Cabin fever got you down? Here are suggestions on where to fish every month of the year in Virginia. (February 2007)
One of our annual features is this article, in which we list some great seasonal fisheries for each month of the year. We ask experts across the state where and what they'd fish for near where they live if they had their choice of when to go.
My approach is to contact Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) biologists and guides across the state and ask them three simple questions. Which game fish in your area offers great fishing? What would be a good month to go after this species? What would be good lures, baits or fly patterns to catch this species?
Over the course of years of penning this article, after I have interviewed these folks, quite a few times I have ended up going fishing at the places they recommended. I hope you, the reader, have been able -- and perhaps this year will be able -- to do the same.
If your fishing time is limited, or you want to try a great fishery that you've never gotten around to fishing, here are some ideas from the experts.
John Odenkirk, VDGIF fisheries biologist at the Fredericksburg office, offers this pronouncement for the first month of the year.
"As you know, January is a tough month to fish," Odenkirk told me. "If I had to go fishing in northern Virginia in January, I would either fish for trout at one of the Urban Fishing Sites (maybe Cook Lake in Alexandria) or for stripers at one of the power plant outfalls on the Potomac River. I am pretty busy hunting in January, and fishing is about last on my mind. However, taking home a stringer of fresh trout to add to some fine venison tenderloin does not seem like such a bad idea."
Cook Lake is a four-acre lake located in Cameron Regional Park in Alexandria and is administered by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Odenkirk said that Cook was part of the Urban Fishing Program beginning in the mid-1990s until the budget cuts about five years ago. The program was restarted this past fall (with fewer sites and fewer stockings). Cook was stocked (as well as Dorey and Byrd lakes in Richmond and Northwest River in Chesapeake) in November.
Richmond guide Roger Jones maintains that he has a favorite destination the second month of the year.
"Many years, beginning in late February, I like to start going to Buggs Island," he said. "I think that period extending on through March is the best time to fish Buggs for largemouths. Look for the bass to be back in Nutbush, Eastland and Butchers creeks because those tributaries typically have warmer water. If the water level is 300 feet or more, also look for the bass to back in the willows.
"In those creeks, I hit the rocky points and stumpfields. The fish are usually still deep, maybe around 15 to 20 feet. But sometimes, you can catch good-sized bass, and by that, I mean fish 2 to 7 pounds, by going shallow first. It all depends on the weather and water temperature."
Another solid place to prospect for late-winter largemouths is what the Richmond guide calls "crappie hurdles." These are wood pallets or tires that papermouth anglers have tied together and sunk.
Jones also suggested that anglers keep an eye on what is happening weather-wise on the Roanoke River, a major tributary. He said that if the winter has been mild in western Virginia where the Roanoke originates, the bass on this south central Virginia impoundment are likely to turn on earlier. For guided trips, contact Jones at (800) 597-1708, or online at HookLineandSinkerGuides.com.
"Try March for the blue cats," said Mike Ostrander of the James River Fishing School when I asked him his favorite time and species to fish. "March is an excellent month for the big blue cats on the Tidal James River. The fish are voracious eaters at this time, feeding heavily on the anadromous fish that enter the James from the Chesapeake Bay and ocean.
"Anglers can expect many blue catfish in the 10- to 20-pound range, but they can also expect excellent action with the heavyweights the James is famous for, that is fish in the 30- to 60-pound-plus range. The blue cats are usually 26 to 44 inches in length."
For guided trips, contact Ostrander at (804) 938-2350, or online at JamesRiverFishing.com, email email@example.com.
Curt Alderson, a schoolteacher from Troutville, ranks the month of April as the best time to explore new destinations for trout.
"What I like to do is take a Virginia Atlas & Gazetteer and look for blue streaks coming off our main western Virginia rivers," he said. "I would never name any of the streams that I have found, but I can tell you that there are some real jewels out there. Sometimes, I find native brookies, sometimes, wild trout, and other times, I find smallmouth bass and rock bass. Of course, sometimes I don't find any fish at all, but even those trips are worthwhile because it's nice to explore new territory."
