When you plan a trip on the New River in southwest Virginia, you will be floating into the past. The New River is an ancient river system, the oldest on the North American continent and second only to the Nile River in Africa as the oldest river in the world. It begins as two streams in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, before merging into the New River four miles from the Virginia line. And therein lies another quirk of this ancient river - it flows northward rather than southward like most of the other major rivers along the eastern seaboard. It meandors some 160 miles through the counties of Grayson, Carroll, Pulaski, Montgomery and Giles in Virginia before it turns into Bluestone Lake in West Virginia and emerges later as the Kanawha River at the Gauley Bridge. The New River ends its metamorphosis when it empties into the great Mississippi River.
Throughout its journey in Virginia, the New River flows through spectacular, untamed mountain scenery complete with craggy rock cliffs and magnificent gorges. Thus, the New River provides plenty of excitement for whitewater enthusiasts, with several major Class II - III rapids. There is also an abundance of flatwater to please motorboaters and canoeists.
Fishing is not to be missed in the New River. Simply stated, New rivals the James and Rappahannock rivers as one of the best fishing rivers in Virginia. It supports outstanding populations of just about every major freshwater game fish in the state: smallmouth bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, striped bass, white bass, hybrid striped bass, muskellunge, walleye, black crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, yellow perch, redbreast sunfish, and bluegill. State records that have been caught in the New River include muskellunge (45 lbs. 8 oz.), smallmouth bass (8 lbs. 1 oz.) which was caught 3/12/2003, yellow perch (2 lbs. 7 oz.). The state record spotted bass came out of Claytor Lake in 1993 at 3 lbs. 10 oz. And the river has the potential to yield many more record-setting catches in the future.
Fast water and big rock outcroppings are a feature of the New River, spelling perfect habitat for big smallmouth bass and flathead catfish. You can pull your canoe up on an island and fish with jigs or spinner baits to hook some fine trophies.
But that doesn't mean the New is all fast water. Several lazy, slow stretches abound, where you can soak in the spectacular scenery of rock cliffs, old Indian settlements and tobacco farms, and still have luck fishing for rock bass near grass beds. The slow waters near the dams along the river will yield big flathead and channel catfish as well as walleye and smallmouth bass when fished with jigs and live bait.
Outdoor recreation activities abound along the river. New River Trail State Park parallels the river for over 50 miles from Pulaski to Fries or Galax. It is a beautiful tract of land that allows hikers, horseback riders and bicyclists to take in the beauty of the river as it sweeps through southwestern Virginia. Plus, a trip to the historical Shot Tower State Park near Jackson Ferry is a must. The 4,500-acre Claytor Lake in Pulaski County was created out of the river in 1939 by a hydroelectric dam, and is now a well-used recreational spot. The 400+ acre Claytor State Park adjoins the lake, providing campgrounds, cottages, a marina, and hiking trails for visitors.
Outfitters can be found all along the New River, so a quick call to a local chamber of commerce will put you in touch with an experienced guide who will eliminate much of the worry about planning a float trip along this historic Virginia waterway.