I first heard of the Dan River in 2004. I was looking for a place that would involve a hard hike or other significant hurdles to reach. After calling around, checking with friends, and even chatting with a few guides, I settled on the Dan River as a place that I needed to visit. Last year, I described the hike up from the Pinnacles power plant, but hitting the Dan above Townes reservoir proved elusive until last weekend.
In 2003, one of the guides I spoke with told me about the great fishing above Townes. He qualified it with the caution that the general public was not permitted unsupervised access to the dam and that the gate was locked with a code which, of course, he had. That caused me to write this location off because I couldn’t find the time or the guide money to fish this stretch back then.
This summer, I read in Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia that anyone could get the code from the Danville city utilities by calling 434-799-5270. Within minutes of calling, they faxed me the permission form. I fill it out, returned it and had the code to the combination lock for the particular day I intended to visit. Simple. Easy. But! This is only the first filter you encounter that minimizes the pressure on the Dan River. A point to note is that the permission is only valid between 8 AM and 5 PM. If you want to be on the water before or after that, you have to coordinate with the utilities folks. They gave me a phone number to call to ask for an extended stay when they faxed the form back, but I did not call until I was driving down. Bad call… they wrote the wrong number on the form and gave me a fax number. So, if you need early access, be sure you get a real number. You cannot show up at the gate early because there is a second lock that is unlocked daily by an employee of the utilities. Once that lock is removed, the remaining lock is the combination lock to which you have the code. Therefore, be there after eight and be sure you get out before five.
Just getting to water at the edge of the reservoir is only the first hurdle. Once you drop your canoe or kayak into the water, you face a 1.5 mile paddle up to the mouth of the Dan River. That wasn’t a big deal for me because I brought my electric trolling motor Having dealt with these two issues, early on a great Saturday morning, my son and I blasted off from the shoreline heading to the promised land.
The reservoir itself is interesting to drive through. It is nestled in a crack with tall mountains on either side. It has to be hundreds of feet deep. Bubbles of gas drift to the surface all over the lake; making you think that there is a huge hatch in progress. In fact, we fished the lake on the way back, using every minute of our allotted time, and did not catch anything worth writing about.
I did not really know what to expect when we beached the canoe at the mouth of the Dan and was happy to see that it looked great! The river runs about 30 feet wide over a rocky bottom where it joins the lake. There is dense vegetation on either side of the stream and if there was a path to enable rapid movement upstream, we did not look for it. Instead, we started fishing right away under the valid assumption that, with the mile and a half paddle, no section of this river sees any significant pressure. I saw no indication of previous visitors. I did not expect to see any since most people who go to the trouble to get to this remote location are sensitive to trashing a pristine environment.
Within 10 minutes of starting fishing, I had my first good brown of the day. I picked him up on a size 12 indicator pattern using my new 13 foot Tenkara rod that I bought from Mossy Creek Fly Fishing. I’ll have to write up a review of the rod later. On this day, I had the impression that the river was running shallow and that the Talbot reservoir upstream was limiting the amount of water pushed downstream as a result of the ongoing drought we have had this summer.
That did not seem to impact the fishing since we could find good numbers of decent sized rainbows and brown trout in any channel or pool that was greater than a foot deep. The fishing is tight. As you can see from the pictures, the river remains fairly narrow – this made my Tenkara rod, with its reach of approximately 26 feet, perfect. If you use regular fly gear, you won’t need much line at all! My son, Chris, was using spin gear to good results. He stuck with a size 2 Panther Martin and rarely got hung up even though the bottom was fairly rocky. In addition to the pools, we picked up decent numbers of fish in the shallow runs the led into the deeper channels.
The biggest problem of fishing this section of the Dan is that you do not move very fast. There is so much fishable water, that you end up crawling up the river and do not get to see as much if you would like. The next time I come here, I want to do the hike on the trail down from the Talbot reservoir approximately 5 miles upstream. My assumption is that there will be more water immediately below the dam than we experienced here and that more water translates to deeper holes that will support the growth of larger fish.
That said, I can’t imagine a more perfect day than we experienced. Even though it was August, the shade thrown by the trees amplified the coolness naturally generated above the cold river water.The intermittent clouds provided an additional assist. No mosquitoes, no flies, nothing obnoxious to interfere with fishing!
Bottom Line: This is a beautiful location that if you have the ability to fish, you need to visit.
Getting There: Find Meadows of Dan on the map and head south on SR 614 (Squirrel Spur Rad). If you are driving east, turn right immediately after you pass under the Blue Ridge Parkway to turn right onto SR 614. Follow SR 614 about 3 miles south and turn right on Lower Dam Road. Follow it to the end. Use your code to unlock the gate.
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
Tell a friend about this article by clicking on this link
Date Fished: 8/28/2010
it’s a steep walk from the parking area to the lake
morning fog over a absolutely still lake
The mouth of the Dan
first turn moving up river
Fairly narrow with plenty of shoreline vegetation
wide flat runs all have good channels
A nice 13 inch brown
one of the few bends in the river
A rare deep and wide pool
it doesn’t get any prettier than this
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore