Catch Virginia's Dog-Day Bass Now!
September 30, 2010
If you work the same places with the same tactics in August as you did last spring, you won't catch very many bass. Consider these destinations and tips for more success bass fishing this month. (August 2007)
Glen Moorer of Marion with a nice Claytor Lake smallmouth. Hitting cooler lakes and rivers for smallmouths is one way to beat the heat this summer and still catch bass. In the summer, the best fishing on Claytor is typically at night.
Photo by Bruce Ingram.
August is a month when Virginia anglers need to become creative if they want to experience bass fishing success on the state's impoundments and rivers. The tried-and-true tactics of spring and early summer are now overused and progressively less effective. Let's look at some possible destinations, as well as lures and new bass-fishing patterns that will help us score there.
CLAYTOR: CLASSIC NIGHTTIME BASSING
John Copeland, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) biologist for Claytor, suggests that anglers head for the Blacksburg-area lake after sundown.
"I know that summertime night-fishing for bass is popular on Claytor Lake," Copeland told me. "With the busy nature of the lake recreationally during the summer, the anglers have figured out that night-fishing leads to success -- and fewer hassles. The night-fishing is significant enough that we do evening angler surveys during the summer months at Claytor Lake when we are running angler surveys there."
The 4,475-acre Pulaski County impoundment is one of the few in the state that host largemouths, smallmouths and spots, and the biologist relates that some 60 percent of the anglers that visit the lake target black bass. The smallmouth bass fishery is perhaps the most enticing one, as it has a reputation for producing citations (smallies measuring 20 or more inches and weighing 5 or more pounds).
The biologist recommended that anglers after nighttime bronzebacks concentrate on the middle and lower lake regions, specifically from the mouth of Peak Creek downlake. He further recommended the coves between Claytor Lake State Park and the dam.
For largemouth bass, Copeland said that the Peak Creek arm is a major hotspot. Also good are some of the coves uplake from Peak Creek, as well coves near the state park.
Spotted bass are the least-targeted member of the black bass trio and rarely attain the 2-pound mark. They flourish in the upper lake region, especially above Peak Creek, the major tributary. For nighttime action, or action anytime, Copeland said that, based on studies, Claytor's smallmouths and spots most frequently consume crayfish, so lures imitating that prey item should be considered. Largemouths consume mostly minnows, shad and bluegills, so artificial choices should reflect that.
Copeland added that an excellent source of information is Mike Burchett who manages Rockhouse Marina, (540) 980-1488.
POTOMAC: PEAK OF THE SEASON
While some Virginia bass fisheries are on the decline come the dog days, the Tidal Potomac is often at its peak. The ebbs and flows of this waterway ensure that the action can be quite good. Guide Teddy Carr emphasized that various kinds of aquatic vegetation along the shoreline of the main river can really draw largemouths.
Anglers should concentrate on such grass as milfoil, coontail and hydrilla.
Buzzbaits and X-Calibur X3 jerkbaits worked parallel to this vegetation or (in the case of the buzzbaits) churned across the thick stuff can provoke some scintillating strikes.
Rock and wood cover will also produce. Chunk rock and rocky points constitute the former, while barges, docks and old wharves make up the latter. For both, the guide suggests Booyah spinnerbaits and Carolina-rigged 4-inch YUM Dingers in green pumpkin or Mardi Gras.
These same forms of cover also exist in many of the creeks that feed into the waterway. Among the possibilities are Broad Run, Chicamuxen, Mattawoman and Aquia creeks; also worth checking out are Arkendale Flats and Wades Bay.
For guided trips, contact Teddy Carr at (540) 854-4271 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
BUGGS: BEST AT DAYBREAK
Guide Roger Jones of Richmond said that it is usually crucial for anglers visiting 48,900-acre Buggs Island during August to be on the water at daybreak.
"The early-morning period gives fishermen their best chance to catch quality bass now," he confirmed. "Boating pressure is not the problem because the lake is so huge and there are so many places to fish. The heat can be a real problem, though.
"Right at sunrise, I try to be in mid-lake tributaries, such as Butchers, Mill and Grassy creeks or the midlake area itself. Some of the deeper water on the lake is in this area and that seems to give bass a sanctuary they can go to during the afternoon."
Interestingly, Jones related that certain areas of the lake draw more bass at certain times of the year. For instance, the guide believes that the lower lake area entices more largemouths during the spring, the midlake does the same during the summer, and the upper lake region performs best during autumn.
