Arguably one of the most underrated states for fishing in the US, Virginia has a bounty of saltwater, warm water, and cold-water species ready to be caught. You could spend a day deep sea fishing in Virginia Beach for tuna, or fishing a river in the valley for largemouth, smallmouth, and even musky. Something most anglers don’t think about is trout fishing in Virginia. Here you can throw streamers for big browns, nymph for bows, and toss dries to brookies on crystal clear mountain streams.
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Most are aware of brook trout fishing but few know about our spring fed rivers and tailwaters that harbor perfect conditions to sustain brown trout as well as rainbow trout.
Below we have a list of mountain streams and spring fed rivers that hold some of the best trout in the state. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner trout fisherman or a novice, these waters contain the best trout fishing VA has to offer.
1. Mossy Creek
Located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley near Harrisonburg, mossy was opened to the public for fishing in 1978. Trout Unlimited, private landowners, and the Department of Game and Fisheries came together to create a world-class fishery. In order to fish this river, you must carry with you a permit that you can pick up along with your license. The permit itself costs nothing but caught without one and you will be penalized.
Mossy is an amusing stream that meanders through farmland. Cattle litter the banks, so make sure to watch your step around the cow pies, because wading or accessing the water in any way is not allowed. Which means there is no way to rinse off.
The stream is sustained by its stocking program but occasionally the spawn is successful. So, the potential to catch wild trout is possible but slim. Because it is a spring fed river it stays cold on the warmest days and almost never freezes in the winter. These consistent temperatures allow for the fast growth of brown trout residents, and it’s not out of the ordinary to catch something 20” or larger.
Since there is no wading allowed anglers are forced to fish from steep banks. It’s best to approach cautiously and keep your shadow off the water as much as possible. There is not much to get a backcast hooked on but be wary of the few bushes or trees present. Be wary of the spooky browns that live in this water. Dragless drifts and appropriate presentations are crucial when fishing here.
Blue winged olives and sulfur hatches occur most frequently. And many trout can be caught on dries during the spring when they hatch. If you’re looking for a monster try throwing a streamer or sculpin near the undercuts in the bank of the river. Big brown trout like to hang out there and wait for a meal to float by.
The local fly shop is Mossy Creek Outfitter. If you have any questions feel free to stop by there and they’ll be able to hook you up with anything you may need for the day. If you’re looking for a guide, they also provide that service as well.
2. Jackson Tailwater
Below the dam at Lake Moomaw lies one of the best trout streams in the state of Virginia. The river was stocked with rainbow and brown trout prior to 1993. But has since proven it can produce plenty of wild trout on its own. It’s located around 3 hours west of the city of Richmond. So, unless you live in the western part of the state this is going to be a bit of a drive, but it’s totally worth it.
The River contains both wild brown and rainbow trout that can grow to sizes of 20+ inches. There are no fishing gear regulations on this river so fly fishermen and spin casters will be competing for space. However, the seclusion of this river usually does not produce large crowds. You are able to take 4 trout per day, but only one of the four can be a brown trout. All brown trout under 20” and all rainbow between 12-16” must be released immediately.
The main spot to fish from is directly below the dam, however, there are 5 other public fishing areas open to the public that provide access to the river. Many of these public areas also border private property. It is always best to avoid other people’s private property but the Jackson deserves a little extra attention. The landowners are very protective over their property, and they have brought several successful civil trespass claims against anglers.
Besides keeping an eye out for private property signs the river itself is not too difficult to fish. When the dam is not releasing copious amounts of water (always check the USGS before heading out) it is wadable and several areas allow for backcasting. A drift boat is also allowed and is the preferred way to fish it but keep in mind, you may not paddle to shore to reel in a fish on private property.
Thanks to the dam releasing water year-round the area below it will stay in the high 50s to low 60s year-round. Because of this the river holds a good population of trout food ranging from insects to sculpins and baitfish.
When fishing below the dam you’ll have the most luck using nymphs with long light leaders. Further down where the water isn’t moving as fast you can work dries when hatches are occurring. After a big rainfall, you can break out your larger streamers to see if you can land some of those big browns and rainbows that hide in the river.
3. The Rapidan
Camp Hoover, located near the headwaters, is named after President Hoover who would often use the area as a retreat and even had a cabin in the area. There’s good reason Hoover liked to fish here. The Rapidan is one of the better-known trout streams in the state. It’s located In the Northern section of the Shenandoah National Park and thanks to a local flood after 1995 had little to no trout. Recently there has been a rebound and is considered to be just as good if not better than it was. When fishing here keep in mind the area near the lower park boundary has the lowest populations of trout.
The middle and lower part of the river can be reached by hiking in from skyline drive. Which is all downhill and takes around an hour. Almost all the fish in the river are brookies with a few stocked brown trout thrown in. The entire river is a single hook, artificial only. This is a catch and release area so no fish may be retained and must be immediately released to the water.
The river is not too difficult to navigate and there are areas where roll casting must be done, but certain sections are large enough that backcasting can be possible.
The brook trout are not particularly picky and will hit most dry flies on days where the water is warm enough. The fly “Mr. Rapidan” was named specifically after this river and works well on it. Expect to catch brook trout in 7-9” range with a few that get up to 10” or larger.
4. Buffalo Creek
This river is similar to Mossy in that, the private landowners have worked with the department of game to allow the public to fish here. You need a permit that you can pick up for free with your license. This is also a spring fed stream that runs through the valley. But fortunately, you don’t have to worry about any type of livestock getting caught in your backcast.
This is a great wild trout stream that is loaded with fish. However, this is a very technical stream. If you can’t figure out exactly what nymph or dry the fish are looking for and present it just right, then you’re going to have a long day.
The creek contains wild rainbow and brown trout. Unlike Mossy, wading is allowed. There are several parking areas, but you can also pull off to the side of the road if need be and hike down. The stream is not too heavily pressured, but expect to see a lot of visitors come spring.
This is a single hook artificial lure only river. You are allowed two fish per day but they must be 16” or larger. Primarily the fish will hover around the 10-12” range, but people have been to know to pull our 18” or larger wild rainbow or brown trout. Try throwing a streamer or a wooly bugger after a rainstorm to try and entice some of those big browns to leave their hole and hit your fly.
5. South River
The South River, upstream of the city of Waynesboro is a slow meandering stream. Once it reaches the city the large springs begin to cool the water and increase the flow as well as fish activity. The south offers both warm water and cold-water fishing. It holds panfish, rock bass, smallmouth, as well as the ever-abundant fallfish. But it’s best known for its Brown and Rainbow Trout.
There are five different areas where you can fish in the South. Upstream of the city in the Lyndhurst area, Trout Unlimited has partnered with landowners to give the public a 3-mile section of the river to fish. This area is stocked annually with fingerling rainbow and brown trout, thanks to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources as well as the local “South River Fly Shop”. This is a fly fishing only section of river and only one trout above 20” may be retained per day.
Near Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro the river is “Designated stocked trout water”. This means the fish stocked in this section are of mature size and ready to be caught. You may use spinning equipment in this part of the river. The area runs through downtown between Wayne Avenue to 2nd street. This is one of if not the most popular section of the river due to the convenience of the city. Be prepared to face fishing pressure here during the spring and fall. The fish in this area are wary of flies, so your presentation will be key.
Within Basic Park, there is a ¼ mile section of the river that is designated for youth fishing only. It is stocked between April 1- June 15 and you must be 15 years or younger to fish it. You may keep three fish from this area. Adults assisting kids do not need a fishing license and are able to cast, bait, and remove a hook if need be, but they cannot set the hook or reel in the fish.
Finally, the last area reaches from Grand Caverns park to Grottoes Town Park. This is also “Designated Stocked Trout Water”.
Similar to Mossy and Buffalo you will need a free permit that you can obtain when purchasing your fishing license.
