The Roanoke Region is surrounded by some of the finest lake, river, and creek fishing on the East Coast. To the southeast is Smith Mountain Lake, home to multiple pro bass tournament events but most famous for its top-notch striped bass fishery. To the south is Philpott Lake, to the southwest it’s Claytor Lake, and to the north, Douthat Lake and Lake Moomaw – each offering fishing opportunities for a variety of species.
For the trout devotee, whether of spin or fly rod persuasion, the Roanoke Region presents a variety of fishing opportunities. The Department of Game & Inland Fisheries stocks trout in the Roanoke River, Glade Creek, and Tinker Creek within Roanoke city limits, as well as other area streams. The Smith and Jackson river tailwaters offer great fishing all year long, and there are countless mountain freestone streams like Roaring Run, Jennings Creek and Little Stony just waiting to be discovered by the fisher with a topo map and a sense of adventure.
Fans of river smallmouth bass fishing are perhaps the luckiest of all here in Roanoke. Two of the best and most famous bass rivers in the world – the New and James rivers – are nearby in addition to other good warmwater flows like the Maury River, Craig Creek, and the lower Jackson River. Smallmouth bass can even be caught in the Roanoke River within city limits. The New and James rivers are destinations for a growing number of musky enthusiasts, with the possibility of fish approaching 50 inches.
Running or still, warm or cold, big water or small – the Roanoke Region is a fisher’s paradise. In fact, you will be hard pressed to find a richer or more diverse fishing resource in such close proximity to any other urban area in America.
Carvins Cove Natural Reserve is the second largest municipal park in the nation. It holds a major water source within its 12,700 acres and overflowing recreational opportunities including hiking, biking, fishing, and boat rentals. The cove includes 11,363 acres that are protected by the largest conservation easement in Virginia’s history.
With more than 60 miles of trails and an 600-acre reservoir Carvins Cove is a mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and boating paradise.
Claytor Lake is a 4,500 acre lake with a marina, three public boat ramps, and a public beach. Public access is somewhat limited but there is a good boat launch area at Claytor Lake State Park on the northern shore of the lake. The state only stocks smallmouth bass and walleye but there is a fair population of muskellunge in the lake as well.
Douthat is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for the role its design played in the development of parks nationwide. Amid some of Virginia’s most breathtaking mountain scenery, visitors enjoy interpretive programs, four miles of stream fishing, the is lake stocked with trout, a sandy swimming beach with snack bar, boat rentals, a gift shop and camp store, cabins, and more than 43 miles of hiking, mountain biking and bridle trails.
Plus, there are playgrounds, an amphitheater, picnic areas, tent and trailer camping, and a restaurant overlooking the lake. The park has 32 cabins and three lodges that accommodate 15, 16 or 18 guests each.
Douthat State Park was named one of the nation’s 10 best by Outside Family Vacation Guide. It is one of the original six Virginia State Parks. Nestled in Virginia’s Western Highlands, Douthat features some of Virginia’s most outstanding scenery.
Some people refer to it as the Disneyland of mountain biking. There are more than 43 miles of wooded hiking trails and mountain biking trails to choose from, ranging from easy to difficult. Many park trails climb up the side of the surrounding mountains for several miles and reward mountain bikers with grand views and long flowing descents.
Nestled among Bolar, Oliver and Little mountains Lake Moomaw is a jewel about 90 minutes drive north of Roanoke. Because it is completely surrounded by the George Washington National Forest this beautiful lake has been spared development. Access to the entire lake is open but boat ramps are primarily undeveloped and suited only to watercraft that can be carried, with the exception one small marina operated at the southern tip of the lake. The lake is quite deep and boasts healthy populations of reproducing brown and rainbow trout. The state periodically stocks both large and smallmouth bass to supplement the existing populations.
Phillpot Lake is relatively small in surface area but rich in shoreline. Backed up behind the Army Corps of Engineers Phillpot Dam project, the reservoir is deep and boasts lots of small coves providing great cover for the resident populations of bass and walleye. Access is very good with public boat ramps at Fairystone State Park and various locations throughout the Fairystone Farms Wildlife Management Areas.
There is no residential development along its shoreline but there are numerous facilities scattered throughout the reservoir such as boat landings, campgrounds, picnic areas, beaches, and hiking trails.
Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia’s most popular lake, offers superb recreational activities, 500 miles of shoreline, a wide variety of water sports, and affordable lakefront real estate. Known locally as “SML,” it is the “Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
Smith Mountain Lake is best known for its Striped Bass fishery. This lake regularly leads the state in producing “citation” sized stripers. There are also good populations of both large and smallmouth bass. Public access is very good with both public boat ramps and private marinas.
The Roanoke River offers a unique combination of urban, front country, and back country recreation opportunities in the upper Roanoke River watershed. Enjoy canoeing, kayaking, fishing, tubing, wading, wildlife viewing, and watershed education with convenient access to other outdoor and cultural amenities.
The Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers converge in northern Botetourt to form the James River. These headwaters provide some of the finest canoeing and freshwater fishing available in Virginia. A 14-mile stretch of the James River between Eagle Rock and Springwood is the only part of the James River that has been designated a Virginia Scenic River. The unspoiled beauty of the river is more accessible than ever through the Upper James River Water Trail.
