Virginia offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
May is a great month to take the family fishing. Schools are letting out across the state and the heat has not turned so intense that people are seeking the air conditioning for respite. We have talked to sources around the state to determine where some of the best fishing is for the entire family as well as some great nearby attractions to finish up that day trip by keeping everyone happy.
Several of my sources in the Tidewater Region suggested that families take advantage of Swift Creek Lake in Pocahontas State Park, located in Chesterfield County. The winding, creek-like reservoir spans 156 acres and is home to a variety of species of fish. You never know what you might land at the lake.
Scott Herrmann, VDGIF fisheries biologist, noted that there are plenty of panfish, including bluegill, redear, sunfish and black crappie, that will take worm offerings and hoppers or crickets beneath a bobber. The best bank fishing is located between the boat ramp and the boat rental area. Renting a boat and moving away from the areas that are heavily fished would be a great move for a parent and an older youth. Crappie angling is best near the beaver huts, which can be easily found along the banks in the upper portion of the lake. Use a tube grub and jig or minnows. Although most of the crappie are typically 7 to 9 inches, there are some 1.5- to 2-pound specimens for anglers wanting a fish fry.
Older youth or adults have a decent shot at largemouth bass too. Fish the lower end of the lake near the lily pads and use snagless topwater lures such as Mann’s Phat Rat or Hardnose Swim Toad.
In addition to bass and panfish, Herrmann added that there are bullheads, channel cats and chain pickerel available in the lake.
Along The Way
Pocahontas State Park permits tent, RV and pop up trailer camping if families want to make a few days of it. The pool at the park opens up in May and concerts are held in late spring through summer too.
Not far down the road is the Richmond Metro Zoo with over 1,500 animals. Your kids could even feed giraffes by hand! http://www.metrorichmondzoo.com/index.shtml Phone: 804-739-5666 Also, don’t pass up a chance to visit Chesterfield Berry Farm where you can pick your own strawberries in May.
SOUTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
In the western portion of this region is Fairy Stone State Park, about 20 minutes northwest of the town of Martinsville. Within the park is the 168-acre Fairy Stone Lake. Families will find good numbers of bass, bluegill, black crappie and other panfish here.
There is some shoreline access and kids will find panfish willing customers. Try red wigglers, hoppers and other insects for the fastest action. With a great chance at a decent bass measuring 12-19 inches in length, kids and adults can take on the challenge to bring in the “big one” on their trip. Minnows or topwater lures are great choices.
Renting a boat or canoe will allow anglers to spread out and get away from the crowds. Outboard motors are not permitted, a regulation that makes the lake a quiet and peaceful setting. The park offers lodging, camping, a swim area and a beach, hiking, picnic areas and canoe and boat rentals. http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/fairy-stone?rewrite_uri=state_parks/fai#general_information
Along The Way
In nearby Martinsville, head over to the Virginia Museum of Natural History. The kids will love the displays of the Ice Age, Fossils, Skeletons and many more exhibits. Also, Primland Resort is a first class destination where there is something for everyone. Kid’s golf, astronomy, BB rifle range, archery, horseback riding and numerous other activities will keep the entire family happy. This resort is located at 2000 Busted Rock Road, Meadows of Dan, VA 24120, Phone: 866.960.7746
Finally, if traditional music, particularly mountain music, is your thing, head over to Floyd Country Store for some great music and awesome homemade food. It does not get better than this! 206 South Locust Street Floyd, VA 24091 540.745.4563 email@example.com
SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
In this region there are two waters that are well worth the family trip. Lake Witten at 52 acres in Tazewell County is located within Cavitt’s Creek Park. Our go-to source for great fishing information in this region, Steve Owens, has a family and loves to fish. He reports that the lake has great panfishing opportunities and is very family friendly.
There are two boat ramps and plenty of shoreline access. Owens suggests that the parents bait up the kids with crickets or worms or allow them to cast Beetle Spins to entice the panfish and bass. There are also trout in the lake, which means that anglers must have a trout license from October through June 15. In addition to the fishing there is a campground and restrooms.
Another great family destination would be 162-acre Gatewood Reservoir near Pulaski, Virginia. John Copeland also works for VDGIF and has been a very reliable and consistent source of information over the years. Copeland mentioned that bluegill are readily caught by children all ages at this lake and some redear sunfish can be hooked too. Largemouth and smallmouth bass (in lower numbers), crappie and channel catfish are also present. The channel catfish have a minimum 18-inch size and a five-fish-per-day limit. Anglers may also land yellow perch. Creeling the yellow perch is encouraged as they were not intended to be in the Gatewood.
There is plenty of shoreline access, a campground, hiking and picnic tables and boat rentals at a very reasonable rate for families to explore the water and catch a fresh fish supper. http://www.pulaskigatewood.com/
Along The Way
Be sure to take your kids over to Sandy Head Ostrich Farm at 128 Stowers Drive in Tazewell to see emus, ostrich, unusual chickens and geese. They have educational tours for the entire family, and homemade baked and canned goods to sample too. Then stop by Thompson Valley Bee Farm to get a tour, learn about beekeeping or purchase organic honey at 571 Fernwood Drive in Tazewell.