At the arrival of dawn, the Richmonder will visit the secondary points of coves in those midlake tributaries. He will search for shad activity, especially near rocks and stumpfields. Lure choices include Rebel Pop'Rs and 1/2-ounce buzzbaits. The surface activity can last for as little as 30 minutes or as long as two hours, depending on cloud cover.
Once the early-morning topwater action ends -- and it can conclude quite abruptly -- Jones backs off from the shallow reaches of those secondary points and tries to graph bass in water between 5 and 15 feet. In his search for fish, he employs crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Slow-rolling spinnerbaits down a rocky point can be an effective tactic and is a nice counter tactic to an angler bumping along a crank across the substrate. This pattern can last as long as two hours, again depending on cloud cover.
But inevitably, most mornings, the crankbait/spinnerbait pattern wanes, and Jones then motors to the ends of points in water depths of up to 20 feet. There, he turns to Texas-rigged worms, Carolina-rigged lizards and other soft-plastic baits, and jig-and-pigs. This pattern, too, is dependent upon heat and cloud cover, as an overcast day can extend the action into the high noon period.
Jones emphasizes that most days, success after 11 a.m. or noon is very difficult to experience. Once the bass retreat to dept
hs of 20 or more feet, the guide admits that he has a great deal of difficulty locating active fish. For guided trips with Roger Jones, contact Hook, Line and Sinker Guide Service at (800) 597-1708, or at www.hooklineandsinkerguides.com.
NEW: NEVER A DOWN PERIOD
When the subject is warm-weather angling on the New River, there is no downtime. The smallmouth fishing is of a high quality both in April and October -- and every month in between. Marty Shaffner, who guides on the New in North Carolina and Virginia, offers these tips.
"August is finesse time and the fly rod shines," he said. "August is also topwater time and my favorites are poppers in sizes 4 or 6 in black or yellow, large terrestrial patterns, such as the UFO, or over-sized Chernoble ants and sliders, such as Sneaky Petes and foam sliders."
Shaffner proclaims that any pattern that features rubber legs for additional movement, specifically without the fly actually moving much when it is twitched, stands a better chance of being savaged.
"If you can't get the smallies to come up to hit topwater you may have to go underwater," the guide continued. "My favorite underwater patterns are Nearnuff crayfish, Clouser minnows and root beer-colored Woolly Buggers. August usually means low, clear water and in those conditions, I like the Clousers tied with translucent (synthetic) materials and lots of crystal flash. On sunny days especially, these are great patterns.
"Also great are foam damselfly patterns in light blue. They are really both a big fly and an important pattern."
On many outings, spin-fishermen can experience outstanding topwater throughout the day on the New. I typically bring along four rods, and two of the medium-action outfits are rigged with surface baits. Among my productive ones are Heddon Tiny Torpedoes, Rebel Pop'Rs, Storm Chug Bugs, Zara Spook Puppies, Rapala Skitter Props and Pops, Rebel Chug'Rs, Rapala Original minnows, and 1/4-ounce Hart Stopper buzzbaits. Rotate among these and other prop, chugger, stick and minnow baits until a pattern emerges.
Just as there is no shortage of time when the New will produce quality smallmouth action during the warm-season period, there is also no shortage of potential trips from which to choose. From the time the North and South forks commingle to form the Main Stem of the New not far across the North Carolina line until the New leaves the Old Dominion and enters West Virginia near Glen Lynn, anglers can take 22 different excursions.
The 10 junkets below Claytor Lake Dam have traditionally attracted the most fishing pressure, and VDGIF biologist John Copeland confirms that these floats also traditionally have produced not only the best smallmouth action for numbers but also for quality-sized fish.
Nevertheless, in recent years, I also have found that the 12 floats above Claytor have accounted for some superlative days on the water. This past summer, for instance, some of my best smallmouth fishing of the season took place on the upper river. As a general rule, I have found that the upper New between the confluence and Fries Dam experiences less fishing pressure than the section below Fries and the backwaters of Claytor. But, again, anglers can't go wrong if they choose any of these sections.
For more information on guided trips with Marty Shaffner, contact him at www.tristateangler.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or (336) 957-4630 or 902-0044. Marty works closely with Britt and Leigh Stoudenmire at Canoe the New Outfitters in Pearisburg, www.icanoethenew.com. Mike Smith of Greasy Creek Outfitters is highly recommended as well, at www.greasycreekoutfitters.com, as is John Tipton at email@example.com.