Along the 45 miles of the Upper James River in Botetourt County, you can get up close and personal with the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains. You’ll experience the unspoiled beauty of the river as you paddle through scenic valleys and past rolling farmland while keeping a watchful eye out for native wildlife. Some Class I & Class II rapids along your journey will make it a fun day for all members of the family by canoe, kayak, or tube.
Bullpasture River is classic Class III+ rapids located in Alleghany Highlands. The river feeds into the Cowpasture River. Paddling from the public access (Route 678) to the Cowpasture River at Bullpasture Gorge is 4 miles.
The gorge is a fun section and is good for intermediates or someone who just enjoys Class III fun in a scenic gorge. The rapids become more difficult the further into the gorge, so it gives those who are stepping up to Class III a chance to warm up.
The Cowpasture River flows through some of western Virginia’s most scenic, rural landscapes. Beginning in Highland County, it flows south through Bath, Alleghany, and Botetourt counties for more than 80 miles. At Iron Gate, it joins the Jackson River to form the James River.
Find flow information for the Cowpasture River:
The Jackson River contributes a distinct and scenic landscape feature, while providing a natural habitat for reproducing wild trout. There are 14 miles open to the public for those who enjoy hiking, biking, and nature walks.
The Jackson is an excellent smallmouth bass, rock bass, rainbow trout, and brown trout fishery.
The James River begins its journey in Botetourt County, winding through the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains on its way to the Chesapeake Bay. The unspoiled beauty of the river is more accessible than ever through the Upper James River Water Trail. Paddlers, anglers and families can get back to nature and enjoy the sights and sounds of 45 miles of the Upper James, including 14 pristine miles designated as a Virginia Scenic River.
The Maury River provides 37 miles of paddling and fishing fun. This Class II-IV river is best run April through June and with higher water levels.
The New River is a great fishing, tubing, canoeing, and kayaking spot featuring Class I to Class III+ water. The New River is the second oldest river in the world, giving anglers and paddlers world-class excitement, and is one of the few rivers that flows north. It is ideal for kayaking, canoeing, tubing, and fishing.
There are multiple outfitters serving the New River to help you plan your trip or provide a place to park or grab gear.
The Pigg River Blueway makes for a relaxing float in Franklin County. This Class I water is great for a nice fishing float or a leisure canoe trip with the family.
Starting at the 500 acre Waid Recreation Area, this eight mile float takes you through the rolling countryside south of Franklin County. The float takes about four to five hours to complete, making it the perfect weekend activity. The take-out is in Lynch Park, a 3-mile shuttle for your vehicle.
You will want to check water levels before attempting this float. Generally speaking, if the Blackwater gauge shows 2.3 feet, the river will be at the perfect level.
Smith River has strong and challenging waters (Class II), especially when water is released from the Philpott Dam. It is perhaps the best option for play waves in southern Virginia during the late summer.
There are almost 12 miles to float. Put-in at the base of Philpott Dam and take-outs placed about every 6 miles downstream.
This is a quite scenic route as well. Check out the fog that forms on warm, humid days as the cold water reacts with the air. There are times when you can’t see 30 feet in front of your boat. It makes a totally unique paddling experience in Virginia.
The Upper Blackwater River Blueway is a 35-mile section with many paddling possibilities. Located about 25 minutes from Downtown Roanoke, this delightful float takes you through the foothills in Franklin County.
Starting in the headwaters of Cahas Mountain, the Blackwater River continues until it terminates in the backwaters of Smith Mountain Lake. The float is a water dependent run so pay attention to gauges. Generally speaking, you need at least 2.3 feet on the Blackwater gauge to make the run enjoyable. Don’t miss the section from U.S. 220 to the Farm View Road ford as this section has a series of low Class II water that is a blast for beginners.
There are usually at least two or three carries, but there is always at least one mandatory portage in there – you must get out at the right spot above “Eye Of The Needle” (aka, “Inner Earth”). It is easy to miss this exit point and drop past the point-of-no-return. Most boaters, at most flows, carry “Gravity Cavity” and “Gorilla North” as well.
The float is along an incredibly beautiful shallow creek that meanders its way through lush vegetation. It is best paddled in the fall or spring, or after a significant rainfall. There are several sections to float between New Castle and Eagle Rock.
Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing an outfitter located along Craig Creek, can provide water level updates, canoe, kayak, or tube rentals, camping and cabin rentals, and even provide shuttle service.
Potts Creek offers tremendous fishing at low water levels and at higher levels it provides great Class II-IV whitewater. One of the most popular sections of the 32.5-mile section between Pint Bank and the Jackson River is to start near the campground near Paint Bank, a section with Class II-III rapids.
Roaring Run is an excellent hiking trail for the whole family. The easy, well-marked trail begins at a historic iron furnace and winds back and forth along the Roaring Run stream. You will pass rock walls, cascading water, and cross five footbridges before ending at beautiful Roaring Run Falls.
It is also a great trout stream with a natural water slide at lower levels. At higher levels, it becomes a Class V+ creek.
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