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Fly fishing for golden trout

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

West Virginia is the "Home of the Golden Trout"

the author nets his first golden rainbow trout

Fly fishing for golden trout in Petersburg, West Virginia

Joined by members of Falmouth Flats Fly Fishers, I recently traveled to Petersburg, West Virginia, which dubs itself as the “Home of the Golden Trout”. While I have fished for trout in most Mid-Atlantic States, I realized that this was my first ever purchase of a West Virginia fishing license and trout stamp. I have come close, fishing in border towns such as Covington and Hot Springs, but never entered the Mountain State in search of trout. This would also be my first expedition to fish for the Golden Rainbow Trout.

I have no doubt that the mention of fishing for golden rainbows will prompt some backlash from purists who prefer fishing native or wild trout, or believe the golden rainbow to be a gimmick trout (this trout is purely a WV hatchery trout descended from a mutant female rainbow in the mid-50s). Everyone is entitled to their views and to express them if they wish, but this will not deter me from pursuing a unique fishing adventure and spending tourist dollars in Grant County, WV.

miles of fishable water in the Smoke Hole section

Fly fishing for trout with Three Rivers Guiding of West Virginia

As readers of my blog know, I am not shy about hiring a guide when fishing new waters. This time around we relied on the guiding skills of Eli Whetzel of Three Rivers Guiding. Over two days we targeted three areas of the Smoke Hole section of the South Branch of the Potomac River and, being born and raised in the area, Eli knew exactly where to find the fish.

our guide putting us on trout

While finding the fish was the easy part, identifying the right flies to entice a strike proved more challenging. I personally tried at least two-dozen different patterns over the two days and there was no commonality among my fishing companions as to the fly pattern used to hook up the few golden rainbows we managed to put in the net. On this excursion, we hooked up with nymphs (usually a tandem) and streamers of various types, generally in brown and green colors, but in one case a golden retriever proved attractive. So there was no one ‘silver bullet’ fly over the two days of fishing.

Browns, rainbows and golden trout in the Smoke Hole section

The fishing is not limited to golden rainbow trout on this water – during the course of our two-day excursion, several types of trout were netted, including rainbows and browns, as well as familiar stream fish, such as small mouth bass and fallfish (or river chub). Brook and tiger trout (a hybrid of brown and brook trout) can also be found in this water.

a West Virginia brown trout (photo courtesy of Lars Hundnall)

Before you go, be sure to check the USGS site for the Smoke Hole Section. The discharge in cubic feet per second during our trip was higher than ideal at 500 to 600, but still fishable. Previous rains had discolored the water, which also did not help. Full-waders are probably necessary, and a rocky-river bottom that is slick necessitates a wading stick and studded boots. Tricky conditions, but I enjoyed my first gold rush!

Tight Lines!

I am not being compensated for my mention of Three Rivers Guiding. I am simply a happy client.

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