Whether you’re aiming for trophy-sized trout, or just looking for a lazy day of casting, Smyth County offers plenty for anglers. Discover the best places to fly fish in Southwest Virginia!
Fishing in Grayson Highlands State Park
Type: Freestone Stream
Major Species: wild rainbows, brookies
Handicapped Access: None
You’ll feel like you’re on the fringe of boreal Canada, when you fish Cabin and Little Wilson Creeks and Quebec and Wilburn Branches in Grayson Highlands State Park. Laurel and rhododendron shade most of the waters. Plunge pools abound, and they are rich with wild rainbows and brookies.
Got a 7-foot, 4-weight cane or glass rod? You’ll love using it here. Trout are not persnickety; toss #14 or smaller Adams with with a #18 nymph as a dropper.
From the park boundary downstream, Wilson Creek is a put and take stream and heavily stocked with rainbows, browns and brookies. US Rt. 58 follows it closely. Parking pull-outs are plentiful.
Access: From Chilhowie, Exit 35, take Whitetop Road south to Grayson Highlands State Park.
Fishing at Hungry Mother Lake
Major Species: multiple bass species, crappie, catfish, carp, more
Handicapped Access: Good
Hungry Mother Lake is a 108-acre impoundment located in Hungry Mother State Park in Smyth County.
The lake supports a host of sport fish. Channel catfish, walleyes, and musky are stocked annually; all other populations are self-sustaining. Alewives are the primary forage fish.
The Department’s new catfish stocking protocol has resulted in much better survival of stocked fish. Anglers are catching catfish by a variety of methods, but night fishing in the glow of lantern light seems to be the most popular technique. Nightcrawlers, chicken livers and prepared baits are all productive offerings.
Hungry Mother Lake is a really peaceful place to spend an afternoon, a weekend or your entire vacation. The countless Virginia State Park amenities make it a great family destination.
Access: Just 4 miles from the Town of Marion. Purchase a day pass for parking. Multiple access points from shore, or put in at the boat ramp.
Fishing at Laurel Bed Lake
Type: Mountain Lake
Major Species: Smallmouth Bass, Sunfish, and Brook trout
Handicapped Access: Good
Laurel Bed is located in the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area. This 330-acre lake rests on the top of Clinch Mountain at 3600 feet of elevation. Liming projects have improved the lake’s pH to suitable levels, and have allowed the restoration of a brook trout fishery. Since the initial introduction of smallmouth bass in 1998, Laurel Bed Lake offers anglers an opportunity to pursue trophy smallmouth bass in a large high-altitude lake that is similar to what many would expect to find farther north.
New Englanders call it a dredgin’. Load your tippet with a pair of weighted streamers adn paddle your canoe or kayak leisurely along the edges. You’ll likely connect with a smallmouth up to 20 inches and maybe a brook trout of bragging size, especially if you’re fishing in the fall. You may also encounter a rainbow or two.
As you drive up to the lake, your eyes will pop as you look at the pocketwater and plunge pools in Big Tumbling Creek. Stocked several times a week, this is the place to catch rainbows for dinner. You’ll need a special fee permit to fish it. Tie on a big wooly bugger, let it swirl deep in a pool beneath a chute, and think of grilling filets over charcoal.
Access: From Saltville, follow Route 634 to Allison Gap, then left on Route 613 to Route 747 and turn right into the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area.
Fishing on the North Fork of Holston River
Type: Small river of ledges and pools
Major Species: Smallmouth bass
Handicapped Access: None
From 1950 to 1972 Olin operated a plant in Saltville and discharged mercury into the river, which at the time was not illegal, and its effects on fish were little known. Now they are, and the Virginia Department of Health has issued an advisory saying fish from the river must not be eaten.
As a result, the river from the Rt. 91 bridge in Saltville downstream offers fly fishers the best opportunity in Virginia to connect with a three-pound plus smallmouth. At the ramp above town, the river is narrow and easy to wade. If you launch a canoe or kayak to float down to the takeout at the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management area, you’ll need to portage around a low dam. Other than these ramps, access to the river is very limited, though roads follow it much of the way to the Tennessee line.
While big, weighted wooly buggers and Clousers are very effective in deeper runs and pools, the best fishing occurs in August, on bluebird days when the sun is high. Wade the flats, sight fish, cast green foam poppers, and hang on!
Access: From Saltville, take Main Street east to Hwy 91 bridge for upper access, or head to the put in at the Saltville Boat Ramp, Government Plant Road to River Road.
Fishing on the South Fork of Holston River
Type: Spring-fed freestone stream
Major Species: Browns, Rainbows
Handicapped Access – Above Buller Hatchery
Rising in giant limestone springs in Sugar Grove, the upper South Fork of the Holston River produces prolific hatches of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis. So rich is the river in aquatic insects and so pure is its water, that browns and rainbows reproduce naturally. In the dog days of summer, add ants, beetles and hoppers to your fly box. A five-weight is perfect.
Special regulations apply to the river from the Jefferson National Forest boundary on Teas Road down to the lower end of Buller Hatchery. Excepting 500 feet of put and take water with great handicapped access above the concrete dam at the top of the hatchery, the top 4 miles offers two 16-inch fish per day. The section through the hatchery is strictly catch and release. Twenty-inch ‘bow and browns are not uncommon.
A relatively new 2.5 mile trail opens the heretofore isolated gorge to anglers.
Access: From Exit 39, travel south approximately 10 minutes. Parking is available at Buller Fish Hatchery.