Virginia's Top 5 Trout Streams
Whitetop Laurel is a prime example of an Appalachian mountain stream, tucked away in the Thomas Jefferson National Forest. Many believe that Whitetop Laurel, one of the state's largest trout streams, is also the best all-around stream in ol' Virginny.
This productive stream is fishable all season long, and holds primarily wild trout, rainbows mostly, with some nice, hard-to-catch browns hiding around the rocks and deep in its pools.
The wild trout are chunky, colorful and feisty. These wild trout range in size from "fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand" to "better-hold-it-with-two-hands" (6 to 14 inches) with some in the 16- to 20-inch range.
Whitetop Laurel is a mountainous freestone stream, running quick down its steep grade. The river has good access but to reach much of the river requires a decent bit of walking. Anglers will find pool after pool and riffle after riffle, connected in places with chutes and glides.
The gravel bottom makes wading a cinch. The banks are lined with moss, the river often covered with a green canopy of limbs and vegetation. The pools on Whitetop Laurel are often long and clear, requiring stealthy approaches, long leaders and perfect presentations.
Riffles, Pools and Chutes
In between pools, among the rocks littering the river, the riffles and chutes churn white, hiding 10- to 12-inch wild trout. With all the rocks, drop pools, and small targets, short tight casts are required. If it rains, the river easily goes spate and may not clear till the next day.
Whitetop enjoys healthy, if sporadic, mayfly hatches with the Green Drake and Sulfur Dun hatches in early spring being especially notable. If you can match the hatch during the hatches, you can experience a dry-fly braggin' rights day. But in most of the pools and riffles, barring a major hatch, anglers need only present drag-free artificials like a Royal Wulff or an Adams.
Whitetop Laurel has an artificials-only section (three and a half miles) and another special regulations section, so be sure to check regulations before fishing. Even though the road follows much of the river from Damascus to Konnarock, you never even hear the trucks and cars when you're on the river.
Much of the upper river is in wilderness, reachable only by hiking. The Virginia Creeper Trail over a mountain and into Taylor's Valley is a good hike/backpacking trip for wild trout fishing. This upper section of Whitetop Laurel (also known as Little Whitetop Laurel) has plenty of pools, tight cover and lots of smaller wild trout.
Whitetop Laurel Practicalities
Species: The brown and rainbow trout in Whitetop Laurel aren't huge, even by eastern standards. Trout run about as long as your shoe with the occasional denizen of the deepest pool running about a foot and a half.
Gear: Since the Whitetop Laurel has so many tight spots, given its canopy and drop pools, you'll want to stick with a shorter rod. A 7-foot, 3-weight would be perfect.
Flies: Attractor dry-fly patterns and basic mayfly and caddis dries will do the trick here. Stick with high-riding Adams Parachute, Elk Hair Caddis, Patriot, Royal Wulff in sizes 12 to 18. Generic attractor nymphs can get down to holding trout in the pools and deeper water. Terrestrials (beetles, ants and hoppers) always work well in late summer. The key is not pattern but keeping your line off the water and providing a good presentation.
Fly shops: Virginia Creeper Flyshop, Abingdon, (540) 628-3826.
Regulations: Whitetop Laurel has an artificials-only section (three and a half miles) and another special regulations section, so be sure to check regulations before fishing.
Directions: From Roanoke, travel west on Interstate 81, south on VA 91 into Damascus. Travel east on US 58. Thomas Jefferson National Forest, 210 Franklin Rd. SW, Caller Service 2900, Roanoke, VA 24001, (703) 982-6270.
Suggested reading: Virginia Fishing Guide, by Bob Gooch (University of Virginia Press); Virginia Trout Streams, by Harry Slone (Backcountry Publications).
State agencies: Virginia Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries, P.O. Box 11104, 4010 Broad Street, Richmond, VA, 23230, (804) 367-1000; Virginia Division of Tourism, 1021 E. Cary St., Richmond, VA, 23219, (804) 786-4484; 1-800-VISIT VA.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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