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Fly Fishing Buffalo Creek, Virginia

guy fishing

You don’t hear much about Buffalo Creek in the various Virginia fishing forums or on social media, but fly fishing phenoms (and friends) Joe Irby and Derek Hutton have been trying to get me to come down to wet a line in the stream for quite a while.

I was interested, but, like everyone else these days, I was “busy.” Looking back now on that profound piscatorial procrastination, putting off fishing Buffalo Creek with those fellas was a big mistake. Sigh.

While shockingly there are no bison there in spite of the name, the Buffalo Creek Special Regulations Area (SRA) is an overlooked treasure of a trout stream that makes a visit to Virginia’s Lexington area worthwhile for both Old Dominion anglers and others.

By the way, Derek runs Virginia River Guides (VRG), which specializes in fly fishing excursions in and around Lexington, just a short 15-minute drive from the Buffalo Creek SRA. (He also manages Hutton Fly, an international fly fishing destination service.)

In addition, he and his wife, Margaret, operate Stonegate guesthouse, an elegant B&B on Main Street in Lexington, that doubles as VRG’s (and Hutton Fly’s) HQ. Lexington is home to great dining and Washington & Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute.

With lots of domestic and international experience in angling and hospitality, Margaret and Derek offer a compelling fly fishing retreat in the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains in a charming Virginia town.

As such, here are—at least—five more reasons that I came up with after a recent visit for why I think that you should “shuffle off to Buffalo” (as the famous 1930s song goes…) soon on a potentially awesome Virginia angling adventure:

Possible Trout Slam Water

trout slam deal closer
The author with the trout slam deal closer.

Between Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and private stockings, hold-over trout, and possibly some wild trout, the Buffalo Creek SRA may from time to time hold all three species of Virginia trout (i.e., brown, rainbow, and brook trout).

(You may also get into carp as well as fall fish.)

Indeed, with Joe and Derek’s patient coaching, in just a few hours on a beautiful mid-April afternoon (in full view of majestic Little and Big House Mountains), I netted my second Virginia Trout Slam in about a year.

After catching a bunch of brownies and ‘bows, we ended the day—and completed the trout slam—with a good-sized brookie. In classic textbook-fashion, it hammered a grasshopper dry fly (on a hopper-dropper rig) right at the edge of a big tree root ball.

Year-round Trout Fishery

Groundwater- and spring-fed Buffalo Creek is, in theory, fishable 365 days of the year. How awesome is that?! Of course, please use precautions when fishing in the warmer months of the year when flow rates may decrease and water temperatures may increase. Hooking and then playing trout when water temps hit 70 degrees or more, which can easily happen in the warmer months, can lead to increased fish mortality.

So fish ethically: The trout and your fellow anglers will love you for it.

Chock Full o’ Fish

Another great reason to hit Buffalo Creek is that it’s teeming with trout. DWR tells me that they put between 3,000 and 4,000 fingerling-sized browns and ‘bows in the Buffalo during two stocking sessions annually, usually in the fall and spring.

That’s a ton of trout figuratively—maybe even literally. 

Private fishing, trout advocacy, and conservation groups are also allowed to make supplementary stockings to the nearly three-mile public area of the Buffalo Creek SRA; these are, of course, based on pre-approved DWR permits.

Besides the significant stockings by DWR and others, anglers may encounter a “transient” wild brown or rainbow in the SRA. DWR has collected wild fish upstream of the SRA. The brookies, like the one I caught, are likely stocked by outside groups, but could also be wild fish that have slid down from the upper reaches of the South Buffalo.

fishing sign
Special Regulation Area signage.

Fly Fishers’ Fantasy.

As mentioned earlier, Buffalo Creek is a Special Regulation Area. You’ll see a big, yellow, diamond-shaped DWR (or older DGIF) sign with “Special Regulations” boldly printed in a red banner on it; they’re posted in conspicuous places (like nailed to a tree) along the water and at road-side pull-offs

The special regulations for Buffalo Creek mean that anglers are only allowed to fish with a single point hook and artificial lures; no bait may be in possession. That said, it’s not just catch-n-release. Put-n-take is also allowed, but the daily limit is two trout of 16 inches or longer per angler.

While most of the 12-plus trout I caught that afternoon on a 5-weight fly rod were in the eight-inch to 12-inch range, local lore claims that there are actually some real lunkers lurking in the depths of Buffalo Creek.

Centrally Located

Another great thing about Buffalo Creek is that it’s pretty centrally located in Virginia, making it accessible to a lot of aspiring anglers—it’s not far from the I-81 corridor. The drive was about three hours from my Northern Virginia home, admittedly in off-peak traffic.

But even in rush-hour (perish the thought!), it would’ve been totally worth it.

Now, in terms of trout waters, Buffalo has a lot of competition among Virginia’s trout-rich waterways. But this smallish water—often just 30-feet wide—is a lot of fun, especially for the beginner, who may be a bit unsure of their casting ability and/or accuracy.

No 50-foot “hero” casts needed for Buffalo Creek—thankfully for me

Of course, it’s a good idea to become familiar with SRA regulations online or in the hard copy DWR fishing regulations book. Also be respectful of the private land that borders—and allows—access to the Buffalo Creek SRA. Don’t trespass on posted areas, don’t destroy crops, and take any trash out with you.

This is super important: The access that anglers currently enjoy to Buffalo Creek comes due to the generosity of the landowners. It can be quickly and easily taken away. Unfortunately, it has happened elsewhere in Virginia due to a variety of reasons. If you get the chance, wave to a local landowner and say “Thanks!”

If you don’t already have one, start your trip to Buffalo Creek SRA by getting your Virginia fishing license here. Along with your license, don’t forget to get a special regulations fishing permit for the Buffalo as well. (You also need one for the South River and Mossy Creek SRAs if you’re going to fish there.)

The good news? The permit is free—my favorite four-letter word.

At a minimum, Lexington is a great town, VRG has great guides, and the Buffalo Creek SRA waters offer some great trout fishing. Even better, the Buffalo may also hold a Virginia Trout Slam for the lucky angler or possibly even a few trout-zillas. But there is only one way to know for sure.

So shuffle—no, better yet, hustle—off to Buffalo (Creek).


Dr. Peter Brookes is an award-winning outdoor writer based in Virginia. A version of this article appeared previously in the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ Fishing Notes from the Field. Contact Peter Brookes at Brookesoutdoors@aol.com.

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