Clinch River

The Clinch River is the crown of the mountain empire flowing southwestward from its origin near the town of Tazewell, the Clinch travels some 135 miles, reaching portions of Tazewell, Russell, Wise, and Scott counties on its way to the Tennessee state line. In a cast of Virginia rivers that portray history and natural wealth, the Clinch has a story and a character all its own.

The Clinch River, which was named after on otherwise forgotten explorer, played a major role in the exploration and settlement of Southwest Virginia. Many early settlers made their homes along its eastern shore, while other crossed the formidable flow and explored the wilderness beyond its banks. Probably the most famous explorer to pace the banks of the Clinch and challenge its currents was Daniel Boone. Boone resided for some time near Castlewood, and negotiated the river during his many trips through Southwest Virginia. Today, towns and settlements along its course bear names which are evidence of their historical roles. Places like Blackford, Nash’s Ford, Fort Blackmore, and Speer’s Ferry are a few examples.

Although the landscapes have changed along the Clinch, the rugged and unique river still remains. The river does show signs of human alteration, however. To prevent flooding in the town of Saint Paul, the river was re-routed around the town. Observant floaters will note that the present river channel around the south side of Saint Paul was blasted out of solid rock. Two major fish kills have occurred in the last 30 years. These fish kills were the result of toxic spills that originated near Carbo. The river has recovered admirably from the fish kills of the past, and an incredible diversity of life is now present in and around the river.

The Clinch supports a unique assemblage of aquatic life. The river is home to about 50 species of mussels, which is more than any other river in the world and over 100 species are non-game fish – minnows and darters that sport brilliant colors and play a vital role in the survival of other fish and mussel species. But, the variety of sport fish is what makes the Clinch a great destination for anglers.

The Clinch River has a lot to offer those who want to escape the familiar and explore the life of a river. Whether you come to experience the fishing, or just to view the spectacular scenery, please keep safety in mind. Be sure that you are aware of your boat’s and your own limitations. Before floating an unfamiliar stretch of river, boaters are advised to use a topographic map to look for ledges and falls. Remember, discretion is the better part of valor. Wear your life jacket, and if you think you might have trouble negotiating a piece of water, portage your boat and equipment around the obstruction. Some of the access points noted on the map are informal sites that have traditionally been used by anglers and floaters. To ensure that these sites are available for future use, respect all property. Please refrain from littering, and do not block roads or gates.

Maps & Directions

Blackford to Puckett HoleMap
Distance: 7.3 miles
Gradient: 10.6 ft/mile

The Clinch River is considered navigable in Virginia from the confluence of Indian Creek to the Tennessee state line, but there is no formal access above Blackford. Put in at the Blackford access just upstream of Route 80. This float is through high gradient habitat that should provide excellent smallmouth bass fishing. This section may offer some challenging water, especially during high flows. Take out is on the right side of the river at the Puckett Hole landing off of secondary route 652.

Puckett Hole to Nash’s Ford Map
Distance: 9 mile
Gradient: 17.2 ft/mile

Put in at the Puckett Hold landing described above and take out on the left side of the river at the Nash’s Ford landing on secondary route 645. This is another good smallmouth bass float. Two notable falls are encountered on this float. The first falls is encountered just downstream of the confluence with Cedar Creek, and the second falls upstream of Hash’s Ford. Floaters should plan to portage at both locations.

Nash’s Ford to Cleveland Map
Distance: 8 miles
Gradient: 7.1 ft/mile

This float will bring the floater into different habitat types. Slower pools near Cleveland will hold more sunfish, walleye, and musky. Launch at the Nash’s Ford access and take out on the right side of the river at the Cleveland access. The Cleveland access is located off of secondary route 600, and is adjacent to the baseball field.

