Finding New Places to Fish
Don't want to spend time reading - watch the video below to get the same info!
How To Find New Places To Fish
With over 49,350 miles of river in Virginia, you’d think I would never hear someone say, “There’s nowhere to fish around here.” But, I do - quite frequently. Here in Central Virginia we have access to a plethora of watersheds that include wild brook trout, wild brown trout, wild rainbow trout, stockers of all three species, smallmouth bass, striper, largemouth, carp, musky, and the list goes on. So the questions becomes, where can I go to find new places to fish?
I find most people that come into the fly shop are asking primarily about trout water - so that’s what I’ll gear this stuff towards, but it could go to any river system.
Word of Mouth
Word-of-mouth is one of the most common ways to learn new places. Someone either drops a nugget of info or straight up tells you exactly where to go, where to park, where the fish are, etc.. This can be invaluable for newer anglers who have minimal or no clue what they're doing, and is also helpful for more experienced anglers, but it usually results in a trade or two of info. However, there can be some problems with it as well.
1) Old Info, 2) Misdirection, 3) Eliminates the Exploration.
- You’re talking to Ol’ Uncle Joe at a dinner party, and he tells you he used to fish the “Blue Hole” on X stream. He says it’s so deep there are two foot brook trout you’d catch every cast. Maybe that was true in 1921 Ol’ Joe, but that hole has changed in the past 100 years. Tread carefully with old info as everything changes in time. Land owners pass away, streams flood, roads get built, roads get trashed…etc.
- Some people will intentionally misdirect you. If you couldn’t trust this person to hold your drink without fear, I wouldn’t trust their directions. Or, they may just be pretending like they know where to go. If a shady character gives me info, I’ll do a little more digging before I just hit the road.
- Word-of-mouth eliminates exploration. There’s a cool feeling when you learn a new place on your own. When all you ever do is ask and beg people for info without doing any digging on your own, you lose a little bit of that exploration that I think adds a unique layer to our pastime.
DON’T EXPECT PEOPLE TO TELL YOU EVERYTHING. It’s frustrating to me when people act like they deserve to know every detail of a river, where exactly I go, how I got there, where I park, where I start fishing etc.. If I’ve worked hard and spent days learning a place and researching it, I may not want to hand out that place to some stranger in Cracker Barrel (whoever you were - I’ll never forget you).
Don’t be that guy. If someone tells you a juicy stream, keep it close to your chest. Thank the person, and don’t take to social media to exploit an area someone told you to keep on the DL. I’ve been seeing this more and more since 2020 got so many people out on the water. Here’s a good practice with social media and fly fishing.
Here’s my principle regarding social media and fishing spots - DON’T share specific locations or stream names on social media. When you post on Social Media (Facebook/Instagram) you run the risk of blowing that place to bits. Instead of 1 person hearing, it’s thousands (I know because I’m in several Facebook Groups that commonly blow small streams to bits that have thousands of people in the group). Let someone direct message you - ignore the questions - or just say “fished a cool trout stream recently,” and post the photo.
Now, I’m not bashing social media, because there is value in it for bringing awareness, educating anglers, showing what you’re up to, etc.. I’d just warn you to minimize the amount of specific info you post about. We want to preserve our local fisheries!
There are a few small streams within an hour of here that are already suffering from over-pressure now. Limiting social media exposure is one way to combat this issue. Now, there are some fisheries that can take this pressure (you may know them) - but our smaller wild trout streams in VA cannot.
Let’s keep moving, though -
How can you learn new places to fish besides word-of-mouth?
This is an “old school” way to find new places to fish. It’s simple, pull out a map, find the blue line, and find a way to get there. Blue-Lining is the angler’s term for it. The challenges with this are: 1) finding out if the stream is on public or private land, 2) finding out if there are actually fish there, and 3) finding the easiest way (road or hiking) to get to the river/stream/lake. Here are the three things I say to those.
OnX Hunt - It’s an app that’s $30 a year that can stop you from getting sued. It reveals property lines, private land, and public land all on your phone using satellite imagery. It’s worth every dime. I’ve been using it for several years now, and encourage everyone to download it and start exploring with confidence.
