Virginia’s Big Tumbling Creek Stuffed With Trout

By Chris Shaffer | 04/16/2014

Cruising at 70mph on Interstate 81 driving west towards Bristol in Marion, Virginia, we noticed a Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries trout stocking truck in the right lane. Following the truck were a few pickup trucks with anglers tailgating to see where the trout were headed.

We passed the caravan and proceeded through Saltville to Big Tumbling Creek in the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Area. Unfortunately, we missed a turn and lost about 20 minutes in what we thought was going to be prime fishing time. Ironically, as we entered Zone B of Big Tumbling we saw a different convoy of trucks and the same stocking truck from the highway.

The anglers were following the truck and veering off as soon as trout were stocked. They had literally tailed the trout to the stream in order to have first dibs on them when they were released. And, we aren’t talking about one truck here, at least several.

We parked our car and I got out and talked to the guy stocking the trout, asking him what area we should target to avoid the daily crowds on this popular Southwest Virginia trout stream. Keep in mind, this stream is stocked three times a week and receives a ton of fishing pressure. It’s one of the state’s most popular trout streams.


“If I were you I’d fish right here,” he said. “We stocked Zone A the other day and are going to stock Zone B and D today. I’d fish those two zones because the others might be fished out already.”

“Fished out?” I said. “You dumped this entire truck full of trout into this creek two days and they all might be caught?”

“This place gets hammered on the weekends. We stocked some nice trout in there, too, but I’m guessing they are gone by now,” he told me.

We took the advice and started fishing. We were here to film a new episode of Pautzke Outdoors. I was armed with several cameras and video cameras and my friends Robert Fix and Greg Payne were geared up with fishing rods and Pautzke Balls O Fire salmon eggs. Our goal was to visit a heavily fished stocked stream that was often overrun by anglers and show that these salmon eggs caught fish even with the mass amount of baits and lures these fish are accustomed to seeing.


For those of you who haven’t been to Big Tumbling, it’s situated between Wythville, VA and Bristol, TN, and is one of Virginia’s fee fishing streams, meaning a $8 daily fishing permit is required in addition to a license. Fortunately, that stamp brings three stockings per week. The creek is stocked all days, except Sunday, and offers several miles of roadside access.

Big Tumbling can be easy and challenging to fish. The creek is easy for those targeting the heavily fished pools and more difficult for anglers looking to pitch eggs and dough into pockets, small holes and beneath small cascades. This stream is a high gradient stream and loses elevation frequently, which also created the many large, deep holes available.


Let’s be honest here. Big Tumbling Creek is the perfect stocked trout stream, which caters to just about anyone. In fact, one of my good friends named a hole the ‘Social Security Hole’ because it was so large and easy to access that less mobile anglers could gain easy access just feet above narrow chutes, tougher to reach runs and pockets hidden behind large boulders. And, there’s no dead water here. Nearly every inch of the many miles of stocked water can harbor a trout. And, keep in mind, there’s rainbows, browns and brooks here. We caught all three.


We noticed anglers using an array of lures, dough baits, salmon eggs, worms and crickets. Meanwhile, our success (and we experienced lots of it, two anglers catching and releasing more than two dozen trout in five hours) is credited solely to our salmon eggs. My two buddies pitched Gold Label (red glittered eggs) Orange Deluxe and Yellow Jacket salmon eggs on four-pound Berkeley Vanish on size 10 Gamakatsu and Eagle Claw single salmon egg hooks and treble hooks and caught fish out of nearly every section of the creek (while I filmed them for proof). Proof you’ll see on the next episode of Pautzke Outdoors.


Big Tumbling Trout Fishing Tips:


  1. Stay Small: Use size 10 and 12 single salmon egg hooks and only one to two salmon eggs at a time (Eagle Claw & Gamakatsu worked best for us).


  1. Avoid Crowds: Many anglers pin themselves to the larger holes that are heavily stocked. These are also the most fished areas and the trout are often spooked. Take a walk up or downstream, away from these areas, and you’ll find more willing trout.


  1. Light Line Spells More Bites: There’s no reason to use anything heavier than four-pound test. Do so, and your bites will diminish, by a lot.


  1. Come With An Arsenal: Everyone is using red salmon eggs. Try yellow or orange and you’ll often get bit because you are showing the fish something they haven’t seen.


  1. Try not to overlook small pockets. Even the smallest runs, pockets and boils hold trout here.


Editor’s Note: Chris Shaffer is the Director of Operations at Pautzke Bait and didn’t make a single cast at Big Tumbling. He was too busy filming. Pautzke Balls O Fire salmon eggs are available at all local Southwest Virginia Walmart stores.