Trout in Virginia

Whitetop Laurel Creek in Washington County, paralleling the Virginia Creeper trail, maintains a healthy population of trout
Whitetop Laurel Creek in Washington County, paralleling the Virginia Creeper trail, maintains a healthy population of trout

Trout are cold water fish, a relic of the last ice age. They are present today in the mountain streams and in some of the valleys west of the Blue Ridge. Water in the tidal rivers on the Coastal Plain is too warm, even in the portions near the Fall Line where the water is fresh.

Of the three species of trout in Virginia, only brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are native. Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta) have been introduced and now spawn naturally in Virginia. There are 400 streams that provide 2,000 miles of cold water habitat for trout.1

brook trout stocked in Piney Run near Purcellville
brook trout stocked in Piney Run near Purcellville
Source: Flickr, Brook trout stocked in Loudoun County, Virginia (Chesapeake Bay Program)

Trout were native to Four Mile Run in Arlington County, at the edge of the Coastal Plain, until urban development altered the natural streams. Increased runoff from impervious surfaces has deposited sediments, reducing the potential for natural spawning. Runoff is warmer, after rain lands on asphalt and concrete that was significantly hotter than the soil in natural forests. Trees that once shaded streams have been replaced by sidewalks and turf grass, allowing sunlight to heat the streams directly to temperatures beyond what trout can withstand.

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources stocks trout in selected streams and ponds
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources stocks trout in selected streams and ponds
Source: Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Virginia Trout Fishing

Trout have been stocked in Four Mile Run for a spring fishing event, a seasonal put-and-take fishery. A year-round trout population can not be re-established in Four Mile Run because:2

...elevated temperatures and lack of shade from riparian trees and vegetation ensure that trout... that are not caught by local anglers do not survive very long into the heat of the summer.

Four Mile Run flows through Arlington County from I-66 to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Four Mile Run flows through Arlington County from I-66 to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources identifies where it stocks trout each year. Several sites are in urbanized Northern Virginia. They include Accotink Creek and Holmes Run, Cooke Lake in Alexandria, Locust Shade Park in Prince William County, and Old Cossey Pond in Fredericksburg.

In Bristol, fingerling rainbow and brown trout have been stocked in Beaver Creek since 2017. The stream is managed for a catch-and-release fishery, with public access available at Sugar Hollow Park. There are consumption advisories due to water quality issues, but water is cold in the spring-fed stream and the habitat supports trout.3

trout fishing in Bristol is available in Sugar Hollow Park, together with mountain biking trails and urban recreational facilities such as soccer and softball fields
trout fishing in Bristol is available in Sugar Hollow Park, together with mountain biking trails and urban recreational facilities such as soccer and softball fields
Source: City of Bristol, Our NEW TRAIL MAP is here!

In all Designated Stocked Trout Waters, anglers need a trout license in addition to their base fishing license. The Virginia Trout Slam Challenge can be met by catching a brook, rainbow, and brown trout in the same day. Choosing where to fish is key to accomplishing it, and:4

Virginia is blessed to have more than 700 streams harboring wild brook trout, 163 streams with wild rainbow trout and 92 streams containing wild brown trout. DGIF also raises all three trout species and stocks over 180 waters across the Commonwealth.

Virginia has brook, rainbow, and brown trout swimming wild in streams, plus stocked fish of all three species
Virginia has brook, rainbow, and brown trout swimming wild in streams, plus stocked fish of all three species
Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Trout Slam Challenge

Anglers who fail to catch a trout may claim that the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries feeds the fish before releasing them, reducing their willingness to bite and get caught. The hatchery feeds fish daily until 24 hours before transport. No food is provided on the last day at the hatchery, because that reduces the potential of the trout to get "car sick" during transport.5

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources introduced a new option, tiger trout. Tiger trout are a sterile hybrid, the result of breeding female brown trout and male brook trout. The eggs for tiger trout were hatched at the Paint Bank Fish Hatchery, then shipped to the Coursey Springs Fish Hatchery in Bath County to raise to catchable size. Stocking in Designated Stocked Trout Waters began in late Winter/early Spring of 2022.

tiger trout have a distinctive striping pattern
tiger trout have a distinctive striping pattern
Source: Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, 101215_tiger_trout_to_be_stocked_odfw

Tiger trout had been raised previously by the state agency, but low survival rate caused the program to be discontinued. Tiger trout production was renewed starting in 2020 because:6

Tiger trout's disease-resistance and hybrid vigor allow them to grow efficiently. This could potentially increase production at the hatchery leading to more consistent annual stockings, which allows anglers' license money to go further. In addition, tiger trout provide excellent sport fish opportunities for anglers.

Climate Change in Virginia

How a Fish Sees Virginia

mature trout are tossed into the middle of streams, jolting them to start swimming
mature trout are tossed into the middle of streams, jolting them to start swimming
Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Top 5 Virginia Trout Stocking Myths

the schedule for stocking trout for the put-and-take fishery is advertised by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources
the schedule for stocking trout for the put-and-take fishery is advertised by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources
the schedule for stocking trout for the put-and-take fishery is advertised by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources
Source: Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Daily Trout Stocking Schedule

Links

trout could be stocked in waters downstream (below red X) of remaining suitable natural habitat
trout could be stocked in waters downstream (below red X) of remaining suitable natural habitat
Source: Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), VEGIS

References

1. "Brook Trout," Virginia Department of Wildlife, https://dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/fish/brook-trout/; "Virginia’s state fish, a holdover from the last ice age, may be the prettiest fish you've never seen!," WFXR, December 25, 2020, https://www.wric.com/news/virginia-news/virginias-state-fish-a-holdover-from-the-last-ice-age-may-be-the-prettiest-fish-youve-never-seen/?emci=f973a2cd-ca4a-eb11-a607-00155d43c992&emdi=97b3f34a-dd4a-eb11-a607-00155d43c992&ceid=5908262 (last checked December 31, 2020)
2. "The Story on 'Water Quality' in Four Mile Run," Northern Virginia Regional Commission, http://www.novaregion.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/780 (last checked August 10, 2016)
3. "Virginia Trout Fishing," Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, https://dgif-virginia.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=441ed456c8664166bb735b1db6024e48; "Beaver Creek: Fish Local at an Overlooked Urban Trout Fishery," Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, https://dwr.virginia.gov/blog/beaver-creek-fish-local-at-an-overlooked-urban-trout-fishery/ (last checked May 1, 2022)
4. "Wild or Hatchery Trout?," Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/blog/wild-or-hatchery-trout/ (last checked May 15, 2020)
5. "Top 5 Virginia Trout Stocking Myths," Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/blog/top-5-virginia-trout-stocking-myths/ (last checked May 15, 2020)
6. "Tiger Trout in Virginia," Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, https://dwr.virginia.gov/fishing/trout/tiger-trout/ (last checked February 12, 2022)


Source: Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Bringing Trout to the Cities - Virginia's Urban Trout Stocking Program


Source: Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Raising Trout in Virginia - Episode 1


Source: Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Raising Trout in Virginia - Episode 2


Source: Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Raising Trout in Virginia - Episode 3


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