36 Great Fishing Trips In Virginia
September 30, 2010
Could you fish 36 different bodies of water in the course of a year? Read on if you have a hankering to accomplish that feat...or even to go to a dozen or so hotspots.
I have a friend who fishes several times every week year-round. Of course, he is retired and has plenty of time to wet a line. But even if you're not retired and don't have a great deal of spare time, you still can find plenty of close-to-home destinations to make your time outdoors time well spent. Here are some possible destinations for every month of the year.
Muskies: New River
Last year while fishing for muskies with guide Blane Chocklett, who operates Blue Ridge Fly Fishers (540-563-1617) in Roanoke, he made a fascinating comment about this species.
"On the New River, there are two great times to fish for muskies, the dead of winter and the dog days of summer," Chocklett told me. "At both times, muskies are at their most predictable concerning where they will hold and when they will bite. Look for muskies to be hanging out in deep pools near some kind of cover like a downed tree or brush. In the winter, often the best time to fish for them is the last few hours before dark."
Redear Sunfish: Western Branch
At 1,579 acres, Western Branch is a huge lake by Tidewater standards. And something else is huge by angling standards anywhere in the Commonwealth -- the panfish population and diversity. Bluegills, warmouths, redbreasts, pumpkinseeds, fliers and redear sunfish all dwell in this Suffolk body of water.
Of that panfish potpourri, the redear, also known as a shellcracker, is the one that is perhaps the best one to angle for in February. The second month is often the coldest one of the year in the Commonwealth, but in the warmer environs of eastern Virginia, ice cover, even around the edges of the lake, is rare. And as far as the size of Western Branch's sunfish goes, the shellcrackers in this lake many times top a half-pound and often weigh more than a pound.
Come February, look for the larger redear to hold in 5 to 10 feet of water, often along subtle dropoffs and/or near wood cover. If you are able to catch one good-size fish from a locale, invest some more time in that area as several more shellcrackers of the same size are likely present.
Crappie: Lake Anna
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) biologist John Odenkirk describes the crappie sport on 9,600-acre Lake Anna as being "pretty darn good -- especially the upper arms during the early spring months." The upper arms on this Spotsylvania County lake mean the North Anna River and all the creeks that converge uplake from Lake Anna State Park. Some of those tributaries include Pamunkey and Ware creeks and Terrys Run.
Another reason to angle for Anna's crappie in early spring is the relative lack of fishing pressure then. Of course, given its location between Richmond and Washington, D.C., Anna always seems to attract more boating pressure than other major Old Dominion impoundments, even in the late winter/early spring period. But many, if not most, of the anglers visiting Anna in March will be seeking largemouth bass or stripers.
Anna has a healthy contingent of brushpiles and sunken Christmas and cedar trees, and these make for good places to prospect for papermouths. A few warm days in a row are all that is needed for the fish to turn on.
Trout: Special Regulation Streams
Trout command a lot of attention in April, and certainly some of the most enticing streams to fish that month are the state's special regulation waters. Among the possibilities are designated sections of the Buffalo River (Amherst County), Big and Little Wilson creeks (Grayson County), Dan River (Patrick County), Little Stony Creek (Giles County), North Fork Moormans River (Albemarle County), Roaring Fork (Tazewell County), Stewart's Creek (Carroll County), Whitetop Laurel (Washington County) and numerous others.
One of the best things about these special regulations streams is that the restrictions placed on fishing often result in less angling pressure and good carryover of fish. Single-hook artificial lures are typically required, and strict size and creel limits exist. It is absolutely imperative that anglers review a 2005 fishing regulations pamphlet (or the game department's Web site: www.dgif.state.va.us) before visiting a special regulation stream, as regulations can vary considerably.
Another virtue of these streams as a whole is that they often require effort to reach. But an angler having to spend time hiking in order to catch brilliantly hued wild trout will often consider the effort worthwhile.
Chesapeake Bay: Striped Bass
Captain Ferrell McClain relates that Chesapeake Bay anglers can experience some superlative action this month.
