Big Tumbling Creek is located in the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Southwest Virginia. I decided to pull off and check out this stretch of water as a side trip on my recent trip focused on Big Wilson, the SF Holston and other southwest Virginia Water.
Big Tumbling Creek is a fee fishing area. The fee period begins in April and stretches through September. During that time, you need to purchase a daily permit. However, in early March, all that I needed was my trout license. After the 6 hour drive from Northern Virginia, I was anxious to get out of the truck and get moving. I drove carefully up the road into the WMA as there were plenty of road fishers working the creek where it paralleled the road. Since VDGIF recently stocked the creek, there was more pressure than normal on this great, sunny early March day. But, I was not interested in the road, so I continued up to a spot where the creek veered away from the road into the gorge. There was one other truck parked there with a solitary fisherman inside. As I wandered over to chat, I noticed that the back of the truck was plastered with “US Army Retired” stickers. Given that’s my status, I knew I would connect – this would be another old-timer like myself.
After exchanging the secret handshake of units and places served, I asked the old First Sergeant what he thought of the stream ahead. He gave it a thumbs up with the caveat that it was a fee area and that stocking had probably not begun yet. But, he confirmed that it was a very scenic stretch of water. Perfect. I thanked him and wished him good luck, geared up and waded the creek to start upstream.
As usual, I walked to get away from the crowd and started to get anxious for the trail to reconnect with the creek as I could hear the tantalizing roar of the water on my right. Finally! Linked up with the water again. I hastily assembled my 4wt rod, successfully dropped a fly never to be seen again in the leaves, and finally got my stuff together to go. Geez. Been a long season off!
I started to work up stream and the first thing I noticed was that while there was plenty of water cascading down the gorge, the hip waders I had on were plenty of protection to negotiate the creek. There was still snow on the ground and huge icicles dangling from the large rocks that protected the stream. Had to be careful where I stepped. While I have a PLB, I do not want to ever have to use it.
The early season always presents a challenge to me. What to use? The water temp was a brisk 41 to match with the 48 in the air, so, while that is over the threshold for near hibernation, it’s not really high enough to generate active feeding. I looked around for any evidence of insects, found none. Given that, and the rapid flow of water through the many deep pools and sharp cuts, I decided to go exclusively with nymphs. I tied on a dark colored copper john in an attempt to mimic a stonefly and started to cast.
Not much skill needed here. Most of the “casting” was a short roll or flip to position the nymph and the indicator at the top of the pool. With an eye on the clock as the sun waned in the late afternoon, I climbed up the creek into tougher territory. Every turn of this creek produced a new, startlingly scenic view. This is classic trout water… for the east coast anyway.
Some sections of the creek are pretty tight. The surrounding rhododendrons crowd the creek and push you down into the middle to keep your fly from becoming a Christmas ornament. The banks are steep throughout the entire stretch, but not to the extent that you cannot get back out. You just need to pick your entry and exit points.
Eventually, I worked my way up to the Big Tumbling Creek Falls. Deep, deep water here. Hugh, house sized rock formations protect this area and make it sporty on the right to move up next to the falls. I did not have time to investigate the approach from the west bank, but it looked even worse with the hillside sliding right into the water – very, very steep over there.
I lengthen my tippet to get the nymph down farther, but did not have any success. I took a quick coffee break to suck down a hot burst of caffeine as I watched the shadows grow longer. With sadness that I did not have more time, I climbed back up to the road and walked down to the truck.
Bottom Line: Once you ignore the fee fishing aspect of this spot, it is classic. I would come back here in a heartbeat. While I do not know what the crowds will be like in the summer when the fee area is in full swing, I doubt that many of them stray far from the road.
In addition, I did not go all the way up to Laurel Bed Lake. There is probably additional good water up there than must be checked – especially since the road is closed most of the winter as a result of ice and snow.
Finally, I skipped all the turnouts on the way up, but they sit next to good looking water. Assuming you can get here close to the stocking period, you probably will have good luck fishing any of those pools.
Getting There: Mapquest yourself to Saltville. Take 613 out of Saltville and turn on 747 to enter the WMA. 747 will look like somebody’s driveway, but go ahead on up. It quickly turns into a dirt road, just keep bouncing along. You will drive by the place where they collect the fee (closed when I was here). I recommend you stop and chat to see where the fishing places are based on when you arrive. Since it is all fee fishing, I doubt anyone will be protective regarding locations – if they don’t collect fees, the business case crumbles.
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
A nice sunny early spring day – plenty of water
Don’t go into this section if you cannot deal with rocks. They were not that slick, but, as always, I put my wading staff to good use.
Can you imagine any better looking water than this?
The snow was still on some of the rocks when I was here
This was the last pool at the top of my hike.
I wanted to go further, but the sun was starting to fade and I still had a drive to get to Abington where I was going to spend the night.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore