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Private Water, Is It Worth It?

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

In the last couple of years the fly fishing business has exploded. In a time of isolation and quarantine, fly fishing offers an outdoor, socially distanced option to enjoy an activity and spend time with others. The Department of Wildlife Resources does a fantastic job of providing many fly fishing opportunities throughout Virginia. Trout season is open all year, unlike some other states. Warm water fisheries abound as well, and options to get out on public areas seem readily available. However, fishing on private streams offers a unique and potentially custom opportunity for individuals, families, and groups to share in an experience. With the price tag attached and places to fish everywhere, is it really worth the cost?

If you live anywhere in the mountains of Virginia you are likely within a half hour's drive to a stocked trout stream or small lake. You can often fish several streams in a day if you like, or catch a variety of species like wild trout, smallmouth, and sunfish within the same general area. Virginia stocks October through June and the program is very active with keeping certain streams full of trout. The downside for some is that most of these streams that get stocked often are usually easy access and roadside. Noise and more pollution are along the banks and solitude is usually at a minimum while you share holes with guys with corn and power bait. Poaching is a problem as well.

Private waters can be a whole other game however. I'm using private water here as any location that charges you to fish for trout that they stock and/or grow on site. Fee ponds dot the area. These are places where you have to keep every fish that you catch and usually pay by the pound. The positive is that these offer a 100% chance of catching a fish and a great way to get kids enthusiastic. If you are expecting an afternoon of fun, understand that you'll catch a fish on almost every cast so bring your wallet if you plan to stay awhile. The next are places like campgrounds or private land owners. You will likely pay a "rod fee" for the privilege of fishing there, and who knows when they stock or what. It might just be a muddy pond with catfish and sunfish like a place I would go to back in WV when I was a kid. $10 to get in for the day and they'd sell worms and minnows and the like. Lastly are dedicated trout waters or lodges set up for fly fishers. These are streams that can support trout life usually year round and are stocked with larger trout. Rod fees are likely high, and can be upwards of over $100, but a fishery that isn't over fished and practices catch and release can provide for a real "trophy trout" experience in a remote setting.

I've been fortunate to fly fish a lot of public water and guide on both public and private. To me I think it is all about what you want to do with your time and trip. Public water can be found all over, and with some effort and a little driving, you can find a few streams less visited and less poached by anglers. I always tell everyone if you can walk the trail 30 minutes before fishing you will likely pass 75% of the anglers on the stream. I have found through my career that private streams offer a much more intimate experience if you want to have a guided trip. While it is still fishing and not guaranteed, the opportunity to catch nice trout and spend the day away from the crowds is why a lot of us get into this for the first place. It also makes for a much more custom experience that allows catered meals or family events possible, or just some time on the water making it count.

If you are interested in a guided trip, whether on public or private water, book a trip today and we can discuss options to suit how you'd like to spend your time on the water.


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