Alderson related that he primarily searches for tributaries of the James, Jackson, Roanoke and Maury rivers because they are closest to his home. But he emphasized that tributaries of the New, Shenandoah and Potomac are just as promising. The conditions during the month itself also help make for an interesting excursion.
"Every kind of insect just about is coming off in April," noted the schoolteacher. "One of the nicest things is that you can experience a lot of topwater action. It is such a thrill to watch a trout crush a dry fly. April is the first month when this action becomes consistent. All that is needed are a few warm days at the start of the month."
Alderson suggested that long-rodders bring along three different two- or four-piece outfits: a 2 weight ("you can fish a puddle with this rod"), a 5 weight ("good for fairly big water") and a 4 weight ("a good compromise rod"). Alderson also recommends Blue Ridge Fly Fishers (540/563-1617) in Roanoke as being a good place to purchase patterns, gain current fishing information, and arrange for guided trips.
Captain Ferrell McClain of Reedsville relishes the Chesapeake Bay's trophy striper season from May 1 to 15 when anglers are limited to fish over 32 inches.
"The big females come into the bay in February and March to spawn," he explained. "Then they start leaving by early April and May. I like to target those post-spawn stripers, and the action can be very, very good. My biggest fish in 2006 was 44 inches and it probably was a 30-pound-plus fish.
"I like to concentrate my fishing north and south of Smith Point along the main Baltimore Channel of the bay. Trolling is the best way to catch these fish. Stripers are impressive fish when caught while trolling. Imagine a 20-pounder just 100 feet behind the boat."
For guided trips, contact McClain at Bayfish Sport Fishing Charters at (888) BAY-FISH or BayFish.com.
Brian Trow, who along with his brother, Colby, operates Mossy Creek Fly Fishing in the Shenandoah Valley, admits that on many Old Dominion streams, the trout fishing can become more difficult with the advent of June.
"I can only think of one place in the valley where June is an excellent time to go after active fish," Trow said. "June is a time when water temperatures are on the rise and oxygen levels on the decline, plus the water is often quite clear on most streams. The place that is the exception is Mossy Creek near Bridgewater.
"Mossy has that constant 55-degree spring water, and it also has that 20-inch minimum, one-fish-per-day, fly-fishing-only regulation. Of course, I don't know anyone who keeps fish from this creek. On Mossy, you are guaranteed to see brown trout throughout the summer, but there's no guarantee that you will catch one."
Trow emphasized that Mossy Creek receives fishing pressure from across the Southeast and is one of the most popular streams in the Commonwealth, as well. But many of those out-of-state, and in-state long-rodders for that matter, who come to this Augusta and Rockingham counties stream fail to catch a single fish.
"You see a lot of articles on Mossy Creek, and those articles typically have two points," Trow said. "One point is that the creek has a lot of fish and they are big, and the second is that the fly-fishing is very technical. Too many guys only concentrate on the first part and seem to forget just how difficult this stream is to fish.
"When I get back to the shop from fishing Mossy, Colby never asks me how many trout I caught; instead, he asks how many did I move. These brown trout are homebodies. Move them once, and chances are that they'll be back in the same spot the next time you come. Visit three or four more times, and you just might catch that fish."
For guided trips, contact the Trows at (866) 667-9275, or online at MossyCreekFlyfishing.com.
Guide Ferrell McClain enjoys midsummer fishing on the bay because he never knows what sport fish will be tugging on the line.
"July is a real smorgasbord of fishing opportunities on the Chesapeake Bay," he said. "You might have croaker from 10 to 20 inches, a gray trout -- and any fish over 16 inches is big -- a flounder from 16 to 24 inches or even a shark from 2 to 4 feet long."
McClain concentrates his efforts along the Baltimore Channel of the bay, south of Smith Point, and in Tangier Sound. The best tactic to catch these fish is by bottom-fishing. And one of the most commonly caught members of this smorgasbord is the croaker.
"The croaker fishing is red-hot now, and it takes a 3-pounder to earn a citation. On the other hand, some of my clients get a real surprise when they are after croaker. Imagine expecting to catch, say, a 15-inch croaker and you end up hooking a 4-foot-long shark. Now, that's what I call a surprise."
