The South Branch of the Potomac River begins in Highland County, Virginia upstream from Franklin, West Virginia and continues northeast 80 miles to meet up with the North Branch after passing Springfield, West Virginia. Along the way it offers trophy trout fishing as well as trophy large mouth bass and small mouth bass fishing. The South Branch has been called the best kept secret of WVA fishing and no wonder, it has it all.
However for trout, the Upper South Branch is the place to be since there are prolific cold springs entering the stream and the stream runs over limestone rocks and undercuts making the pH and the environment excellent for trout. The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources stocks the South Branch heavily each year beginning in January and runs until June with some additional stockings in October.
The Upper South Branch starts very small only a few feet wide as it continues to Petersburg passing through Franklin, Upper Tract and Smoke Hole, gaining in size as it approaches Petersburg. Petersburg is known for the Petersburg Hatchery and the golden rainbow trout which was developed at the hatchery. These golden rainbow trout are a type of albino with pigmentation that comes out golden as opposed to white.
The town of Franklin is where the trout action begins rainbow, golden rainbow, brown and brook trout abound in the stream. Each year, more trophy trout are caught in the south Branch than any other stream in West Virginia. The state record for brown trout was hauled from the South Branch over 30 inches long and weighing in at whopping 16 pounds. The area from Franklin to approximately three miles east of Petersburg at Welton Park is known as an area where an angler can catch trout, small mouth and large mouth bass all in a single day.
Continuing down the South Branch you come to a one mile long catch and release section of the stream at Eagle Rock known for its trophy trout. Continue still further you will approach the Big Bend National Recreation Area where the river can be waded. Below this area, starts a 14 mile portion of the river that is great for float trips. A one day float trip will take you through Smoke Hole Canyon where the scenery is nothing less than spectacular. After this area, the South Branch becomes a little too warm to produce good trout fishing.
Fishing the South Branch:
Most of the South Branch consists of cobble stones, deep pools, and clear limestone rich water. The trout are stocked with impressive quantities of trout and the water is cold enough to offer opportunities to catch hold-over trout. Some fly fishermen may prefer to use a heavier 6 WT. rod with 5X tippets to wrestle these big trout in the rapid waters.
Spring fishing is excellent with the stocking program that has started in January. The excellent hatches start in April with the March Browns, followed by the Cahills and the Hendricksons. Nymphs will work well but keep some dry flies in your box as well especially in the upper sections.
Summer fishing remains good due to the cold springs that enter the South Branch. Start with the Caddis flies.
Fall and Winter:
Fishing remains good due to October stocking and the Midges.
Easy access is provided by Rt. 220 which follows the South Branch a long distance.