Shawn Hash has spent his life on and around the New River, and it shows.
Fishing guides tend to pulse with an innate energy uncommon outside of the river community, and Shawn Hash has the rhythm down pat. His phone is a constant buzz, his brain juggling schedules and clients on the fly, his mouth spouting wisdom as deep and clear as the New River where he makes his living. If it ever gets overwhelming, there would be no way to tell. When you’ve built your outfitter business from scratch, that type of constant calm in a constant storm comes naturally.
Hash grew up in Dublin, working at Backcountry Ski and Sports and loving the outdoors. In 1991, just as the New River Trail was coming into its own, Hash and his brother began to brainstorm about how to take advantage. They ultimately started Tangent Outfitters with two canoes and four mountain bikes, running trips on the fledgling river trail. Eventually, clients demanded a cushier ride down the New, so he drove to Colorado and bought a raft. Now, Tangent runs a fleet of over 100 canoes, rafts, and kayaks, plus bikes, SUPs and tubes at their two locations, a testament to the exploding outdoor culture of southwest Virginia.
“It’s like people didn’t even realize they wanted to come here,” Hash remembers. “When I started, there was no place for people to stay, there was no infrastructure. Now, it’s on the radar and people are coming.”
Hash has guided clients from across the U.S. and abroad, but it is not just out-of-towners that flock to the New for the world-class smallmouth and musky fishing. Hash says he has seen a change at the local level as well, with more and more people getting out on the water in their own kayaks and canoes. One look at the river and it’s not really a challenge to see why.
“[The New River] is big so it can handle people,” Hash says. “You can float most sections most of the year. It’s clean, it’s scenic and it’s accessible. The mountains in the distance, the cliffs, the clean water; it makes for a pretty cool experience.”
The New may run through Hash’s veins, but he says it’s the diversity that really makes fishing in the Virginia mountain region unique. From brook and rainbow trout in the mountains, to 40-50 inch musky in the New and James rivers, there are enough species and different looks of water to satisfy any type of angler, all within the same watershed. Hash loves what he calls the “high-low game,” fishing high elevation streams for trout and the lower elevations for smallmouth and larger predators.
“You can fish on the New in the morning, and then catch an afternoon hatch on Little Stony Creek in the afternoon,” he said. “There are not that many places you can do that.”
Hash says there are still rivers and streams he is looking forward to exploring, even after all his years of wetting lines in the New River Valley. More water than you can fish in a lifetime? Better get started.
Shawn Hash’s Pick
The New River, of course
Rivers don’t get more picturesque than the New, with its gin-clear water, cliff-lined banks, and deep honey holes. If you are looking for huge smallmouth, musky, and even walleye, you will find them in the New. Book a float trip through Tangent (newrivertrail.com) to cover the most water and find the most fish.
David Bisset Park – Radford
Bring the whole family to David Bisset Park for a day of fun and fishing. This riverside park on the New River just above Claytor Lake features playgrounds, pavilions, and more for the little ones, and wading river access to the New River for those inclined to wet a line.
Upper James River – Botetourt County
Rivaling the New in terms of both aesthetics and fishing is the Upper James River. The Upper James River Water Trail provides numerous points of access to the river, which is best navigated by canoe or kayak. Wade fishing opportunities are also available along its length for smallmouth and a variety of panfish.
Jackson River – Alleghany Highlands & Bath County
The Jackson River above Lake Moomaw in Bath County provides anglers with some of the finest small-river fishing in the state, while the Jackson below the lake is a blue-ribbon tailwater fishery holding huge brown trout. The special regulation, hike-in Hidden Valley section of the upper Jackson is stocked but also contains a number of large holdovers, and is technical without being intimidating.
Roanoke River – Roanoke
The Roanoke River as it flows through Roanoke is a fine urban trout stream stocked in the spring and fall in several sections through the city. The river is easily accessible through city parks such as Wasena Park and Salem’s Riverside Park, and holds rainbow and brown trout through much of the year.