Terrestrials are the fly to use come summertime. Any type of beetle, spider, or ant will be your best bet, and thanks to the springs feeding the river the water stay nice and cool even during the hottest days. The river wakes up during the spring and is on the lookout for all the hatches that may occur, from blue winged olives, stoneflies, and quill gordons. Fall is a great time to throw streamers to try and entice those big brown trout to come out. Again, thanks to the spring feeders the water will not freeze in water but the fish will slow down significantly. Look to the Zebra Midge this time of the year.
6. Whitetop Laurel Creek
Whitetop Laurel originates in Washington County and is one of the largest wild trout streams in Virginia. Seven miles is stocked trout water, while five miles is special regulation. The special regulation area is single hook artificial only and is loaded with wild trout. The area that is stocked gives you easy access via parking. Here you are allowed to retain your catch. While the area of the Special regulation is not as easily accessible. It winds up working out well because it leaves the native trout to people who are only interested in catch and release.
It also flows directly through the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area which is host to the largest peak in Virginia at 5,728’. Here you can catch brook, brown, and rainbow trout all while enjoying the scenic mountainscape.
The stocked put and take areas usually only hold fish during the stocking season (October 1-June 15). But the special regulations area is great for fishing year-round. Fly fishing is the most popular but you can also use ultra-light spinning gear.
During the winter your best bet is to nymph. Whitetop has an incredible forage base so there is no shortage of trout food even during the colder months. Springtime brings the crowds as well as rising fish. Be on the lookout for blue winged olives, and after rainstorms try working a streamer. The summertime will generally bring lower flows of water where the trout get spookier than normal. Keep a low profile and be as stealthy as possible. Any loud smack of a fly hitting the water or standing up too quickly could send them flying to cover.
Whitetop is picture perfect small stream fly fishing. The native trout are aggressive and strong. And it takes just the right amount of skill to make it challenging. Even when the trout aren’t biting it’s still a great experience. It is truly one of Virginia’s prettiest trout streams.
7. Blue Lining
For anyone who doesn’t know, the blue lining is the term given to fishing streams that do not show up with a name on a map but instead are just a blue line. It’s a popular pastime for die hard Appalachian fly fishermen because of the adventure, seclusion, and of course, the fish are always wild.
Ok, this one is kind of a cop-out, but not really. Virginia is loaded with small streams that fall off mountains into larger rivers which feed into even larger rivers. These areas are untouched by humans and other fishermen. Which means you will be the only one out there. There are Pristine streams that flow through the canopy of the mountains that hold beautiful wild native brook trout.
The easiest way to find these spots is by hopping on Google earth. Once you’ve located an area look for spots to park and hike into. The further away you are from people the better the fishing will be. They may be the easiest to access but that’s what makes the fishing so good.
Anyone used to catching stockers should take heed, these wild trout are notoriously spooky. More so than any other spot on this list should you be keeping a low profile. If you can hide behind something, then do it. If you need to army crawl to a plunge pool, go ahead.
These wild trout are not very picky about what kind of flies you throw them, but the presentation is key. If you really want to you could consistently catch these fish on dry flies year-round.
So, to break it down, keep a low profile, keep your fly out of the trees and give a good presentation. Follow these rules and you’ll be on them all day long.
Most of these fish will not be giants. You’ll typically be catching fish in the 6-9” range. With the occasional 10+ inches. It is very rare, but there are some streams that have the ability to hold 20+ inch fish.
If you only have one rod and it’s a 9’ 5wt then you can use that. However, if you can downsize the length as well as the weight then do so. Catching a wild trout on a 2wt rod is a wild ride and something all fly fishermen should get to experience.
Below is a very affordable 2wt/3wt rod suitable for these types of situations.
Trout Fishing Virginia – Final Thoughts
As with all lists, I’m sure there will be some people who argue some of the spots listed. However, all of these spots cover different species of trout as well as the different landscapes that you can fish for trout in the Old Dominion.
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Do you have a favorite Virginia trout stream that didn’t make this list? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.