James River – Upper & Middle

Shenandoah, Cowpasture, and James River fish kills update

From the confluence of the Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers in Botetourt County, downstream to Richmond, the James River offers a wide range of angling opportunities and settings. Smallmouth bass are the dominant game species, but spotted and largemouth bass can also be caught.

Smallmouth bass fishing will be good throughout the river. Both the mountain sections (upstream from Lynchburg) and the piedmont sections (between Lynchburg and Richmond) generally provide good fishing. There is not a lot of difference in the fish populations from one spot to another; it is simply a matter of finding the particular locations where the fish are holding and using whatever bait or lure they might want that day.

Other species are also plentiful in the James River, including channel catfish, flathead catfish, and various sunfish species (redbreast, bluegill, and rock bass). Flathead catfish appear to be more numerous upstream from Lynchburg, and channel catfish are more numerous below Lynchburg. Muskies are also annually stocked in the James. These fish are scarce, but some very large fish can be caught. Most of the muskies are found upstream from Lynchburg.

Overall, the James River offers an excellent fishing opportunity for whatever you might want. Canoeing is the best way to access the river, maps and narration for float trips are found under Maps & Access. Small boats (such as john boats) can also be used at most access points. Bank and wade fishing access is also available throughout the river.

Maps & Directions

James River Float Trips & Access Points

Iron Gate (Lick Run) to Glen Wilton Map

Distance: 3 miles

Iron Gate is the first access on the James River located less than one mile below the confluence of the Jackson and Cowpasture rivers. The shoreline access is below the U.S. Route 220 Bridge over the James River and parking is available in the gravel lot across of Glen Wilton Rd. This trip contains several class I rapids and is popular for muskie and smallmouth bass fishing. The Glen Wilton access is a shoreline access under Bridge St. off Glen Wilton Rd. This float is often combined with the Glen Wilton to Gala trip to make a longer 10-mile trip.

Glen Wilton to Gala Map

Distance: 7 miles

This trip contains numerous class I and a few class II rapids. The pool and riffle habitat in this section makes it popular among muskie anglers. The Gala access is located in Sinking Creek approximately 75 yards from the confluence with the James River. There is a gravel parking area next to Sinking Creek off U.S. Route 220 in the town of Gala.

Gala to Craig Creek (Eagle Rock) Map

Distance: 4 miles

This shorter float contains numerous class I rapids and is great for a quick fishing trip or tubing. From the gravel access in Sinking Creek, follow the creek under the railroad bridge to enter the James River. The trip ends at the gravel shoreline access in Craig Creek near the town of Eagle Rock.

Craig Creek (Eagle Rock) to Horseshoe Bend Map

Distance: 13 miles

This trip begins at the gravel access where U.S. Route 220 crosses Craig Creek near the town of Eagle Rock. Smallmouth bass, rock bass, and muskies provide the best angling opportunities in this stretch of river. This trip is one of the longest on the upper James so be prepared for a full day on the river. The trip ends at the Horseshoe Bend boat ramp off Rt. 43.

Horseshoe Bend to Springwood Map
Distance: 3.5 miles

Horseshoe Bend is adjacent to Rt. 43 and consists of a concrete boat ramp. Shallow, fast water at this boat ramp makes launching difficult. However, given sufficient flows, experienced jet boat operators can access the river using the Horseshoe Bend ramp. A canoe launching area is present at Springwood (under the Rt. 630 bridge). Boats have to be carried to the river at this site. This float has a long series of deep pools and relatively long riffles. The fast water is not exceptionally difficult to navigate. Smallmouth bass are numerous and rock bass are common. It is also possible to hook into a musky on this float. This trip is often combined with the Springwood to Buchanan trip to make a longer day on the river.

Springwood to Buchanan Map
Distance: 5 miles

From the canoe launching area at Springwood, proceed downstream to the concrete boat ramp in the Town of Buchanan. This ramp is suitable for most small boats, and is upstream from the Rt. 11 bridge. This float is one of the most popular on the upper James River and contains a series of long pools and short riffles, none of which are too difficult. Smallmouth bass and rock bass provide the most fishing action, but this is also the most popular segment for musky fishing. Jet boat operators often launch and run several miles upstream and downstream from the Buchanan boat ramp given adequate water levels.

Buchanan to Arcadia Map
Distance: 6 miles

There is a concrete boat ramp at Buchanan, suitable for most river boats, and a canoe launching area at Arcadia. The Arcadia launch area is adjacent to the Rt. 614 bridge, and a steep path must be negotiated to get from the parking area to the river. This float is generally a series of pools and riffles, with some rock ledges. Smallmouth bass fishing is good. Rock bass, redbreast sunfish, and muskies may be caught.

Arcadia to Alpine Map
Distance: 4.5 miles

From the canoe access in Arcadia the river contains many Class I and a couple Class II rapids. Fishing is best for smallmouth bass, rock bass, and muskies. This float is often combined with the Buchanan to Arcadia trip, to make a popular full day trip from Buchanan to Alpine. The trip ends at the gravel access in Alpine along state Rt 608/ Gilmores Mill Rd.

Alpine to Glasgow Map
Distance: 11 miles

The first half of this float is relatively shallow for the upper James with many ledges and Class I rapids. Smallmouth bass and rock bass provide most of this fishing action; however, muskies may be caught in this section as well. A canoe/kayak slide is available (on river left) just upstream of the confluence with the Maury River for those looking to take-out at Glasgow. It is not recommended to attempt to take-out using the concrete ramp on the Maury River in Glasgow.

Glasgow to Snowden Map
Distance: 4.5 miles

A concrete boat ramp on the Maury River is located just above its confluence with the James River. However, a difficult rapid below this ramp on the Maury River makes it unsuited for anything except canoe/kayaks. From Glasgow, proceed downstream through the James River gorge to the concrete boat ramp at Snowden. This ramp is located on the left side of the river in a small creek, just downstream from the railroad bridge over the James River. Small boats can be launched at Snowden, but parking is limited. The narrow creek in which the ramp is located makes it difficult to launch larger river boats. Class II and III rapids throughout the James River gorge make this a challenging yet popular float. The most difficult rapid is located at Balcony Falls. The smallmouth bass fishing on this float is good and catfish can be caught in the pool around Snowden. A dam immediately downstream from Snowden ramp prevents further downstream travel in this section of the James.

Hunting Creek Map

The Hunting Creek access contains a good concrete ramp, suitable for most boats and offers access to approximately 2.5 miles of river. Dams above and below the ramp prohibit float trips. The ramp is located near the bottom of pool so an upstream paddle is required by those seeking to explore this section of river. Smallmouth bass, muskie, and catfish can be found in this section. The ramp is located along Riverside Circle off U.S. Route 501 in Big Island. Jet boats and small prop boats are often used in this section of river given adequate water levels.

Reed Creek Map

Located off U.S. Route 501 (at the Georgia-Pacific Corporation entrance) near the town of Big Island, the Reed Creek access offers a concrete ramp suitable for most boats. This ramp provides access to approximately 4 miles of river. Most of this section is deeper pool habitat and offers opportunities to catch channel and flathead catfish, as well as sunfish. The portion of river upstream of the ramp contains flowing water where anglers can find smallmouth bass and muskies. Jet boats and small prop boats are often used in this section of river given adequate water levels.

Monacan Park Map

This access point has a good concrete ramp suitable for most boats, and provides access to the pool impounded by Reusens Dam. It is located at the end of Rt. 652, near Elon. Several miles of river can be utilized from this point. This is all flat water, and relatively deep. Fishing is good for bluegill, and other species such as smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, redbreast sunfish, and channel catfish may be caught as well. The river is deep enough to use a prop motor downstream of the ramp but rocks limit safely taking a prop boat upstream of the boat ramp. With suitable river flows, experienced jet boat operators may be able to run upstream and reach the dam at the top of the Monacan pool.

Madison Heights to Joshua Falls Map
Distance: 9.9 miles

The Madison Heights boat ramp is located across the river from downtown Lynchburg in Amherst County. The ramp is concrete and suitable for canoes and most river boats. It is not uncommon for small prop boats and jet boats to launch and run upstream given adequate river flows. The float to Joshua Falls is relatively easy as the river is generally wide and shallow with a number of shallow ledges. Be sure to stay on the left bank of the river when passing Percival’s Island at the beginning of the float to avoid a dam on the right side of the island. A slide suitable for canoes and kayaks is available at Joshua Falls, located at the end of Rt. 726 near the Campbell/Appomattox County line. Smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish provide most of the fishing action, but musky and channel catfish may be caught as well.

Joshua Falls to Bent Creek Map
Distance: 15.3 miles

A canoe slide is available at Joshua Falls, located at the end of Rt. 726 near the Campbell/Appomattox County line. The access point at Bent Creek is a concrete ramp suitable for canoes or very small boats. This access is located immediately upstream from the Rt. 60 bridge. A long, but relatively easy float lies between these two points. The river is generally wide and shallow, with small and infrequent riffles/ledges. Fishing is best for smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish. Channel catfish can also be caught in this section.

Bent Creek to Wingina Map
Distance: 12.4 miles

The ramp at Bent Creek is best suited for canoes or small boats. At Wingina, a concrete ramp is present at the Rt. 56 bridge. However, trailer-launched boats can only be used during high flows, due to a steep dropoff at the end of the ramp. Typically, this float is a series of long, shallow pools interspersed with short, easy riffles. Smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish will provide most of the fishing through here.

Wingina to James River WMA Map
Distance: 2.2 miles

Wingina provides a ramp for small boats/canoes, and a good concrete boat ramp is present at the James River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) (follow the signs from Rt. 626). This is a short and shallow float. During low flow periods, the river gets quite shallow through this section. The best fishing action comes courtesy of smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish.

James River WMA to Howardsville
Distance: 8.6 miles

There is a good concrete ramp at James Rive WMA. The concrete ramp at Howardsville is located off of Rt. 626 at the mouth of the Rockfish River. This location means that this ramp is frequently covered with sand, and the launch area is quite shallow. This float is characterized by long shallow pools and short riffles. Several islands dot the river on this trip. Fishing is best for smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish, although longnose gar and channel catfish can add to the excitement.

Howardsville to Scottsville
Distance: 9.8 miles

The ramp at Howardsville provide the starting point for this relatively long trip. A concrete ramp at Scottsville (reached by following the signs from Rt. 6) in located downstream of the Rt. 20 bridge, and is suitable for most boats. The river is generally wide and shallow throughout this section with many small islands. This is an easy float, but will take some time when the river is low. Smallmouth bass, redbreast sunfish, channel catfish, and longnose gar will provide most of the fishing action.

Scottsville to Hardware River W.M.A. Map
Distance: 5.8 miles

Good concrete boat ramps are present at both access points. The ramp at Hardware River Wildlife Management Area is reached by following the sings from Rt. 6. The upper portion of this float has long shallow pools, while the lower portion passes through a multitude of islands. The takeout at Hardware River WMA is located immediately upstream from the mouth of the Hardware River, and you should stick to the left (north) bank of the river as you near the takeout. Fishing in this section is excellent for redbreast sunfish, and good for smallmouth bass.

Hardware to New Canton Map
Distance 6.9 miles

A braided channel with many small islands. Very scenic with much Class I and II riffles. Redbreast and smallmouth provide most fishing action. Take out downstream from Route 15 bridge, on right.

New Canton to Columbia Map
Distance: 11 miles

This is a predominantly flat stretch with little fast water. Best fishing provided by catfish and smallmouth. Take out on right at bridge.

Columbia to Cartersville Map
Distance: 9.5 miles

This is a predominantly flat stretch with few riffles and fair scenery. This is catfish and smallmouth water with redbreast also being abundant. Take out on right just after bridge.

Cartersville to West View Map
Distance: 5 miles

A flat stretch with rolling hills providing good scenery. Smallmouth and redbreast provide most fishing action but a diversity of bream and some catfish. Take out on left, opposite island.

West View to Powhatan State Park Map
Distance: 7.5 miles

There is a good concrete ramp at Westview. There are two boat slides for canoes and hand carry boat at the State Park. Between river miles two and five, there is a series of Class I riffles. The rest of the float is flat but provides good smallmouth and bream fishing. The takeout is on the south shoreline just before the big bend in the river.

Powhatan State Park to Maidens Map
Distance: 6 miles

Only hand carried boats can be launched at the State Park. There is a good concrete ramp at Maidens access area. The river is mostly flat with deep pockets good for catfish and bass. The takeout is on the south shoreline just before the 522 bridge.

Maidens to Watkins Map
Distance: 13.1 miles

Numerous Class I riffles and islands are encountered in the middle of the float. The last of the float (3.5 miles) is in the Boshers Dam pool. Good smallmouth and catfish water. Take out on right.

Fishing Opportunities

Smallmouth Bass River Fishing Forecast

Please see the James River Float Trips under Maps and Access, and the above Smallmouth Bass Fishing Forecast for specific fishing information by location and species.

Biologist Reports

Regulations

Black Bass

(Smallmouth, Largemouth and Spotted)

  • 5 per day in aggregate, only 1 greater then 22 inches
  • No bass 14 to 22 inches

Catfish

  • 20 per day
  • Only 1 Blue Catfish greater than 32 inches

Other Species

Facilities

Please see James River Float Trips under Maps for more information regarding available facilities.

More Information

James River Muskie Tagging Reward Poster

Muskie Catch-and-Release Poster

Please contact the Forest office for more information about the James River (Upper).