Last, check out the Historic Crab Orchard Museum & Pioneer Park at 3663 Crab Orchard Rd. in Tazewell to see the 500 year old Native American Village. Tours of the park will allow families to see what pioneer life was actually like in the “good old days!”
NORTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
In the northern reaches of our state is the beautiful town of Luray. Jason Hallacher of VDGIF, reminded me that 39-acre Lake Arrowhead in Page County is the perfect family day trip in this region.
The fish are numerous and include largemouth bass, sunfish and crappie. There are also channel catfish, northern pike and yellow perch for older anglers wanting something different than a bobber and worm set up. Try spoons for the pike, minnows on the bottom for the yellow perch and plastic baits for the bass.
Channel catfish will take livers dangled beneath a large float or fished with a split shot on the bottom. Of course the panfish prefer worms or large insects. Small spinners will also encourage hits. Hallacher reports that the most of the bass are 10- to 16-inches long. The sunfish are reportedly fat and healthy too. If your kid is savvy enough to hook a stringer full you might have a fish fry.
There is plenty of bank access, a concrete boat ramp, picnic area and swimming beach. There are five picnic shelters, playgrounds, grills, horseshoe pits, a softball field, and handicapped accessible restrooms. A fishing permit issued by the Town of Luray is also required. Permits can be obtained at the town office (540-743-5511). The use of gasoline boat motors is prohibited. Electric trolling motors are welcome.
Along The Way
Luray is home to the famous Luray Caverns, a gorgeous network of caves that the whole family will enjoy. Therestarting at 9 a.m. year around and a gift shop too. The GPS address is 101 Cave Hill Road Luray, VA 22835. Nearby Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of trails to hike, Ranger Programs for the kids each day and dining and lodging nearby. Don’t forget to drive Skyline Drive and stop at any of the country stores along the way for fresh ice cream or a cold drink! https://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm
NORTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
Many of my childhood summers were spent at Motts Run Reservoir just outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The 160-acre lake has great fishing in May and June, and a family-friendly Kids Fishing Derby takes place on the first weekend in June.
With numerous piers and ample bank access, this is the perfect place to start a fishing expedition in the region. There are plenty of willing channel catfish that will attack stink baits and livers. The panfish thrive around the piers and can be seen in the clear water, which motivates the kids to go after them. Bass lurk nearby and the scrappy 1-2 pounders are common.
Don Minor is the manager of the marina and does an outstanding job with the help of his assistants. If you prefer a quieter and out of the way experience, rent a canoe or boat and troll on around the corner and fish the coves, the upper end or the infamous underwater island near the dam for a chance at shellcrackers or bass. Plastic baits work great on the bass.
There are plenty of hiking trails, portajohns, picnic tables and grills and an outdoor education center for everyone. The marina has bait, basic tackle, vending machines, and some snacks.
Along The Way
There is so much history in Fredericksburg that it would be hard to see even a small portion of it in one day. Some of America’s major Civil War battles were fought here. Take the tour of the sites. Also visit George Washington’s Homeplace at Ferry Farm where he supposedly threw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River. Downtown, visitors will find all sorts of one of a kind shops to visit and places that are supposedly haunted with historical figures. Don’t miss out on Carl’s Ice Cream at 2200 Princess Anne Street. The line goes fast but it is usually busy for a very good reason!
Chincoteague Island on the Eastern Shore is a bit of a drive from the mainland but well worth the trip in late spring and early summer. The little town of Chincoteague has numerous fishing opportunities. One is the Chincoteague Fishing Pier in downtown. The downstream side of the pier has structure which attracts fish. The pier extends nearly to the channel allowing anglers to be within casting range of migrating fish. Lights are on the pier for night fishing too. Crabs can be caught as well as flounder, striped bass, bluefish, sea bass, trout, croaker, spot, and kingfish.
Bring a medium-action rod for the pier fishing or head out to the beaches at Assateague or Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge to surf fish with your big rod while the family plays in the sand. Fishbites, fresh clam, crab or bloodworms are typically used with a bottom rig to catch panfish. Lures can be purchased locally and tips on what to use is free.
Along The Way
If you go all the way to Chincoteague you have to go see the world famous ponies. It is a mystery how these small ponies got on the island but they are there to stay. There is a boat tour http://www.daiseysislandcruises.com/ or you can visit the Assateague National Wildlife Refuge which is where they live. Additionally, there are loads of small shops where visitors can find seafood, handmade decoys, shirts and hats and other memorabilia. The island is small, so touring by a rental bike is easy. Rent a kayak and explore the saltwater marshes. Don’t forget to take sunscreen!