Copyright 2021 James Marsh
Fly Fishing the Lower Jackson River
(Tailwater) Virginia
The lower Jackson River, a tailwater below Gathright
dam, is one of the best trout streams in the state of
Virginia. It has a good population of wild rainbow and
brown trout. It was stocked prior to 1993 and since has
proven it can reproduce plenty of wild trout. The upper
section of the Jackson River is covered in
section of the stream guides.

Most of this river is not available to the public for fishing.
We all know you should never trespass on private
property but this situation deserves special attention
regarding that. It has a history of some very serious
issues regarding trespassing so be certain you are
fishing at public access areas.

The main area available to the public to fish is just below
the Gathright dam. There are five other areas open to
the public that provide access to some of the
approximate total eighteen mile length of the river.

The Jackson River tailwater can be waded in areas
during periods of low water but it is best fished from a
drift boat. The water from the dam stays cold
year-round,  averaging in the high fifties to the low sixties.

The river holds a good population of aquatic insects and
crustaceans as well as plenty of baitfish and sculpin. The
stream has didymo present in the section below the dam,
so please be sure to take all precautions to control the
spread of it.

The area just below the dam is usually best fished with
small midge and nymph imitations. Long, light leaders
and tippets work best for this. During periods of low light
levels, streamers often produce. Fly Fishing the Jackson
River tailwater can be challenging at times, but fished
using the right methods and techniques, it often
produces some very large catches.

The lower Jackson River offers both wild rainbow and
brown trout fly fishing opportunities. The bottom
discharge dam usually has a steady flow of water that is
cold and clean.

There is a wide variety and a diverse population of
aquatic invertebrates and forage fish for the trout to feed
on. The water temperature stays very cool year-round
with average temperature ranging in the low fifties right
below the dam, to the low sixties a few miles downstream.

Fly fishing the Lower Jackson River tailwater is one of the
best opportunities for an angler to catch large, wild trout
in the South
Lower Jackson River Tailwater Virginia
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Type of Stream

Brown trout (wild)
Rainbow trout (wild)

Medium to Large

Central Virginia

Nearest Towns
Hot Springs

Year - round

Very Limited

Non-Resident License
State of Virginia

National Weather Service Link

Fly Fishing Gear, Tackle and
Trout Flies

USGS Streamflow Data:
Photo Courtesy of Stephen Lamb
The tailwater is open to fishing
The tailwater fishes well during the
Winter due to its almost constant water
Springtime is considered a good time
for fly fishing the Jackson River
tailwater provided the releases of
water from the lake are reasonable.
Lower Jackson River Fly Fishing Guide:
Jackson River trout are wild, stream-bred,
hard-fighting, rainbows and brown trout. The
cold water comes from the depths of Lake
Moomaw at the Garthright Dam.

Water releases are usually too big in winter and
early spring to fish.  They seem to keep it pretty
constant after June 1.  Check the GSGS website
before you go.  Flow rates around 280cfs are
perfect for wading.   

The best way to fish the river is by drift boat,
pontoon or a canoe. The water can be very
shallow and large drift boats may have problems
getting over the bottom. Popular stretches are
from Johnson Springs to Smith Bridge, Indian
Draft or Petticoat Junction. You can fish from
Johnson Springs all the way down to the Mead
Westvaco Landing at Covington.

You have probably heard of the property and
fishing rights controversy. It has been going on
a long time and involves "King's Grant" property
rights whereas owners exclude fishing. Some
people have King's Grant rights because they
were recognized by a previous court case. We
understand that a certain group of property
owners are currently suing anglers for fishing
between Smith Bridge and Indian Draft.
The water temperature remains cool
below the dam even in the hot summer.
Fall is many anglers favorite time to
fish the river, especially for its large
brown trout.
Guide, continued:
Our suggestions for determining where to
fish and where not to fish is to go by the
Virginia Department of Game and Fish
Website Map. It requires you to respect the
"no fishing signs" upstream of Johnson

The best access for wading anglers is
immediately below Gathright Dam. This
area is about a quarter-mile-long. Most
trout caught in this section will be smaller
size rainbows but there are a few large
ones in the mix. There is also a short
section of water you can wade at Johnson
Lower Jackson River Hatches and
Trout Flies:
Our information on aquatic insects is based on
our stream samples of larvae and nymphs, not
guess work. We base fly suggestions on
imitating the most plentiful and most available
insects and other foods at the particular time
you are fishing.