MOOMAW: MOSSYBACKS MARAUDING AFTER MIDNIGHT
A summertime delight that I try to experience every few years before I go back to teaching school in the middle of August is to take a pilgrimage to Lake Moomaw for some after sundown angling for largemouths and smallmouths. Like Claytor, this impoundment outside of Clifton Forge and Covington hosts a dedicated cadre of after-hours fishermen.
Jerry Paitsel, a trucker from Alleghany County and a long-time Moomaw regular, works the night shift at the lake through the dog days.
"When night-fishing at Moomaw in August, I like to start on gradually sloping flats with deep water nearby," Paitsel said. "First, I'll try a Midnight Special spinnerbait in 3/8-ounce and go with a slow, steady retrieve. That speed gives the fish an easy target to home in on and grab.
"If after fishing a couple of banks with no hits on the spinnerbait, I back off to the deeper water dropoffs and fish a black 7-inch Berkley Power Worm with a rattle inserted. I fish the dropoffs very slowly."
Paitsel adds that he also fishes a jig with pork trailer on the steep bluff banks, letting this bait descend down the ledges and rocks as deep as possible until he loses contact with the jig and has to retrieve it. Rattle jigs work particularly well for this type of fishing. Interestingly, one of Paitsel's best lures is one that was highly popular in the years after World War II but has fallen out of favor now.
"One lure I've been using over the past couple of years is the Jitterbug," Paitsel continued. "It's been around forever but still works. If I have a fish miss the Jitterbug, I throw the spinnerbait and often catch the fish."
For those anglers who have never experienced the thrill of a largemouth or smallmouth smashing a Jitterbug in the dark, here are some quick tips.
'¢ The Arbogast Jitterbug is a rhythm bait. Use a moderately slow retrieve and don't vary it.
'¢ Do not impart any twitches or stops and starts with this artificial.
'¢ Do not set the hook until you feel the fish on. One of the easiest ways to foul up while employing a Jitterbug is to set the hook when you hear a strike in the dark.
'¢ Bass will follow Jitterbugs for great distances, even right to the boat.
'¢ Check the hooks when you remove the lure from its box. Often the factory hooks will have to be replaced.
'¢ Practice with this lure during the daytime before using it at night. When the Jitterbug is working at its peak, it is "riding high" and sending forth a wake across the surface.
Paitsel added that a black light and a good depthfinder are very important when night-fishing on the clear, deep waters of this highland impoundment. The former aids in an angler being able to tie on lures, prevents bass from being spooked by standard lights, and does not attract insects as much as regular lights do. Finally, Paitsel suggested that anglers always return to the same banks where they earlier experienced poor fishing. Work the same places and concentrate on tossing a spinnerbait. The second stopover is often more productive, and for whatever reason, Paitsel has found that a spinnerbait is the most effective artificial during thes
e return visits.
"The fish can move up and get aggressive anytime," Paitsel concluded.
PONDS: POTENT LARGEMOUTH FISHERIES
On Labor Day last summer, having a hankering to go fishing but not wanting to deal with the crowds on our local lakes, I drove to ponds in Roanoke and Franklin counties. Vegetation covered almost the entire surface of the Roanoke County mini-impoundment, so I stirred up the slop by churning a buzzer across it. Several largemouths found this commotion to their liking and burst through the vegetation to bash the buzzbait.
Around 10 a.m., I drove to the Franklin County farm pond, which featured clear channels among the vegetation with the occasional downed tree extending out from the bank. I tied on one of the new generation of soft-plastic frog baits and was rewarded with a strike from a largemouth that easily would have measured some 2 feet long, had it not managed to bury itself into some vegetation and escape.
The point is that I likely would not have experienced largemouth action like this on any of our lakes unless I had been on them before sunrise or after sunset. Most landowners I have encountered have let me fish their ponds, especially if I promise to release all bass caught. August is not a time to give up on bass fishing for the season, providing, that is, that we become a little creative with where we go and how we fish.
(Editor's Note: Bruce Ingram is the author of the following books (cost in parentheses): The James River Guide ($15), The New River Guide ($15), and The Shenandoah/Rappahannock Rivers Guide ($18.25). To obtain a copy, send a check to Ingram at P.O. Box 429, Fincastle, VA 24090.)
Find more about Virginia fishing and hunting at: VirginiaGameandFish.com