Cleveland to CartertonMap
Distance: 7.5 miles
Gradient: 3.0 ft/mile

Put in at the Cleveland access and rig up for flat water fishing. Top water lures should be effective for bass and sunfish. Numerous deep pools in this reach of river support walleye, musky and catfish. The take-out for this float is on the left side of the river at the Carterton access. To find the Carterton access, take route 614 off of route 640, then take a left onto route 855 and turn right across the railroad tracks and continue to the river.

Carterton to Saint PaulMap
Distance: 8 miles
Gradient: 2.5 ft/mile

This is a good float for anglers looking for a variety of species. Most of this section is flat water, with a few riffles and runs mixed in. Try for bass in the moving water, then rig up for sunfish or walleye in the slower pools. Live minnows, crawdads, or nightcrawlers could provide a good catch of different species. Put in at the Carterton access described above, and take out on the right, just upstream of the town of Saint Paul.

Saint Paul to Burton’s FordĀ Map
Distance: 4.2 miles
Gradient: 1.6 ft/mile

Launch at the town of Saint Paul’s access on Riverside Drive. This is a good float for bass and sunfish. Small crankbaits and jigs are a good bet for smallmouth bass and sunfish on the first few miles of this float. Fly-fishing with bright colored poppers can be very productive in the shallow flats around Saint Paul. Two notable ledges are encountered on this float. The first ledge is located just downstream of the railroad bridge in Saint Paul. Floaters should also be portage to the left. The other ledge is located on down the river, and should also be portaged to the left. Walleye fishing is good in this section, particularly in the spring. Take out is on the left side of the river at Burton’s Ford. The Burton’s Ford site is an informal access that can be located by taking route 65 south out of Castlewood, then bearing right onto route 611 to the river.

Burton’s Ford to Miller’s YardMap
Distance: 7.1 miles
Gradient: 11.5 ft/mile

Increased gradient in this section makes this float a good one for smallmouth bass. Walleye are often caught below ledges and riffles. Small crankbaits, jigs, and grubs are good all-around choices for this type of water. Launch at Burton’s Ford (described above) and take out on the right side of the river at Miller’s Yard. There are a couple of ledges and falls in this float that may require you to portage, depending on the water level. Miller’s Yard is an informal access located by taking secondary route 608 off of route 72. Follow route 608 under the railroad tracks and to the river. Takeout is just downstream of the swinging bridge.

Miller’s Yard to DungannonMap
Distance: 3.7 miles
Gradient: 10 ft/mile

This is a good float when you do not have a lot of time. Put in at the informal access at Miller’s Yard. Several good pools and lots of runs and riffles await you downstream. This float has excellent potential for bass and sunfish, and also produces walleye and sauger. Takeout is on the right, just downstream of the Route 65 bridge at Dungannon. If you have all day to float you can extend your float to Route 659 described below.

Dungannon to Route 659Map
Distance: Variable
Gradient: 10 ft/mile

The Dungannon access is one of only two concrete boat ramps on the Clinch River. This is a productive float for smallmouth, walleye, sauger, sunfish and catfish. A variety of takeout possibilities exist along route 659, which parallels the river for several miles. Select a sire based on the distance you wish to float and available access to the river. It is best to secure permission from the property owner when selecting a take out location.

Route 659 to Fort BlackmoreMap
Distance: 8 miles*
Gradient: 3.1 ft/mile

*The distance of this float depends on where you launch from route 659, but will be at least 8 miles. This float includes a lot of flat water. The slow and deep pools are good habitat for sunfish, catfish, walleye, and musky. Bring an electric trolling motor for this float, or be prepared to spend some time paddling. This float includes the pool know locally as “the retch” – a pool that stretches almost five miles with an average depth of about 14 feet. Some of the best musky fishing on the Clinch River is found in this float. Striped bass and white bass, migrants from Norris Reservoir in Tennessee, are sometimes caught on this float. Takeout is on the left, at an informal access just downstream of the Route 72 bridge in Fort Blackmore.

Fort Blackmore to Hill StationMap
Distance: 7.9 miles
Gradient: 1.9 ft/mile

This is one of the most scenic floats on the river. Just downstream of Fort Blackmore lies Pendelton Island. Fishing is this section is good for bass and sunfish, and walleye and sauger are also available. The gradient is low in this section, so floaters should allow plenty of daylight time to reach Hill Station. Takeout is on the left side of the river, just upstream of the route 645 bridge. The Hill Station access can be found off of route 645 on the southeast side of the river.

Hill Station to Clinchport Map
Distance: 5.2 miles
Gradient: 2.0 ft/mile

Put in at the Hill Station access described above. This section is typical of the lower river. Lazy pools provide good fishing for sunfish and catfish, while faster water at the scattered riffles offers smallmouth bass fishing. Take out on the right side of the river at the Clinchport access.

Clinchport to Speer’s FerryMap
Distance: 2 miles
Gradient: 3.2 ft/mile

A good variety of habitats are encountered on this short float, and many species can be caught. Launch at the Clinchport ramp and tie on a small, deep-diving crankbait. The first section of this float will offer some good bass and sunfish water, while ledges in the last stretch will harbor walleye and sauger. Take out on the left side of the river at Speer’s Ferry. An informal access is located near the railroad bridge off of route 627.

Speer’s Ferry to State LineMap
Distance: 9 miles
Gradient: 2.5 ft/mile

This float will take anglers through some beautiful scenery on the way to the Virginia-Tennessee border. Most of this float is through slow moving water, so allow ample time to cover the distance between access points. The scattered shoals in this section are popular during the spring sucker shooting season. Be sure to notice the platforms placed high among the sycamores. Take out is on the left side of the river at the State Line access, off of route 627.

Fishing Opportunities

Smallmouth Bass River Fishing Forecast

Many gamefish species that have been stocked into other Virginia rivers are native to the Clinch. Among the native gamefish in the river are the smallmouth bass, spotted bass, walleye, and sauger. In fact, the Clinch and its tributaries are the only Virginia waters where sauger are present. Largemouth bass, rock bass, redbreast sunfish, longear sunfish, and bluegill sunfish are available, as well as musky, black crappie and freshwater drum. Anglers who are looking for catfish will find both channel and flathead catfish in good numbers and sizes.

The Clinch River will provide good fishing in 2013. Most smallmouth bass collected during 2012 electrofishing samples were less than 14″, but some larger fish are available. About 9% of adult smallmouth bass exceeded 14″, 2% exceeded 17″ and less than 1% exceeded 20″. Rock bass and redbreast sunfish size and numbers are good, so they might fill in some of the time between smallmouth bites. Walleye fishing is improving, as the walleye population continues to be enhanced through stocking. Walleye collected in the 2012 samples ranged from 17-21″. Late winter and early spring are the best times to target walleye. The Clinch has a wide range of species and makes for a great day out.

Observant anglers may also notice longnose gar “sunning” near the river’s surface and occasionally taking a gulp of air. Strong populations of redhorse suckers and carp are available for anglers with the prowess and inclination to pursue them. These bottom-feeding fish can be caught on small pieces of worm fished on small hooks and light line, especially during the spring months. Redhorse suckers are most visible in the shallow water near the tails of pools. In Scott County, these shoals are the focal points of a unique spring tradition – the sucker shooting season. From April 15 to May 31 enthusiasts climb to platforms built in trees along the river to gain a better view of the river. These shooting platforms are often located at perilous heights, and are easy to spot when floating the river.

Biologist Reports

Regulations

Bass

  • 20 inches minimum
  • 1 fish/day
  • All bass less than 20 inches must be released.

Musky

  • 30 inches minimum

Other Species

  • Statewide creel limits apply

Facilities

Please see Float Trips/Ramps under Maps for more information about facilities.

More Information

Please contact the Marion office (276-783-4860) with any questions about the Clinch River.