"Beginning in May, what some anglers call the spring trophy season begins for post-spawn stripers," says the guide. "The big females come out of the ocean and into the Chesapeake Bay and even run up some of our tidal rivers such as the Rappahannock and Potomac. Fish 36 to 40 inches in length are not uncommon.
"Post-spawn stripers are generally not in schools; they are usually scattered. I like to troll along the edge of the Baltimore Channel of the Chesapeake Bay -- it seems to be the main highway of the fish. The stripers may be close to the surface, but they also may be as deep as 20 to 30 feet."
McClain emphasizes that anglers going after May rockfish should not expect to catch large numbers of this game fish, nor should they expect to encounter very many smaller stripers. This is strictly a time period when big fish are the quarry, and anglers who are able to tangle with one of these jumbo females will find their time well spent. Fish bigger than 40 inches are a real possibility. For guided trips, contact Captain Ferrell McLain at Bayfish Sport Fishing Charters in Reedsville (888-BAYFISH), www. bayfish.com.
Black Crappie: Lake Orange
Families living in, near or between Charlottesville and Culpepper may want to take advantage of the black crappie action available on 124-acre Lake Orange, a public lake owned by the VDGIF. Biologist John Odenkirk rates the impoundment highly.
"Orange seems to be good because the fish grow so fast there . . . ample forage of several kinds plus the boost in productivity by a fertilization program," he said. "Recruitment seems consistent at least for crappie. In addition, we have recently placed a 9-inch minimum size on crappie at Orange to keep the once-very-high exploitation to a lower level and allow the fast-growing fish to get really big and thereby increase overall yield.
"The VDGIF has recently placed numerous brushpiles around the lake, and beaver activity is still high, producing some nice habitat where anglers can target these tasty fish."
Opportunities for children to bank-fish are readily available at Lake Orange. Concessions and picnic facilities are also present. Because of its small size, Orange is also a good place for a parent and child to fish from a canoe or a johnboat.
Redear Sunfish: Little Creek Reservoir
VDGIF biologist Mukhtar Farooqi recommends 947-acre Little Creek Reservoir in James City County for shellcrackers.
"I would have to say that the redear sunfish fishery in Little Creek Reservoir is real hot at the moment," he said. "Little Creek doesn't outdo the Suffolk lakes, but it is the best place to fish for redear in Region 1, District 1. The abundance and size structure of the redear population has been good over the last few years and is reflected by angling reports. In the first week of July 2004 alone, 50 citation redear were caught (up to 1.75 pounds).
"The reservoir is relatively clear, deep and steep-sided with little permanent cover. Seasonal growths and die-off of submerged vegetation provide additional cover. Water quality is good. Redear prefer clear water with moderate vegetation. This reservoir has a very limited watershed and the level is maintained in part by pumping in water from Chickahominy Reservoir. During our spring electrofishing samples, redear have been abundant around dropoffs in 6 to 8 feet of water."
Farooqi says that additional information can be obtained from www.dgif.virginia.gov and www.james-city.va.us.
Flounder: Chesapeake Bay
Over the past few years, flounder have been flourishing in the Chesapeake Bay, and in 2003 (the last year for which citation figures were available at press time), the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament handed out 755 citations for this game fish. This total was a 32 percent increase from 2002 and is all the more amazing because that year the citation minimum was raised from 6 to 7 pounds.
Also of interest is that 69 fish weighing 10 or more pounds were registered, which was over 9 percent of all awards for flounder. The top fish weighed a robust 15 pounds, 15 ounces -- the fourth-largest flounder ever entered. Donald Flippin of Richmond caught the trophy by trolling in the lower east section of the bay.
One of the best places to angle for flounder is hardly a secret. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel with its riprap, rock piles, and dropoffs has long been the destination for flounder fans. More adventuresome anglers can search for manmade reefs and the remains of old ships. For more information on the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, call (757) 491-5160. For more information on places to fish, consult the Web site of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, www.state.va.us/mrc.
Blue Catfish: Tidal James River
Guide Mike Ostrander operates the James River Fishing School (firstname.lastname@example.org) and proclaims that there is no dog-day slump for blue cats come September.
"The tidal James River is such a great place during September because the mornings and evenings can be much more pleasant temperature wise," he said. "The pressure on the water starts to lighten up just a little bit then, too, although the weekend traffic on the water can still be heavy.
"I fish the 15-mile section of the Tidal James from a couple miles above Osborne Landing to the mouth of the Appomattox River. The fishing for the blue cats starts to turn on a bit better during the day when I fish the deeper holes. During the day, I focus on deeper water and channel ledges. At night the cats can be just about anywhere, but focusing on the deeper holes, channel ledges and flats near deep water is a great bet.
The size of fish I catch range from the unlucky 2-pound blue catfish that somehow hook themselves on an 8/0 circle hook to blue catfish over 50 pounds. The 60-plus-pound fish are out there, too. I rarely catch channel cats or flatheads in that area. It's almost exclusively blue catfish."
Smallmouth Bass: New River
Guide John Tipton maintains that the New River is very much worth visiting in October.
"The New is probably one of the best smallmouth bass resources we have in the entire country," said the Christiansburg resident. "In October, at times, the bass can feed very aggressively and move about quite a bit. I catch them by going to areas where they stage before entering their wintertime habitat.
"For example, one of the best of these staging places is skinny water close to a winter hole or pool. That shallow water must have a lot of chunk rocks in it, though, because those rocks will retain heat, which draws the baitfish, which draws the smallmouths. The bass will go up to the shallow water and back to the holes in response to cold fronts and rapidly changing water temperatures.
"Fishermen will also have to keep in mind that the patterns change rapidly on the New in October, even changing multiple times over the course of a day. Don't program yourself into thinking that the pattern that is good at the beginning of the day will last all day. It may not even last throughout the morning."
For guided trips, contact Tipton at (540) 382-3216, www.fishing1@ntelos. net.
Black Bass: Lake Moomaw
Lake Moomaw is Virginia's best example of a classic highland reservoir with its deep coves, clear water, rocky bottom and highland setting in the Alleghany Mountains of northwestern Virginia. Angling for black bass is not bad either, nearly 25 years after the lake was opened to the public, maintains Paul Bugas, the VDGIF fisheries biologist for the impoundment.
"The lake still supports good smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing," Bugas said. "If anglers are interested in scenery, clear water, camping on the lake, and quality-sized black bass, they might consider checking out Moomaw."
And of all the months to visit Moomaw, November may just be the best. Hunting is extremely popular in Alleghany and Bath counties, and the lake receives very little pressure from local anglers at this time. Because of Moomaw's location in the highlands, winter comes early to the lake. However, overly cold water and icy shorelines are not the norm in November, and the bass typically remain active until well into December. Do expect the fish to be deeper at this time of year, with many largemouths and smallmouths holding at the ends of long, tapering points.
Striped Bass: Buggs Island
Ask Virginia's anglers what game fish 48,900-acre Buggs Island is most known for, and the individuals involved would probably engage in a spir
ited debate over whether the correct answer is largemouth bass or crappie. Guide Roger Jones, who operates Hook, Line and Sinker (800-597-1708), said that fishermen should consider another species.
"From November to April, the striped bass fishing on Buggs Island can be really good," he told me. "The fish seem to be concentrated from Grassy Creek up the lake to Clarksville. A lot of these fish are 10 to 12 pounds, and there's a chance for bigger ones."
Although linesides are notoriously fickle concerning where they will appear and at what depth they will locate, generally by December the fish will have settled into their wintertime patterns. That means the stripers generally will be no deeper than 20 feet and sometimes can be seen slashing across the surface as they herd shad. Ringed bill and herring gulls occasionally will betray the presence of fish, as these winged scavengers swoop down to forage on the dead and dying shad that the stripers failed to consume on their first pass through an area.
Look for the linesides to be holding on primary points. Early morning and late evening action is often best, but on a cold, drizzly December day, the fish may feed throughout the daylight hours.