After spending the morning on a tough trek into the upper reaches of Big Wilson, I cruised into the lower stretch for the afternoon and an easier time. The lower section of Big Wilson is a spectacular high gradient stream with huge boulders scattered randomly in a tight valley. These create dramatic plunge pools and deep runs which, on this day, had attracted more than their share of road fishers in pursuit of the newly stocked trout.
Ignoring them, I drove as far as I could go up the dirt road leading to the special regulation section and parked in a turnaround just shy of a solitary home. I was a bit confused as to whether I should continue to drive up as the road appeared to go into the yard, so I asked another guy who had just pulled up to run his dogs.
“Park here, it gets rough up there” was the advice. I took it. It was only another couple hundred yards to the end of the road and, yes, you need a real 4×4 to negotiate the road to get there. Rather than risk damage, just park and walk. There are deep potholes in the road, narrow passages between rocks that beg to scrape the paint off your truck and some nasty looking sharp rocks that would be pleased to puncture your gas tank as your truck heaves over them to high center on the numerous big humps.
The road hits Big Wilson upstream a bit from the sign that marks the start of the special regulation section. There is a nice pool right there with a small waterfall feeding it. I knew this spot, being pretty, would see more than it’s share of action, but I could not resist. I tied on a Mr. Rapidan and flipped it up to the seam of the current and, on the third cast, was rewarded with a slurp. Turns out there is a good pocket of fish right there; a mix of brookies and rainbows. With the March afternoon sun warming the water to 42 degrees (as opposed to the 36 degrees I observed that morning in the upper section), the fish were turned on and active on the top.
I worked that pool for an hour, loving every minute of the gentle but constant action. Finally, the urge to see more of this water built up and I started to walk upstream. After the pool, you can either work up the stream or follow a small path on the left side of the creek. Other than the normal caution you need to exercise when walking on rocks, the gradient of the stream levels out here, making for a pretty easy walk.
After seeing the amazing display of boulder/water/pools down below, it was a shock to work up through a normal trout stream. Beyond the initial pool for as far as I went, there were no dramatic waterfalls or stunning displays. While I could appreciate that this section would be picture perfect in the summer when shaded, in early March, it was barren and showing its bones.
I switched over to nymphs after leaving the pool and continued to pick up a fish every now and then. Nothing amazing, nothing worth writing home about. This stream could have been White Oak Canyon or the upper Hughes in the Shenandoah; very similar in appearance and technique.
In the middle of summer, I doubt you would need the chest waders I had on. My decision to stick with those was driven more by the need to stay warm rather than the need to stay dry. Since I had broken my 4wt rod earlier in the day, I used a 6wt and that was clearly overkill given the size of the typical fish I ran into.
As I walked and fished, I had the sense that not many other fishermen penetrate this far up. The magnet of the spectacular water down below coupled with the ease of stocking probably sucks off most of the traffic. That leaves the upper section to those of us who do not mind working to get to water. I did not see trash, evidence of illegal poaching or any other indicators that this was heavily pressured. Even the trail was lightly beaten down; something that could have been done by game as easily as a trout hiker or two.
If you want to take a side trip, detour up Little Wilson Creek. It joins this creek on the right about a quarter mile up from the first pool.
Bottom Line: Nice place. I would come back here if I could overcome the attraction of the SF of the Holston just over the border in TN.
Getting There: Follow 58 and turn north onto the small road where Big Wilson Creek goes under 58. Follow that road and the stream north and turn left onto Peace House. Stay on it until the end. You will need a 4×4 at some point on this road if you want to get all the way to the turnaround I parked in. You need a real 4×4 to go farther up past the house and to the end of the line at the first pool I discussed.
The pool at the crossing point
Easy gradient forms pools
Nice little brookie
Note the overhanging trees. This could get rough in the summer.
The lower section, outside the special reg area, is a series of dramatic boulders pushing the water helter-skelter.
It can be difficult climbing into some of these spots.
Looking downstream from the special reg area into the road fishing section
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore