There’s just something about Southern rivers—the way mountain streams start out chilly high up in the Appalachians, Smokies, and Cumberlands before they weave down into sun-dappled coves, vast lakes, and steamy bayous.
The sound of tree frogs echoing off the poplars and long leaf pines, or the song of the cicadas that come out every seven years, are a lovely chorus punctuated by the splashing of trout, bass, and other freshwater fish. The air is thick enough to slow you way down to the perfect pace for an afternoon or weekend of leisurely river fishing. And when you want to cool off, there are few things as refreshing as tipping out of your canoe into cool water.
River Fishing Expeditions You Can’t Miss
A river fishing trip down in Dixie affords you a chance to check out some of the country’s best fishing while also surveying new landscapes and experiencing some truly lovely riverside camping, not to mention canoe camping and ‘yakpacking opportunities. No matter if you’re a car camper or a determined backpacker toting fishing poles instead of trekking poles—the South has a lot to offer anglers looking for their next big catch.
Don’t forget a fishing cooler backpack to haul your catch back to the campfire.
1. Tocca River, Georgia
Love the idea of combining canoe camping or yakpacking and river fishing? The 13.8 mile Toccoa River Canoe Trail that heads off from the Toccoa River Sandy Bottoms Recreation Area is your destination d’jour. If you’re looking for clearly designated campsites and all the amenities, this might not be your spot. But if you’re looking for a little more seclusion along with a great fishing hole, you’re in luck.
The Dyrt Ranger Josh H. explains, “All camp grounds are first come first serve ( no reservations). If you can find then. Most sites have 6 to 8 to camp and mostly beside the river.” Dyrt Ranger Judy B. adds, “We love this spot. The grounds are nice and clean and the fishing is great!!”
If you’re looking to hike as well as fish, you’ll like the nearby Deep Hole Recreation Area. Eight campsites and a canoe launch intersect with the Appalachian Trail just 35 miles from its start in Amicalola Falls State Park. Even in the Southeast, Georgia is often lost in the shuffle compared to its northern neighbors in the Great Smokey Mountains. That’s a darn shame, given how diverse Georgia geography can be, and everything it has to offer the avid outdoors person.
2. Pamlico Sound, North Carolina
North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a prime destination for all sorts of water sports, but Pamlico Sound in particular is favored by anglers. The shallow saltwater lagoon between the mainland and the islands that make up OBX is full of mullets, spots, croakers, and sheapshead. If you love shellfish, there are plentiful oysters and clams to dig up from the sandy bottoms. The mainland tributaries that flow into the sound are equally packed with your potential catch of the day, including speckled trout and gray trout.
There are no shortage of campgrounds around Pamlico Sound, either. Cape Point is very popular for fishermen, but was temporarily turned into a wildlife refuge in July of 2018 to protect a population of nesting terns known as Colonial Waterbirds. Double check before you go to ensure that Cape Point is open to campers. If it is closed, never fear. Goose Creek State Park is another great option on the sound that caters to hopeful anglers.
The Dyrt Ranger Maureen C. writes, “Our campsite was right on the Pamlico river. There was a great spot to watch the sunrise/sunset directly behind our campsite with benches. Also close to our campsite was a dock to fish off of or to launch a kayak. The campgound has really neat hiking trails and a swimming beach. The park ranger told us about a neat program at the park, where they will loan out fishing poles for free. They are great poles and we ended up catching over 20 fish!”
3. Guadalupe River, Texas
Guadalupe Mountains one of the most overlooked National Parks in the system and the Guadalupe River doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves as a river fishing destination for trout. You can camp right on the water in the Guadalupe River State Park that shares the river’s name. The Dyrt Ranger Matt M. notes, “There are plenty of areas to camp with all the expected amenities. It usually isn’t too busy so you can get your pick of the camp sites. All of them are walking distance from the river where there are good places to get in as well as trails all around to see the beautiful Texas Hills Country.”
Despite the Texas heat, the river stays cold and clean for a year-round fish population that is carefully minded by the fine members of the Guadalupe River Chapter of Trout Unlimited. A fun fact is that the waters here were originally stocked with rainbow trout by the Lone Star Brewing Company— a regional favorite. Bring one fishing backpack cooler like the sturdy dry-bag style ones made by IceMule for your catch, rather than keeping your brewskies cold. Drinking isn’t allowed in public places according to state park regulations. However, once you get home you’ll hopefully have plenty of fresh fish left over, and you can play the Lone Star Beer bottle cap game while reminiscing about your camping trip.
4. White River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas
Come for the crappie and catfish, the bluegill and bass, but stay for the Prothonotary Warbler, aka the swamp canary. Not only is the White River a renowned trout fishing hotspot that some say is equal to many of the river fishing meccas in the Rockies, it’s also a great destination for birders. Bring your fishing tackle and binoculars down to Hudsons Landing Campground for a chance at the bream and a glimpse of the wood ducks. Believe it or not, you aren’t limited to a hook and line, either. It’s legal here to take bullfrogs or fish with a bow and arrow if you have a special use permit.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, a natural phenomenon called “backing and stacking” is partly responsible for what makes this area so rich in fish, in which the White River occasionally floods when levels in the neighboring Mississippi rise. There are close to 40 public boat ramps that give you access to the Refuge’s oxbow lakes, bayous, and wetlands, so bring a kayak or canoe to see the most of White River beyond the shore. You don’t want to miss the new Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge canoe trail.
5. Seneca Creek, West Virginia
The campground at Seneca Rocks Discovery Center is often associated with the tallest 5th class summit on the East Coast, beloved by climbers seeking to pursue multi-pitches on towering quartzite walls. It’s equally good for fans of river fishing, however.
Head to the Swallow Creek Campground, where The Dyrt Ranger Sam D. says, “There are a good number of dispersed camping sites along the forest service road that follow Gandy Creek up to Seneca Creek Trail, sites are right on the river with easy access.” He adds, “Seneca Creek is a good trail for hiking and plenty of fishing opportunities there as well.”
In addition to the rock climbing and river fishing, the Monongahela National Forest area has a lot to offer as well. Don’t be surprised if you see horses along Swallow Creek’s trails— it’s equine-friendly. Nearby, the Dyrt Ranger Carrie J. writes of Meadow Creek at Lake Sherwood, “There are very few places in the Eastern United States that get dark enough to view the Milky Way. If you’re in the Monongahela area and you’ve never seen it before, definitely head up to Spruce Knob on a clear night. You won’t be disappointed.
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