'Pay to Play' trout fishing in Virginia

Updated: Jul 6

Options for spending a day on exclusive trout water


gearing up at Escatawba Farms with owner Derrick Barr

My first introduction to ‘pay to play’ trout fishing was in the UK in the late 90s. I spent quite a few summers in the Lake District during that period, and each time I bought a seasonal fishing pass that gave me access to a dozen or so lakes to fish for trout. The amazing thing was that I usually found myself alone on these waters, and I think that may have been the intent of the fisheries administration in selling limited memberships for the season.

Because of an intense business travel schedule during my career (which spanned the mid 80’s to the late 2000’s), allocating time to fishing outside of vacations was a challenge. When I was able to steal a day or two to fly fish outside of vacation, my options were a) go it alone or b) pay to play. I would typically choose the latter given that I wanted to maximize the ‘fishing ROI’ for the occasional day out.

My relaunch has given me a lot more time to regularly explore accessible waters that have native fish or are stocked, but sometimes it is just nice to know you can show up at a water (for a price) and hook up a few. That is where the ‘pay to play’ waters come in very handy, and I have scoped out a few favorites in Virginia, starting with the tranquil and idyllic Rose River Farm.

peaceful winter morning at Rose River Farm

A fishing buddy introduced me to Rose River Farm about eight years ago. For me, it is conveniently located some 90 miles southwest of DC. While the Rose River (aka Robinson River) is available to public fishing well into the Shenandoah National Park to the north and into accessible areas to the south, this portion of the Rose River runs through private farmland. The best way to describe this water is ‘trout nirvana’. The stocking is robust and the farm restricts the number of anglers (or, ‘rod fees’) daily. There may be additional ‘rod fees’ available if renting one of the Farm’s Yurts.


a Rose River beauty

As readers of my blog will know, I am never reluctant to hire a fishing guide in order to facilitate a more successful approach to fishing on unfamiliar waters. It had been a few years since I fished Rose River Farm and on a recent visit this past winter I reached out to Gary Burwell for a day of instruction. It was well worth the investment as he put me onto countless fish that day - I literally lost count of the number of hookups. You can find Gary’s details via the website for Rose River Farm.

A few years ago I learned of another private water through my local chapter of Trout Unlimited. Located about 90 miles due west of DC, near Strasburg, Virginia is Doublespur Outfitters. This water (Cedar Creek) is a bit more rustic, which is not by any means a negative assessment. The place just feels like more of an adventure.


landing a Doublespur rainbow

The Creek extends a few miles upstream of the bridge at the intersection of Wardensville Pike (aka, John Marshall Highway; aka Route 48/55) and Star Tannery Road. What is distinctive about this section of Cedar Creek is that it has a lot of ‘easy in, easy out’ wading sections, with a variety of deep holes, riffles and runs. Doublespur also offers hunting expeditions and overnight accommodations.

Both Rose River Farm and Doublespur are accessible to disabled persons and sponsor Project Healing Waters events.


Very recently I made my first visit to Escatawba Farms, which I would describe as a trout fisherman's wonderland. The Dunlap Creek on this private, fly-fishing only estate offers a variety of different conditions to test any level of angling skill. The estate is also vast that they have their own map of the different fishing ‘beats’ (https://escatawba.com/map/). We spent a long day at Escatawba and only fished a fraction of the different ‘beats’, and each offered unique conditions that merited a slight modification in the casting or fishing approach.


keepin' the catch wet at Escatawba Farms

Escatawba Farms is located outside Covington, Virginia, about 250 miles southwest of Washington, DC. It is difficult to make a day trip out of this excursion; so planning an overnight stay before or after the fishing is a good idea. There are a number of accommodation options shown on the Escatawba web site.

a gourmet lunch served up by our fishing guide

As this was my first visit, I reached out to one of the guides listed on the Escatawba website. I chose Demian Wiles, not only because of his guiding experience of more than 25 years, but also because, per the website, he “offers amazing gourmet lunches”. After some serious fishing in the morning, Demian treated us to a three-course lunch of roasted red pepper soup, braised pork with sweet potato succotash and crème brulee. The guide service and gourmet lunch were even better than advertised! I’ll be back.

Tight Lines!


I am not being compensated for my mention of any of the establishments in this post. I am simply a happy customer.

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