Interestingly, the Reedsville resident noted that these sharks are delicious to eat. He suggests cutting the meat into steaks and cooking them on a grill.
Come the peak of the dog days, guide Mike Ostrander likes to head above the Richmond fall line.
"I like daytime fishing for flatheads, and the slow-moving water makes for a comfortable fishing experience because you can usually get as wet as you want to on a hot day," he explained. "Low water levels can force lots of fish into small areas at times. Lower water levels also allow easier access for wade-fishermen.
"Fishing from a boat is better, though, as it allows you to fish any point in a given stretch of river that might hold flatheads. Anglers can look to catch fish of all sizes, from 5 pounds to 25 pounds plus. On occasion, bigger fish are landed, but not too often."
September is not considered a great month to catch striped bass anywhere in Virginia -- except one body of water. Mike Smith, who operates Greasy Creek Outfitters in Willis, explains why Claytor Lake is red-hot for linesides then.
"I run striper trips in September and October on upper Claytor from the Allisonia ramp," said the Floyd County resident. "Some years we are wiped out by hurricanes, like 2005, but most years the fishing is very good. Stripers congregate in the vicinity of Lighthouse Bridge, at the back of Peak Creek, and near Hiwassee during that time of year and can be caught on topwater plugs on 12- to 15-pound-test."
Of all those places, the hottest spot often is the Lighthouse Bridge, which seems to be a beacon for both anglers and linesides, continued Smith. His clients regularly catch fish between 8 and 20 pounds during the first two months of fall -- not bad for a western Virginia impoundment that is known for its fishing for largemouths and smallmouths.
For guided trips with Smith, contact him at (540) 789-7811, or online at GrassyCreekOutfitters.com.
Tom Brown, fishing manager of the Orvis store in Roanoke, relates that the trout fishing in a southwest Virginia stream offers a marvelous experience.
"Whitetop Laurel is the prettiest stream in the state, and October is a great time to visit it," Brown
said. "One of the things I like best about Whitetop is the tremendous variety of water. Above Taylor Valley, there are some high gradient stretches, and then the stream slows considerably as it flows through the valley. Below Taylor Valley, you'll find some of the best pocket water anywhere in Virginia.
"Of course, Whitetop has a lot of trout. Rainbows are what most people catch, and like many streams, most of those fish are 10 to 12 inches. But the stream has more browns than many fishermen realize, and some of them run 17 to 18 inches. Another attraction is the fact that you'll catch some wild, stream-born trout. October is also when Whitetop will receive some stocked fish."
For more information and good patterns for Western Virginia trout streams, contact Orvis in Roanoke at (540) 345-3635.
At less than 900 acres, central Virginia's Briery Creek is not one of the larger impoundments in the Commonwealth. Yet, the lake remains one of the best destinations in the state for jumbo largemouths. VDGIF fisheries biologist Vic DiCenzo, who works out of the Farmville office, said that the average size of the bass is 12 to 14 inches.
But it's the number of nice bass in the population that keep the anglers coming back for more.
Interestingly DiCenzo relates that those 6-pound-plus bucketmouths that Briery is most known for are no longer coming primarily from one time of year.
"The past few years, the trophy catch has been more spread out throughout the year as opposed to just the pre-spawn," he said. "The best cover is vegetation and timber during the spring and summer, but just timber in November."
For more information on this and other fisheries, consult the VDGIF Web site at DGIF.Virginia.gov.
Veteran Lake Anna guide Teddy Carr can hardly wait every year for the coldwater striper action.
"December provides you with that optimum water temperature that runs between 50 and 55 degrees," he explained. "The stripers are really active in this range and will feed multiple times per day compared with when the temperature is warmer. The striper fishing over the last three years at Anna has been the best that I have ever seen. We have also seen an increase in the size as well with the average striper being in the 6- to 8-pound range, which is pretty good given the size of the impoundment.
"I concentrate my efforts in several places, the Rose Valley Area, Jetts Island area, Terrys Run, and from the Splits down to Sturgeon Creek. One of our most popular trips during the winter is our Cast and Blast. We get in a morning of duck or goose hunting then an afternoon of striper fishing."
Contact Carr at (540) 854-4271, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or at FishingWithTeddy.com.
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