Unlike the generic fly shop trout flies, we have
specific imitations of all the insects in the
Jackson River and in all stages of life that is
applicable to fishing. If you want to fish better,
more realistic trout flies, have a much higher
degree of success, give us a call.  We not only
will help you with selections, you will learn why,
after trying Perfect Flies, 92% of the thousands
of our custom will use nothing else.

There are several species of aquatic insects
present on the Lower Jackson River tailwater
but most of them exist in only certain areas and
are sporadic hatches. There are a few reliable
hatches. Blue-winged Olives are one of the
most reliable ones. They are bi-brooded and
hatch from the first of March through April and
again in late September and October. They are
small species, usually no larger than a hook
size 18 and mostly size 20's.

The section of the river farther downstream in
the wild trout area between Johnson Springs
and Petticoat Junction is more like the Jackson
River freestone stream. There are some Quill
Gordons that hatch in March and April, some
Hendricksons that hatch in April, Sulphurs that
hatch in June and July and Tricos that hatch in
August and September. These are at best
sporatic and pinpointing a hatch is not easy to
do. The discharges of water from the dam
seems to vary these population of insects and
hatches from year to year. Blue-winged Olives,
Sulphurs and Tricos seem to be the most
consistent of them.

There are several different species of
caddisflies that hatch. They start as early as
April and last through October, depending on
the area and the species of caddisfly. The
great majority are net-spinning caddis called
Cinnamon Sedges. There are about six species
of these. Little Sister caddisflies also are
plentiful at times. They hatch mostly during July
and August.
Hatches, continued:
A large bulk of the food supply consist of
scuds. They are plentiful and average a
hook size 14 when fully grown.

The most consistent hatches on the Lower
Jackson River is the mighty midge. They
hatch year-round but become more
important during the cold weather months.
There are plenty of cream midges and
blood midges that are of course, red. We
suggest you always have imitations of
these in sizes 20 or 22 in both the larva
and pupa stages of life. At times you can
take fish feeding on the surface using the
adult imitations, either cream or black
(adult blood midge).

Black Flies are present in large numbers.
They become most important during the
Winter months. Trout eat the Black Fly
larvae, pupae and the adults. We suggest
having imitations of each in hook sizes 18
or 20. We have Perfect Fly imitations of
the Black Fly in all stages of life.

One of the most important flies you can
have is a streamer. Patterns that imitate
sculpin and baitfish are effective and
especially on the larger size trout. The
river has a population of thread-fin shad,
dace and other types of baitfish that the
larger trout feed on. A good selection of
streamers is a must in our opinion.

Streamers always work best in low light
conditions. Early morning, late afternoon
and evenings and during periods of heavy
overcast skies are the best times to fish a
streamer. You want the trout to get a good
enough look at it to know it is there, but
not good enough to determine it is a fake.
Fishing Report Updated 01/17/2021
(Bottom Of Page)
Lower Jackson River Fishing Report - 01/17/2021
The discharges and stream levels are at a normal level. We are still getting good reports
from customers when the levels are in good shape.
Stream Conditions:

7 Day Weather Forecast:
(click the box below to see more detailed weather information)

Recommended Trout Flies:
Rate: 290 cf
Level: 9.16 ft
Afternoon Water Temperature: 40 (mid to lower)
Clarity: clear
USGS Real-Time Stream Flow below Gathright Dam
Blue-winged Olives, size 16 and 18, nymphs, emergers, duns and spinners
Midges: Blood (Red), sizes  22, larva, pupa and adults
Midges: Light Green, size 20/22, larva, pupa and adults
Midges: Cream, size 22 larva, pupa and adults
Aquatic Worms, size 12, pink, red, and others
Brown Sculpin, White Belly Sculpin,and our new articulated sculpin and leech
patterns size 4 and 6
Winter Stoneflies, size 16/18, nymphs and adults
Strategies, Techniques and Tips:
Other than midges, various species of Blue-winged olives are the most plentiful and
available trout food at this time.
Our Brown Sculpin, White Belly Sculpin and Articulated streamers are great flies to use
on this river during the fall and winter months.
Midges will always work. We recommend fishing a larva on the bottom and a pupa about
12 inches up the tippet. Fish the adult imitations only when you observe them on the
surface or trout feeding on the surface.
Aquatic worms are working.
Winter stoneflies are hatching.
Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.

2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.

3. Email us (
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.

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