Holston River – South Fork

The South Fork Holston River originates in Smyth County, Virginia near the community of Sugar Grove, where it is formed by the combination of several coldwater streams. There are two different special regulation trout fishing sections within the upper portions of the river. In the largest section, only single-hook artificial lures may be used, and there is a creel limit of two fish per day and a 16-inch minimum size limit. This section is approximately four miles long, extending from 500 feet above the dam at the Buller Fish Cultural Station upstream to the upper Jefferson National Forest boundary (above the crossing of the Appalachian Trail). Both rainbow and brown trout are available in this section of the South Fork.

The second section of special regulation trout fishing is for catch and release only (no keeping fish), and only single-hook artificial lures may be used. This section of the South Fork lies within the boundaries of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Buller Fish Cultural Station. It extends from the concrete dam downstream to the lower boundary of the Cultural Station. This area provides excellent trophy trout for all anglers and provides year-round trout fishing with easy access through the Buller property.

Below the Buller Fish Cultural Station there are two designated stocked trout fishing areas. The first is located in the Thomas Bridge area, and the second is located in the St. Clair Bottom area along Riverside Road. Fishing these stocked trout areas requires a trout license in addition to a statewide freshwater fishing license. This Class “A” trout water is stocked eight times between October and May each year.

Maps & Directions

If you are not familiar with the special regulation sections of the South Fork Holston River, you can find them easily from Interstate 81 by taking exit 45 (Marion) and heading south on Highway 16 towards the community of Sugar Grove. In the community of Sugar Grove, turn right off of Highway 16 onto Teas Road. Teas Road follows the South Fork Holston River, signs designate the beginning of the special regulation area. If you continue down Teas Road it turns into route 650 and passes by the Buller Fish Cultural Station. You can access the lower sections of these areas from the Buller property.
Float Fishing Trips on the Navigational Sections in
Washington County, Virginia.

Float Fishing Trips on the Navigational Sections in Washington County, Virginia
Float 1:
Float one is located in Washington County from the bridge crossing on Route 604 to Route 714, where the river is adjacent to the road. This section is approximately five river miles in length and consists of mostly runs (40%). There are several short pools making up approximately 30% of the total habitat. The remainder of the habitat consists of riffles and shoals (30%). This section of river flows through farms, pastures, and woodlands that are all in private ownership with little to no public access. The river is narrow with an average width of approximately 50-60 feet. Several wild rainbow trout were caught ranging from 7-17 inches. There were also rock bass, smallmouth bass, brown trout, and bluegills caught in low numbers. The river was flowing at 110 cubic feet per second, (CFS) at the time of the float. These conditions are above normal summer flow. The recorded gage height at the USGS stream gage at Riverside School, (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/va/nwis/uv?03471500), was 1.95 feet. Flows lower than this would make it hard to float. It is recommended that this float be attempted during the late spring and early summer periods to take advantage of higher seasonal flows. Access to launch canoes is on Private land and landowner permission must be received in access the river.

Float 2:
Float two is located from River Road Route 714, where the river is adjacent to the road, to the bridge crossing on Route 724 in Washington County. This section is approximately 3.7 river miles in length and consists of mostly runs (35%). There are several pools that are rather short in length. Pool habitat makes up approximately 35% of the total habitat. The remainder of the habitat is riffles and shoals (30%). This section of river flows through farmlands and small sections of woodlands. There are several homes and cabins adjacent to the river along this section, and there is evidence of a good deal of river usage by anglers and other recreational users. No public access exists along this section of river, and landowner permission was obtained to access the river at the route 724 takeout. Fish collected during the float consisted of several wild rainbow trout ranging from 7-12 inches, rock bass, smallmouth bass, and a red horse sucker. River conditions were above normal summer flow, water clarity was murky, and the river was flowing at 130 CFS. The recorded gage height at the USGS stream gage at Riverside School, (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/va/nwis/uv?03471500), was 2.20 feet. Flows lower than this would make it hard to float. Light spinning tackle, live bait and small river crankbaits were used to sample the fishery. It is recommended that this float be attempted during the late spring and early summer periods to take advantage of higher seasonal flows, and permission to access the river at route 724 bridge should be obtained in advance.

Float 3:
Float three is located from the Route 724 bridge to the bridge crossing on Route 58 in Washington County. This section is approximately 5.8 river miles in length and consists of mostly runs (35%). There are several short shallow pools making up approximately 25% of the total habitat. The remainder of the habitat was riffles and shoals (40%). This section of river flows through farmlands, wooded areas and near small residential neighborhoods adjacent to the river. There is evidence of river usage by anglers and other recreational users. There appears to be public access existing along Route 788 in this section of river, but landowner permission most be obtained to access the river at the Route 724 bridge to launch. The takeout site at the Route 58 bridge is adjacent to the Virginia Creeper Trail, which is primitive access to the river. One wild rainbow trout was caught about 7-8 inches. There were also rock bass, a 16-inch smallmouth bass, and a redbreast sunfish caught. The river condition was above normal summer flow, water clarity was cloudy, and at the time of the float the river was flowing at 120 CFS. The recorded gage height at the USGS stream gage at Riverside School (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/va/nwis/uv?03471500) was 2.00 feet. Flows lower than this would make it hard to float. A light-spinning rod was used, and night crawlers were fished along with small river crank baits. It is recommended that this float be attempted during the late spring and early summer periods to take advantage of higher seasonal flows.

Float 4:
Float four is located from the route 58 bridge crossing, to the bridge crossing at Alvarado (Route 710) in Washington County. This section is approximately 3.5 river miles in length and consists of mostly pools (60%). There are several riffles and rapids that are challenging. The riffles make up approximately 20% of the total habitat. The remainder of the habitat is shallow runs and shoals (20%). Access to the river at Route 58 to launch was made from the Virginia Creeper Trial. Access to takeout can be made on the Route 710 bridge. It must be noted that this float requires some skill because the river size and flow doubles when Laurel Creel and the South Fork join directly above the route 58 launch site. This river section is heavily used by anglers and river enthusiasts. River access can be made at various sites along Route 711 which runs parallel to the river. There were several smallmouth bass caught using light spinning tackle and small river crankbaits. Bluegill sunfish were also collected. The river flow was slightly elevated above normal summer flow, water clarity was cloudy, and at the time of the float the river was flowing at 500 CFS. The recorded gage height at the USGS stream gage at Damascus, (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/va/nwis/uv?03473000), was 3.5 feet. Flows lower than this would make it hard to float and would require dragging.

Fishing Opportunities

The South Fork Holston River special regulation trout fishery is one of the premier trout streams in southwest Virginia. It offers an excellent opportunity for anglers to catch many rainbow trout and large brown trout. Fishing the river with conventional spinning tackle can be very productive by selecting lures common to those used in fishing for smallmouth bass as long as they are single hook artificial lures. Any type of soft-plastic worm, grub, lizard, crawfish, or minnow on a single hook jig head is the key.

Fly-fishing tackle is excellent and almost always produces good numbers of trout. The river has a large forage base of aquatic insects and patterns to match include everything from tiny caddis larvae to giant black stonefly nymphs. During late winter, as spring approaches, a few warm, sunny days in succession may prompt blue-wing olive mayfly hatches, offering anglers occasional spurts of dry-fly action.

The activity levels of trout and trout anglers both increase greatly with the arrival of spring. All the standard fly-fishing tactics are applicable as insect hatches swing into action. In high-flow conditions, a bulky streamer or flashy spinner can produce impressive results.

As the long days of summer bring low, clear flows, anglers must adjust their fishing tactics accordingly to be successful. Keeping a low profile and making long casts can help prevent spooking the trout.

As waters cool in fall, trout everywhere begin feeding heavily, and those in the South Fork are no exception. Autumn also offers the best chance to tangle with one of the stream’s trophy brown trout as they prepare to spawn. Large streamers such as muddler minnows, wooly buggers, and woolhead sculpins are the best choices for the fly angler seeking a big brown trout.

However, the best advice for an angler considering a trip to the South Fork Holston River is simply go for it. Even on the rare day when the trout refuse to cooperate, the experience of being on one of Virginia’s most beautiful rivers makes any trip worthwhile.

For float fishing trips in Washington County, go to the Maps section of this site.

Biologist Reports

Regulations

The South Fork Holston River is managed primarily for trout, and different sets of regulations are used in different sections of the river to provide anglers with a variety of opportunities.

Upper Section

The upper-river portion is an approximate 4-mile special regulation area controlled by the following regulations (this is how the sign reads):
Special Regulation Area
Only Artificial Lures with single hook may be used in these waters.

Creel Limit – 2 trout/day
Minimum size – 16 inches

Fishing must cease when creel limit is obtained.

Lower Section – (Buller Fish Cultural Station Section)

Special Regulation Area
Only Artificial Lures with single hook may be used in these waters.

Catch and Release Only
All trout must be immediately released.
No trout may be in possession at any time in these waters.

Stocked Trout Waters – (Thomas Bridge and St. Clair Bottom Sections)

Special Trout License Required Oct.-June 15th
Creel Limit – 6 trout/day
7 inch minimum size limit

Facilities

While there are no restroom or concession facilities on the VDGIF property on the South Fork Holston there are places to purchase fishing supplies, food, gas, cold drinks and snacks. In the community of Sugar Grove there is a diner and a convenience store. In the community of Thomas Bridges, below the Buller Fish Cultural Station, there is a convenience store. There are also many areas to camp in the National Forest that surrounds the local area and the Town of Marion has several motels and eating establishments.

See Maps section for access and Float Trips.

More Information

For more information on this river, contact Marion office.