Whether you’re looking for trophy smallmouth bass, tasty trout or a leisurely lakeside fishing trip, Scott County has the spot for you.
The Clinch and Holston Rivers are full of smallmouth, spotted, rock, and largemouth bass, sauger, sunfish, musky, crappie, and freshwater drum. The Clinch River is one of the most diverse and beautiful in the nation while the north fork of the Holston is a trophy smallmouth bass fishery.
Between April 15 and May 31, the Clinch River offers a rare fishing opportunity–sucker shooting. During this time, anglers climb into the Sycamore trees lining the river banks and shoot the red horse suckers in the shallow waters along the shore. The only other place in the U.S. where this is allowed is in Vermont.
On the more leisurely end of the adventure spectrum, Bark Camp Lake is a 45-acre lake managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Drop by for picnicking, hiking and birdwatching, but bring your fishing gear to catch largemouth bass, black crappie, several sunfish species, channel catfish and trout.
Trout fishing opportunities exist throughout the county on stocked trout streams such as Big Stony Creek, Little Stony Creek, Stock Creek and Bark Camp Lake.
Bark Camp Recreation Area is situated on a 45 acre lake that is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth bass, several sunfish species and channel catfish. Check the DGIF website for the stock schedule. The trailhead is closed during the winter (Oct. 1 thru April 1).
A three mile shoreline trail circles the lake, offering outstanding views. Highlights include an open air amphitheater overlooking the lake, a short hike to an interesting geological formation called “Kitchen Rock,” and outstanding universally accessible fishing piers and picnicking facilities. This recreation area boasts 34 campsites, 9 of which have electric hookups.
The portion of Big Stony Creek (Mountain Fork) and its tributaries within the Jefferson National Forest from the outlet of High Knob Lake downstream to the confluence of Chimney Rock Fork and Big Stony Creek is CATCH AND RELEASE only for trout.
Big Stoney Creek flows from one of the larger mountains in Scott County called the High Knob. The highest point in the County is there at a place called Camp Rock which was a Native American camp site, at 4100 feet elevation. Some of the Native trails and traces followed Big Stoney Creek across the mountain because it is the easier route because of where the creek has formed it’s path. Most of the stone in the area is sedimentary sandstone, and much of it is conglomerate. The conglomerate rock is made up of lager stones cemented together by a finer grain of sandstone, and the larger stones are called “clasts”.
These clasts are normally very smooth because of being rolled around in water and sand before the sedimentary rock was formed. Some of the other stone that is common in the area is a very dark black shale that is in very fine layers and will flake apart like pages of paper. Here at this site is an example of where water and sand have cut a deep groove into the bedrock of the creek. When the creek is in it’s normal stage and not flooded, all of the water of Big Stoney Creek flows through this channel. If the creek is flooded do not attempt to enter it.
The Clinch River is the crown of the mountain empire flowing southwestward from its origin near the town of Tazewell, the Clinch travels some 135 miles, reaching portions of Tazewell, Russell, Wise, and Scott counties on its way to the Tennessee state line. In a cast of Virginia rivers that portray history and natural wealth, the Clinch has a story and a character all its own.
The Clinch River, which was named after on otherwise forgotten explorer, played a major role in the exploration and settlement of Southwest Virginia. Many early settlers made their homes along its eastern shore, while other crossed the formidable flow and explored the wilderness beyond its banks. Probably the most famous explorer to pace the banks of the Clinch and challenge its currents was Daniel Boone. Boone resided for some time near Castlewood, and negotiated the river during his many trips through Southwest Virginia. Today, towns and settlements along its course bear names which are evidence of their historical roles. Places like Blackford, Nash’s Ford, Fort Blackmore, and Speer’s Ferry are a few examples.
The Clinch supports a unique assemblage of aquatic life. The river is home to about 50 species of mussels, which is more than any other river in the world and over 100 species are non-game fish – minnows and darters that sport brilliant colors and play a vital role in the survival of other fish and mussel species. But, the variety of sport fish is what makes the Clinch a great destination for anglers.
The Clinch River has a lot to offer those who want to escape the familiar and explore the life of a river. Whether you come to experience the fishing, or just to view the spectacular scenery, please keep safety in mind. Be sure that you are aware of your boat’s and your own limitations. Before floating an unfamiliar stretch of river, boaters are advised to use a topographic map to look for ledges and falls. Remember, discretion is the better part of valor. Wear your life jacket, and if you think you might have trouble negotiating a piece of water, portage your boat and equipment around the obstruction. Some of the access points noted on the map are informal sites that have traditionally been used by anglers and floaters. To ensure that these sites are available for future use, respect all property. Please refrain from littering, and do not block roads or gates.
Many gamefish species that have been stocked into other Virginia rivers are native to the Clinch. Among the native gamefish in the river are the smallmouth bass, spotted bass, walleye, and sauger. In fact, the Clinch and its tributaries are the only Virginia waters where sauger are present. Largemouth bass, rock bass, redbreast sunfish, longear sunfish, and bluegill sunfish are available, as well as musky, black crappie and freshwater drum. Anglers who are looking for catfish will find both channel and flathead catfish in good numbers and sizes.
Observant anglers may also notice longnose gar “sunning” near the river’s surface and occasionally taking a gulp of air. Strong populations of redhorse suckers and carp are available for anglers with the prowess and inclination to pursue them. These bottom-feeding fish can be caught on small pieces of worm fished on small hooks and light line, especially during the spring months. Redhorse suckers are most visible in the shallow water near the tails of pools. In Scott County, these shoals are the focal points of a unique spring tradition – the sucker shooting season. From April 15 to May 31 enthusiasts climb to platforms built in trees along the river to gain a better view of the river. These shooting platforms are often located at perilous heights, and are easy to spot when floating the river.
Miller’s Yard to DungannonMap
Distance: 3.7 miles
Gradient: 10 ft/mile
This is a good float when you do not have a lot of time. Put in at the informal access at Miller’s Yard. Several good pools and lots of runs and riffles await you downstream. This float has excellent potential for bass and sunfish, and also produces walleye and sauger. Takeout is on the right, just downstream of the Route 65 bridge at Dungannon. If you have all day to float you can extend your float to Route 659 described below.
Dungannon to Route 659Map
Gradient: 10 ft/mile
The Dungannon access is one of only two concrete boat ramps on the Clinch River. This is a productive float for smallmouth, walleye, sauger, sunfish and catfish. A variety of takeout possibilities exist along route 659, which parallels the river for several miles. Select a sire based on the distance you wish to float and available access to the river. It is best to secure permission from the property owner when selecting a take out location.
Route 659 to Fort BlackmoreMap
Distance: 8 miles*
Gradient: 3.1 ft/mile
*The distance of this float depends on where you launch from route 659, but will be at least 8 miles. This float includes a lot of flat water. The slow and deep pools are good habitat for sunfish, catfish, walleye, and musky. Bring an electric trolling motor for this float, or be prepared to spend some time paddling. This float includes the pool know locally as “the retch” – a pool that stretches almost five miles with an average depth of about 14 feet. Some of the best musky fishing on the Clinch River is found in this float. Striped bass and white bass, migrants from Norris Reservoir in Tennessee, are sometimes caught on this float. Takeout is on the left, at an informal access just downstream of the Route 72 bridge in Fort Blackmore.
Fort Blackmore to Hill StationMap
Distance: 7.9 miles
Gradient: 1.9 ft/mile
This is one of the most scenic floats on the river. Just downstream of Fort Blackmore lies Pendelton Island. Fishing is this section is good for bass and sunfish, and walleye and sauger are also available. The gradient is low in this section, so floaters should allow plenty of daylight time to reach Hill Station. Takeout is on the left side of the river, just upstream of the route 645 bridge. The Hill Station access can be found off of route 645 on the southeast side of the river.
Hill Station to Clinchport Map
Distance: 5.2 miles
Gradient: 2.0 ft/mile
Put in at the Hill Station access described above. This section is typical of the lower river. Lazy pools provide good fishing for sunfish and catfish, while faster water at the scattered riffles offers smallmouth bass fishing. Take out on the right side of the river at the Clinchport access.
Clinchport to Speer’s FerryMap
Distance: 2 miles
Gradient: 3.2 ft/mile
A good variety of habitats are encountered on this short float, and many species can be caught. Launch at the Clinchport ramp and tie on a small, deep-diving crankbait. The first section of this float will offer some good bass and sunfish water, while ledges in the last stretch will harbor walleye and sauger. Take out on the left side of the river at Speer’s Ferry. An informal access is located near the railroad bridge off of route 627.
Speer’s Ferry to State LineMap
Distance: 9 miles
Gradient: 2.5 ft/mile
This float will take anglers through some beautiful scenery on the way to the Virginia-Tennessee border. Most of this float is through slow moving water, so allow ample time to cover the distance between access points. The scattered shoals in this section are popular during the spring sucker shooting season. Be sure to notice the platforms placed high among the sycamores. Take out is on the left side of the river at the State Line access, off of route 627.
From its origin in the southeast corner of Bland County, the North Fork of the Holston River flows more than 100 miles through Southwest Virginia before crossing the Tennessee State line near the community of Yuma. The river boasts an outstanding smallmouth bass population and supports populations of many other fish species.
The catch rate for smallmouth in the North Fork is above average compared to other rivers in the state. The 2015 catch rate of 111 smallmouth bass per hour was excellent and consistent with collections made in previous years. In years with good spawning conditions and survival, strong year classes ae produced. Strong year classes increase the population abundance and create fishing opportunities. These strong year classes generally persist for ten years or more, until most of the individual fish die of old age or other causes.
Rock bass and redbreast sunfish catch rates fluctuate from year to year. The size structure of the rock bass and redbreast sunfish populations is good in the North Fork Holston and has remained constant even though the catch rate is down. Anglers should find quality-sized rock bass and redbreast sunfish.
Anglers can also find largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, green sunfish, redear sunfish and channel catfish. Various species of redhorse suckers, northern hog suckers, common carp and minnows are also routinely caught in the Holston.
Little Stony is regularly stocked with trout by the Virginia Department of Inland Games and Fisheries and is “Catch and Release” only.
Red Horse Shooting Season
Scott County, Virginia is home to a rare century-old tradition — Red Horse Shooting Season. The only other spot in the country that allows shooting red fish is located in Vermont.
Red Fish season runs April 15 and continues until May 31.
Anglers climb high into the Sycamore trees that line the shores of the Clinch River, take aim at the redhorse suckers visible in the shallow water near the tails of pools. They don’t actually “shoot” the fish but, instead, shoot into the water creating a concussion in the water that renders the fish helpless. Redhorse suckers are most visible in the shallow water near the tails of pools.
Shooting fish is not recommended for the novice. It is best to find a local to take you for this Scott County Tradition. A Virginia fishing license is still required. For rules and regulations, please contact Virginia DGIF http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing