A Fishing Scene to Shout (and Trout) About
Matt Reilly is one of those lucky people who has turned a hobby into a job. An avid fisherman for the past two-plus decades, he started Matt Reilly Fly Fishing in 2018, and has been taking clients on fishing excursions in the Smyth County area ever since.
“I grew up in central Virginia and moved down here in 2015 to go to school, then I started the company in 2018,” he says. “From day-to-day, I get to meet new people and show them the places I have here in my backyard and help teach them to be better anglers.”
His area in Southwest Virginia is the state’s premier place for fishing. Because so many bodies of water are at higher altitude, it makes for great fishing 365 days a year.
“The water is cold, the water is clean, and that means we have good habitat year-round,” Reilly says. “In other places, even those in the mountains up north in the state, there is a season. After May or so, things get really warm and dry, and you can’t do much trout fishing again until October. Here, we can get out all the time.”
Where the Trout Are
“If you look at this region, and add two popular tailwaters in southeastern Tennessee, this is the richest area for trout fishing in the Southeast U.S.,” Reilly says. “On top of that, you’ve got great small-mouth bass fishing and some really good musky fishing on the New River; there is just so much diversity around.”
Three of the main local spots, Hungry Mother State Park, Buller Fish Hatchery, and Big Tumbling Creek, provide different experiences. Reilly shares the following details to give you a feel for what you can expect at each:
Hungry Mother Lake, located in its namesake park, is a small mountain lake that includes a variety of fishing opportunities. It supports musky, walleye, and largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as a strong panfish population.
Buller Fish Hatchery, just south of Marion, gives anglers access to a very short section of the South Fork of the Holston River in Smyth County. This section is managed as a catch-and-release fishery, where only single-hook, artificial lures are permitted. It runs for over 20 miles and boasts a fantastic wild rainbow and brown trout fishery.
Big Tumbling Creek outside of Saltville is one of just a few fee-fishing streams in Virginia. It offers a Class A stocked trout stretch (with rainbow, brown, and brook trout), as well as the fee-fishing section they stock several times a week from April to September that requires a daily fee. Big Tumbling is a great place to take kids fishing, followed by lunch in historic downtown Saltville.
Reilly prides himself on discovering lesser-known spots to take his clients.
“I love trying to find the off-the-beaten-path places,” he says. “It requires a lot of work on my part—studying maps, looking for access points, and figuring out how to reach them—but those are things I’d be doing on my own anyway if I had some other job because I love to fish.”
He says that four large trout streams—the South Fork of the Holston River, Whitetop Laurel, Beaverdam Creek, and Tennessee Laurel Creek—draw the bulk of the attention from local anglers.
“But there are so many other options to explore with a little more effort,” Reilly says. “And that’s the beauty of the region: there are so many places and nearly all of them have wild trout. I always encourage people to check out some of the streams that aren’t the big name ones because, while they are smaller and tougher to get into, they are worth it.”