When I called the Verona office of the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries to inquire about trout fishing in the Allegany Mountains it didn’t take long for recommendations to flood in. With an endless amount of trout being stocked west of Interstate 81 up to the West Virginia border there was no shortage of places to choose from.
Meanwhile, most seemed to perk up when talking about Bath County waters, specifically the Jackson River near Hidden Valley. One official went as far as calling it one of the best in the state and a true gem. We opted to take that advice and make the trip to this remote part of the state.
While Virginia isn’t known nationally as one of the better states to target stocked trout, the program should get more respect than it does. Meanwhile, brutal out of state fees keep those from outside the Commonwealth from wetting a line here. For residents, however, endless opportunity remains during trout season, which wanders from late fall through spring.
If you have the time to explore the Jackson River in Bath County, I’d recommend it. On the other hand, if you live in a major city it’s a haul. While a two-hour drive from Charlottesville, Roanoke and Blacksburg, it extends to three from Richmond, four from the DC area and almost five from Virginia Beach. Flowing out of West Virginia and through the Alleghany Mountains, the upper portion of the Jackson River is an anglers dream and harbors plenty of rainbows and browns.
The Jackson, meanwhile, isn’t a beginner stream and its heavy current can be intimidating for first timers, at least this month after substantial rainfall. The system requires some trout fishing knowledge, but can be tackled by anyone willing to work hard by covering lots of water with salmon eggs, dough bait, spinners, spoons and flies.
Fortunately, the locals are welcoming and happy to dish out advice on where to fish. They, like the VA DGI, are proud of this heavily planted resource. Rest assured, though, you’ll have to work at catching fish, unless you arrive alongside the stocking truck, which could happen considering the system is stocked frequently. It’s also gutted quick, too. If you arrive more than a week following the plant, you’re going to have to work harder. Weekend pressure is high.
There’s a lot of stocked water bordering a famous wild trout section. The river is stocked near the tiny town of Warm Springs in the Hidden Valley section and the Poor Farm (Road 623 Section) off Sam Snead Highway (220). There are miles of roadside public access and lots of pools, riffles, runs and holes to cover. You’ll find trout everywhere but slow water, but pay close attention to small pockets, between and behind large boulders and deeper holes.
We were in town to film Pautzke Outdoors (our forth Virginia episode following Crippled Creek, Crooked Creek and Big Tumbling Creek) and used slightly unorthodox methods employing fly rods rigged with Balls O Fire salmon eggs. The fly rod enables an angler to use the length of the rod to extend the length of a soft pitch or flip. Basically it’s an easy way to get your egg where you want it on a consistent basis.
The water was slightly off colored. We used Orange Deluxe and Yellow Jackets exclusively (fished on four-pound mono and a size 8 Gamakatsu single salmon egg hook) through the first half of the day (we only fished from 10am to 4pm) before switching to Silver Label the last hour. All the eggs caught fish, but no trophies. Most were 10-12 inches and all but one rainbows. Honestly, we caught a dozen suckers, too.
Editor’s Note: Pautzke Orange Deluxe, Yellow Jacket and Silver Label eggs are available in all Virginia Walmart stores along I-81. Anglers are required to have a fishing license and trout stamp to fish the Jackson River during the trout season.