Virginia's Top 5 Trout Streams
The Smith River is a 20-mile tailwater below Philpott Lake, known across the nation for its trophy brown trout fishing in its wide waters. But the Smith doesn't hold the monster browns it once did (can you believe 15-pound browns in Virginia?) and this isn't a wilderness stream since much of it flows past urban areas.
But the Smith River still holds a healthy wild reproducing brown trout population with many reaching the 10-pound mark. Even with the increased fishing pressure and the inevitable ebb and flow conditions any quality trout stream undergoes, the Smith has held up amazingly well.
The Smith is flat and wide. When you look at the slow-moving current, it looks like there is no current at all. The depth of the water is the same across its 100-foot width. So where to wade, where to cast?
The configuration of the Smith is pool and riffle, over and over and over. Most anglers will cast to the middle of the stream and hope.
Try instead to concentrate on any edges, like the ones at the riffles. Fish the pools slowly and methodically from tail to head; fish along any bankside structure such as gravel bars; the big slabs of rock in the middle of the river or the ledges they provide; overhanging trees and rhododendron, submerged logs, even shade.
Wade Carefully, Cast Delicately
The pools are tranquil and the fish spook easily. What? Did you think you could catch 10-pound browns without working for them? It's doubtful you'll catch a lunker. Even if you match the hatch, find the fish, and provide them with a perfect presentation, you'll probably catch fat 16-inch browns and healthy 12-inch rainbows. Those big boys are only caught every now and again.
With the diversity of insect hatches, some of which are legendary, you'll need to tie a lot of different patterns in all sizes. The Sulfur Dun, March Brown and Hendrickson hatches are of note. Some locals like to toss a black ant or other terrestrial for a change of pace.
Don't wade when the generators are running. The river becomes torrential and dangerous. No need for chest waders but if you try to fish when the water is up, you'll be swimming.
The Smith River has great access and that means heavy fishing pressure. These are educated fish so wade carefully and cast delicately. Consider fishing in the lower sections below the trophy section to get away from the crowds and to reach less wary trout.
Smith River Practicalities
Species: Predominantly browns, some of them sizable, but also rainbow trout. These are a mix of wild and stocked trout.
Gear: Big stream, big rod. I wouldn't use less than a 5-weight and would recommend a 6-weight rod. You can get by with hip waders or lightweight chest waders.
Flies: Fill your fly box; the hatches are varied and prolific on the Smith. Elk Hair Caddis (#12—#18), March Brown, Sulphur (#14—#18), Blue Winged Olive (#18—#24), Mosquito (#16—#22), Patriot (#10—#16), Light Cahill, Adams, Hendrickson, Sulphur (#16—#18), Midges (#18—#24), Crayfish (#2—#10), Muddler Minnow (#2—#10), Woolly Buggers (#2—#10), Stonefly nymphs, Beetles, Hoppers, ants, Pheasant Tail, Prince Nymph, Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear.
Fly shops: Orvis, Roanoke, (540) 345-3635; Blue Ridge Flyfishers, (540) 563-1617.
Regulations: The trophy section of the Smith River is subject to special regulations. Anglers are restricted to single-hook artificial lures and flies, and must observe a two-creel limit of trout over 16 inches per day.
Directions: From Roanoke, travel south on US 220 to Route 674 at Oak Level, turning west until you reach the river.
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