Whitetop Laurel Creek: An Epic Fly Fishing Trip

As a fly fisherman, I’m going to tell you something that I shouldn’t. I hate to publish this. But I have to say that Whitetop Laurel Creek in Southwest Virginia is one of the best places to fly fish for trout in the US.

Bull#$%. I can already hear the guys from out west, swearing, where everything is bigger and better, of course. Not only that, but even east coast folks, like locals, who fish Central Pennsylvania or the Smokies, are definitely gonna say that I’m full of it, too.

And guess what? They’d be right. No, Whitetop Laurel Creek probably isn’t as good as some of the legendary trout streams of Central PA. And no, it can’t compete with some of the great wilderness tributaries that I’ve fished out west in Idaho. Heck, the fish on Whitetop Laurel aren’t even as big as the ones in the Smokies, say on Hazel or Deep Creek. Nonetheless, Whitetop Laurel does have some unique traits that make it a top choice of mine.

Whitetop Laurel Creek, A Rocky Start

Like many relationships, though, my introduction to Whitetop Laurel Creek literally got off to a rocky start. When I first arrived at the creek in July of 2011, instead of enjoying my time fly fishing Virginia’s finest trout stream, as some have called it, I just found a very exposed stream bed. And water that was so low and slow that I wasn’t even able to land a single fish the whole time I was there.

To add insult to injury, I was accompanied on this trip to Whitetop Laurel Creek by this girl from South Carolina, who I was sort of dating. But, she dumped me a few weeks later, leaving me with nothing but those bad memories of catching no fish–NOT ONE–on Whitetop Laurel. Now that really hurts!

I promised myself in the wake of this loss that I was gonna get back to Whitetop Laurel Creek, no matter what. And catch me some fish. Big ones, at that. Yes, I was gonna snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Big time. I just did not know at the time that I’d actually have to wait years for my shot at redemption.

Taylors Valley, A New Beginning

First week of June 2018, I arrived in my truck at Taylors Valley. For me, this was a new beginning in life. After being “downsized” from my corporate job in the publishing industry, I’d recently left my hometown and relocated to the Tri-Cities region. And with the summer fast approaching, I was just looking forward to fly fishing the local waters and getting to know the area better. And what better place was there for me to start my next adventures in life than Whitetop Laurel Creek, the same place where I’d been completely shutout in 2011 and vowed to return, someday? Now, at last, I’d finally have my chance to redeem myself after that agonizing loss.

Meanwhile, right from the start of this fishing trip, things were already looking up for me. After a lot of heavy rains that spring, the weather was finally going to be sunny, warm, and clear for almost a whole week. My kind of camping weather! Also, just to be clear, Taylors Valley is a little bit of heaven on earth. Imagine blue skies, wild flowers, green pastures, lazy cattle, and trout-filled glowing waters. Now, you’re in the valley, too.

Author, Gary Alan, follows the Virginia Creeper Trail along Whitetop Laurel Creek through scenic Taylors Valley.
Just to be clear, Taylors Valley is a little bit of heaven on earth.

But, I was just backpacking through, as I headed for the special regulations waters in search of a good place to camp for a few nights.

Whitetop Laurel Creek Campsite

A couple hours later, dripping with sweat and out of breath, I finally found a nice spot at one of the trestles along the Virginia Creeper Trail. What I liked about this camping spot was the large deck-shaped rock that jutted out into the stream and was about ten feet in diameter. This would be the perfect place to relax as the sun set after a long day of fishing. So, I set up camp in the trees, all the while, eyeing my deck as the place where I’d sip some whiskey in the evenings and forget about the past.

Whitetop Laurel Creek, Fishing The Special Regulation Waters

The next day, I ended up streamer fishing, since the water was still a bit too high from the recent rains. I even landed some decent fish. I can’t complain. But what I really wanted to do was drop weighted nymphs into those deep holes for big trout. Luckily for me, the water level had fallen a couple inches by evening, creating what I suspected would be the perfect conditions for nymph fishing the following day.

Whitetop Laurel Creek pictured, as it falls to the ideal water level for fly fishing.
Whitetop Laurel Creek water level falls to perfection for fly fishing.

Nymph Fishing

So the next morning, I tied up my two top-secret weighted nymphs on the end of my fly line. And, I also rigged up my double-dog top-secret stealth float above that stuff. Now I was ready to face the day and these fish.

Ended up being the perfect day. Blue skies. Comfortable temperatures. Ideal water level. Happy people riding past me on their bikes on the Virginia Creeper Trail, shouting, how’s the fishun? Appalachian Trail thru-hikers coming at me the other way, smiling, smoking grass, and not even smelling too bad.

I caught fish after fish. Phrases to describe the day. Fishing unreal. Fishing epic. Whitetop Laurel Creek is amazing, the best. Yes, I drifted nymphs in those holes all morning long, catching lots of good fish, until around noon when I finally struck gold.

Hog Trough

Now, this was a deep hole. Really deep. So I pushed my float up the leader line as far as it would go. Also, I had to get a good cast to the deep trough between two submerged rocks near the far shore. It was a hog trough, at that. And, in the hog trough, the hogs will feed. I must have drifted the hog trough ten to fifteen times before she took the line deep. Now, it was on!

Long fast runs, drag screaming. Hand braking my reel. Fish goes deep. Ease her up. Far shore. Turn her center. Back of the pool. Walk the hog back up the current. And so, it went on, the whole time me praying that I wouldn’t lose this fish to a snag or line break, until I finally hauled her up, net ready, and swooped.

And there she was, spanning the net, measuring 23 inches. A gorgeous 23″ rainbow trout. Whoa! I’m thinking. This is only just one of the biggest trout (non-migratory) that I’ve caught on the East Coast. Unbelievable!

Catch And Release Fishing

Pulling out my camera, I tried to position the wet, slippery, flopping fish. And, if you think landing a big fish is difficult, just try getting a good picture of it, by yourself. Then, releasing it safe and alive. I did the best that I could with the pictures, then carefully put her back in the current, holding her there. She recovered quickly with the oxygen-rich water blasting through her gills. Then, I let her go. Back to her home.

Gary Alan lands a large 23" wild rainbow trout on Whitetop Laurel Creek after an exciting fight on the fly rod.
Gorgeous rainbow trout landed nymph fishing on Whitetop Laurel Creek.

Dry fly fishing, Whitetop Laurel Creek has that too, sometimes.

As an added bonus, later that evening after dinner, I even rigged up my 4-weight fly rod with a dry fly and went down to one of the nicest glides that I’d seen during the day. Just a few Sulphur and Crane flies were hatching. And that’s why I was so surprised when my first cast and drift along the far shore produced an immediate rise. Oh what a strike it was! Then a thrilling fight, culminating in me netting yet another nice fish for the day. A beautiful 16-17″ wild brown. What a day!

Gary Alan poses, holding a wild brown trout, landed near Straight Branch Trailhead.
Wild brown trout caught near Straight Branch Trailhead.

Camping As Night Falls

Back at camp, I felt so happy and content that I just sat back in my awesome ultralight camp chair on the rock deck and sipped some whiskey from my titanium flask until the fireflies and stars came out in full force. And when they did, that’s when I heard these words inside my heart.

never seen anything like
the stars and fireflies
suspended above
the silver stream of light
that is whitetop laurel
where a whitewater wave
of beauty and awe
crashed over me
carrying me away
to a place
where time finally
came to a stop

I wrote those words down in my camping journal later that night in my ultralight 2-man tent just before I drifted off into a deep peaceful sleep. Lying there, listening to the water rushing all around, I knew that no matter what else happened this week that this day had made the entire trip so worth it. It was a trip that I’d never forget. Whitetop Laurel Creek had entered my heart among the very best and most inspiring places that I’ve ever experienced. And for this day and experience, and yes, even for the girl who first came with me to explore this place, I was truly grateful for all of it.

Whitetop Laurel Creek, More Than Just Fishing

In addition to the fantastic fly fishing, the area around Whitetop Laurel Creek offers a lot of fun outdoor activities for people visiting Southwest Virginia. The Virginia Creeper Trail is undoubtedly the most popular attraction, which is a rail-trails path that follows Whitetop Laurel for much of its length. You can arrange very affordable bike shuttles and rentals in the town of Damascus. Just watch out for fishermen and hikers, as you cruise along the scenic path.

Damascus, itself, is a very nice rural town, one of the top towns on the Appalachian Trail. And I may have partaken in a few beers at the local craft brew establishment, The Damascus Brewery. And, finally, right up the road from Damascus and Whitetop Laurel, there is Grayson Highlands State Park, which lots of AT hikers have told me is one of the top five most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail, along with Roan Mountain, which I’ve also covered here. You can hike, camp, and just stroll around Grayson Highlands in search of the wild ponies that live in the park.

Fishing Access and Directions

If you are planning to fly fish Whitetop Laurel Creek, the primary areas for access are:
Along Route 58, heading east out of Damascus, at various pull-offs.
At about mile 4, east of Damascus, on Route 58, you can turn right into the Straight Branch Trailhead parking area. This is a favorite of many fishermen.
At about mile 10.5, east of Damascus, on Route 58, you can turn right into the Creek Junction area. There’s a short drive down a gravel road that eventually leads to the Creek Junction parking area. You will want to take it slow on this road.
Also, if you drive past the Creek Junction turn, you might find some areas to fish along Route 58 from there to Konnarock.
Another alternative access point is to drive into Taylors Valley.

Whitetop Laurel Creek Map

If you want a detailed fishing, hiking, and biking map of Whitetop Laurel Creek and the surrounding areas, I can personally recommend, Mount Rogers High Country [Grayson Highlands State Park].

Whitetop Laurel Creek Important Special Regulations 2021 Update:

The two special regulations sections of Whitetop Laurel Creek used to allow a 12-inch trout and 3 fish a day creel. THIS HAS CHANGED. As of 2021, the two special regulations sections of Whitetop Laurel Creek are now Catch and Release only.

These Catch and Release sections are: The section upstream from the first railroad trestle above Taylors Valley to the mouth of Green Cove Creek at Creek Junction. And the section upstream from the mouth of Straight Branch to a sign at the Forest Service boundary just downstream of Taylors Valley.

Green Drake Hatch Bonus

As an added bonus, I’ll post one more picture of a brown trout that I caught during the Green Drake hatch on Whitetop Laurel Creek in 2019. I’d heard about this hatch from locals and can attest to its annual appearance. While I thought it was a sparse hatch, at best, it can bring up some larger fish to feed, as you will see below.

Gary Alan poses with 20" brown trout that was caught with a dry fly.
20″ brown trout taken on a dry fly in 2019.

In parting, I can only hope that you’ll be just as inspired by your own unique adventures in life as I’ve been when I’ve gone camping and fly fishing on Whitetop Laurel Creek in Southwest Virginia. And maybe, if you do ever go there and find yourself traveling along the Virginia Creeper Trail, you’ll see me there in the cool waters with a fine trout on the end of my fishing line. But that person could be you, too.


Thank you for reading my blog post about Whitetop Laurel Creek in Southwest Virginia. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please subscribe so that I can send you notices about my future blog posts. Also, feel free to share this post with your friends, family members, and co-workers on the usual social networks.

And finally, if you’d like to read a more recent Whitetop Laurel Creek fly fishing trip report, then click on this post. In it, I go into a little more detail about some of the unique dangers and difficulties that you might need to watch out for when fishing Whitetop Laurel Creek. So check it out, if you want to stay safe when fishing Whitetop Laurel Creek.


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After a long career in the publishing industry, Gary Alan left his corporate job to pursue his next adventures in life as a blogger, writer, investor, fly fisherman, hiker, and traveler. He is the author of the adventure fiction book, 'Big Thunder-Hearted River'.

10 thoughts on “Whitetop Laurel Creek: An Epic Fly Fishing Trip”

  1. Thanks for the share, Gary. Photos were great; poem was awesome. Nice to see you out there, living life. Good stuff.

    • Hey Tom, unfortunately I’m not familiar with the guides on Whitetop Laurel. But if you’re coming in April, you just need to watch out for high water events. In that case, fishing could get blown out on Whitetop Laurel and the whitewater sections would be treacherous. South Fork of the Holston in Virginia is also in the vicinity. I hope to cover that water soon. Also there’s Big Wilson Creek nearby. The Virginia Creeper Fly Shop may be able to assist you with a guide recommendation.

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