Aside from the app, look for posted signs. If something is posted - don’t fish it. On occasion you’ll find a stream that isn’t posted and you’re not sure if it’s public or private, and you can’t resist the urge. Be respectful of your surroundings. If you get approached by a land owner while fishing, don’t be a jerk. Be honest, offer your apology if they ask you to leave, and leave. Don’t ruin it for all future anglers by having a spiteful attitude towards them. Sometimes, it just takes a smile and an honest response and you’ll be allowed back on!
HELPFUL TIP: I carry around a $20 bill in my wallet. If I’m asked to leave a place I didn’t know I couldn’t fish, I’ll offer the land owner the $20 bill as a way to say thank you (and sorry) for being on their property. So far, no one has taken the $20, and I’ve had some land owners that tell me to come back whenever I want as long as I don’t leave trash. A little bit of kindness can go a long way with this.
2) Another way you can search for new streams is by looking up the DWR trout map of Virginia. It color coordinates rivers on a map and tells you if the stream has stocked, wild, or native trout. It’s a helpful tool, but it doesn’t share everything. So, put on your adventure hat, because the main way you can figure out - for sure- if there are fish in the stream is by fishing it.
Don’t worry about “wasting a day.” I don’t like that phrase when it comes to fishing.
Recently, I've been watching several shows on modern wildlife biologists that search for “extinct” species. It’s fascinating, and a lot of times - they never find the species. Weeks “wasted,” thousands of dollars invested, camera gear broken, stung by Asian bees, but you don’t see them complaining - at least on the screen! I like that attitude.
In VA, we KNOW that trout are around - they might not be 3 min. in your backyard, but within 2 hours you can find A LOT of trout streams - and streams you’ve never fished before. So, if there’s a stream you’ve always wondered about - go fish it this year!
Look for rivers near the mountains, try different “feeder creeks” that dump into your favorite river. You may be surprised at the size of some of them, and they can help build confidence because you have a familiarity with the area or can get back down to stuff you know if your new stretch of stream doesn’t pan out.
3) Finding access points usually revolves around 3 things. Maps, drive time, and boot time. I’ll never forget the day John-Mark and I drove searching for an access point on a small stream in Virginia we wanted to fish. We drove, and drove, and drove, and couldn’t find what we were looking for. After 2(ish) hours of not knowing where we were - we saw a sign.
“Welcome to Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia.”
We accidentally drove to WEST VIRGINIA… We didn’t end up fishing that day, but we got a good laugh out of it.
I learned that day without cell service that you should always bring a map, and sometimes part of the adventure is learning new things. For example, that trip with John-Mark taught me a LOT of backroads I didn’t know that I still use to this day! Don’t get stressed over a day driving. In fact, when the fishing sucks, hop in the car and go explore back roads for new access points! Don’t get stuck fishing the same stream over and over because - “it’s easy.” As an angler you’ll plateau. You’ll be the old guy who walks in the shop and says, “there’s no where to fish around here…”
Don’t be that guy - do the leg work. It makes the reward a lot more tasty.
The Fly Shop
Another way you can find new streams to fish is by stopping in your local fly shop. Most shops are willing to impart some knowledge on you (that’s one of the reasons they exist after all). If you’re a newer angler, they’ll probably point you to a better known stream that has easier (or at least simple) access. They’ll point you to flies that are working and should be able to inspire some confidence in you.
This is one of the reasons I often contact local fly shops anytime I’m going to a new area! They give you helpful info you can trust. Even if they don’t fish the particular stream often, they probably know people that DO fish it frequently, and can provide you with general information about the stream’s condition. That information is invaluable.
As with everything, the more you explore, the better you’ll get at it. As you find dud streams, you’ll learn what to direct your attention to, and what to avoid. Completely dried up in early summer? Then it likely doesn’t hold fish through the spring. Deep holes you could jump in year- round? There’s something there, I’m sure.
A lot of times the trout streams I find that are new, I stumble across. I’m driving on the parkway in winter and through the leafless trees you see a little stream or river. My mind always goes, “I wonder if there’s fish there?” That’s the start of it!
Write them down in a stream hit list. In time you’ll start to compile a list of places you may have seen or have heard about. Do some research, give it some boot time, and see if that place has fish. The more you do this, the more you’ll learn. Don’t rely on the experiences of other anglers alone. You’ll get bored fast, and your ego will inflate to a place your skill can’t hold.
Sometimes, your days become more walking and driving than fishing. That’s okay, especially in the winter, because it gives you direction for the spring and summer when the fishing is better!