You cannot pick up a book about trout fishing in Virginia without reading an article or two about the Smith River special regulation area. The Smith River is one of the few tailwaters in Virginia. The Corps of Engineers releases water regularly from the base of the Philpott dam which maintains trout friendly temperatures for 20 miles downstream. The most popular part of the river is the special regulation section that starts at the route 666 bridge in the town of Bassett. That was my destination on this day.
As you cross the bridge coming from the South, make an immediate right and there is a small parking area that stretches along for 25 yards along the side road. There is easy access to the river at the base of the bridge via a beaten down trail. In addition, you can walk down the side road and hop into the river at a number of different places. I rolled in here around 7 AM on a Friday and early October and was surprised to see another fisherman ahead of me. Not wanting to pressure him, I walked hundred yards upstream and entered the water there.
At the bridge, the river runs at an even 2 feet of depth with deeper holes clustered along the banks which are sheltered by overhanging trees and bushes. The water is crystal clear, and I could see trout skittering out of the way as I tried to enter the water with a minimum amount of noise and clatter. With my memory’s eye focused on the Hatch charts contained in the Flyfisher’s guide, I began to work the river using terrestrial patterns. Nothing much was moving at this time of day as I fished my way upstream without any interest from the trout that I knew had to be here. I was not concerned, because this section of the river has a significant built-up area along both sides. On the East side, it borders an industrial area with train tracks forming the border between the river and the factory. On the West side, there are small houses stretched along a side road for the first half mile of the river. Given my assumption pressure based on the proximity of this built-up area, I was happy to fish this section to get upstream into the more “remote” areas.
100 yards into the day, I looked upstream and saw another fly fisherman. Wow. 2 guys, 7 AM, a Friday. This water must really get hammered on the weekends! Again, not wanting to mess with his water and unable to figure out if he was going up or downstream, I left the water to the east and hopped on the train tracks to use a my road to the remoter section upstream. After leaving the industrial area, the tracks run right by another set of houses on the east bank. There were a few friendly dogs sniffing around but not much else moving at this time of the morning. They did not pay any attention to me as I walked by. I moved upstream to the bend in the river to ensure that there would be plenty of distance between myself and the other fishermen. The rail bed is be in this section with a steep, precipitous slope separating it from the river. You have to pick your entry point carefully or you will find yourself pitching headfirst into the water. I found a good spot and slid down to reenter the stream.
At this point, science of built-up areas had disappeared and it felt appropriately remote. I continued to fish my way upstream with absolutely no luck in catching trout. They were here, I could see them from time to time but they were totally uninterested in anything that I was throwing at them. I fished upriver for about 2 miles with unchanging lack of luck.
The river itself continued to be exceptionally scenic. Other than the load clatter of a train or two barreling by on the active tracks (something you need to pay attention to if you are using the railbed as a road), there was only the gentle sound of the river and the associated birds and forest noises to fill in the day. The river continued to roll through a heavily forested area with plenty of trees looming over the river to provide additional shade for both the fisherman as well as the fish.
Once you are in the river, you stay there. There is no trail that would allow you to skip any unproductive looking water. The bank continues to be high and steep on the train side as well. I fished my way up to a wide spot in the river and saw rocks poking up in the distance which marked a change in gradient. Hoping for a good pool where the trout would cluster to enjoy the channeled food and increased oxygen content, I walked up there.
I was surprised to see a mowed lawn and smooth bank which led up to a small shack (see picture). There is a road that leads here, but I am positive that it must have a gate to prevent access except for the owner. With that, I assumed that the pool which lay at the base of the rocks and the lawn would see plenty of attention for any visitor.
Rats. This was going to be a day of fishing rather than catching. I worked the pool for a bit and did get two strikes but nothing was brought to hand. At that point, I decided to move to a different section of the Smith, so I crawled up on the tracks and quickly walked the two miles back to the truck
Bottom Line: The Smith is a great river. All the authors cannot be wrong about that. In addition, I did see fish – this river is noted for the large population of native browns – I just did not have the right level of skill to catch them. But, the pressure has to be staggering on the special regulation area given what I saw on a late season workday. With that, I do not think I would return to fish this part of the river.
Getting There: Look up Bassett, VA in Google. Continue through the town on 57 and then turn onto Trenthill Drive. It will go across the Smith River and continue through an industrial area. It turns into North Main Street and then crosses the river again. This is the start of the special regulation area. Turn right after the bridge onto Wells Hollow Road and park.
Google Local Coordinates: 36.770449,-80.000671
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia
Virginia Trout Streams
Virginia Blue-Ribbon Streams
Upstream from entry point
Downstream from entry point
General shot of typical river – reasonably deep, but easily wadeable
Note the train tracks – they parallel most of the special reg area and provide a high speed avenue of approach
Shallower in some spots
Broad riffle area – I skipped this part – inches deep
Clearly, this had to be the end of the road, so I turned around here. Odd that this structure, clearly private property, bordered the river. There is a road that leads to it, but I imagine there is a gate someplace that only allows the owner access.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore