good access to a couple of miles of nice water with smallish wild rainbows.
Following Route 33 up into the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, the Dry River offers roughly 32 miles of contiguous Brook Trout water. Named for its large flood plain, the Dry River is easily navigable by foot and very accessibly from multiple pull offs along route 33. Perfect for both western fly fishing methods and Tenkara, most fish hover around 6 inches and they act just like a Brookie should. The sheer beauty of the Dry River the GWJNF is the kind of place where fly fishing just feels right.

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