Saltwater, freshwater, big water, small streams: Virginia’s got some top angling for any taste. We’ve picked three of the best for each month of the year.
JANUARY – New River Muskie
If you thought big game season was over you are mistaken. Muskie are considered big game freshwater fish and are commonly caught in the stretch of the New River below Claytor Lake Dam. Joe Williams is a VDGIF fisheries biologist who enjoys musky fishing. He suggests that anglers try working large crankbaits in deeper pools, or pulling glide baits or big rubber baits in the same areas. Fish water at least 5-feet deep.
Because these fish grow quite large and have a lot of leverage, anglers must use a heavy baitcasting rod-and-reel combinations with braided line 12/50 rating or better and heavy steel or fluorocarbon leaders. Williams also suggests long-nose pliers to remove hooks without encountering the teeth on these brutes.
The average fish caught is nearly 40 inches, although there are definitely fish much larger than that in the river. At press time the creel limit is one fish at least 42 inches in length. However, there is a proposal to change that to 48 inches from March through the end of May and then have a slot limit the remainder of the year. Please check the regulations before heading out.
OTHER OPTIONS: Smith Mountain Lake striper anglers will be trolling sassy shads for striper while Chickahominy anglers cast spoons for chain pickerel.
FEBRUARY – Smith River Trout
February can be a tough month to fish. To escape the temperature variations that generally impact other species of fish, anglers might consider visiting the Smith River below Philpott Dam for trout. The river is a constant 45 degrees, perfect trout water, when it exits the dam into the river. Anglers will find that brown trout are the predominant species in the 31 miles of special regulation waters. Browns have a protective slot of 10-24 inches with only one above 24 inches permitted.
Rainbow trout are stocked in two areas for anglers. The first area is from Philpott Dam down to Town Creek. The second is from Bassett downstream a little over 9 miles. All trout must be at least 7 inches to keep and no more than 6 in aggregate may be kept. The stocked areas require a trout permit to fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: On a string of warm days, Occoquan River anglers will entice ring perch with minnows while Potomac River anglers will often find huge blue catfish prowling the ledges looking for gizzard shad.
MARCH – Lake Anna Crappie
Lake Anna is likely the most consistent producer of black crappie in the state. Until mid-March the bite is prespawn just off the shallow flats where they can be jigged with minnows. Once the weather warms some and the grass comes on in the coves, move to water less than 6 feet and toss jigs with curly tails on them.
Chris Craft, an avid bass and crappie angler and guide at Anna, showed me just how it was done. He prefers a John Deere green grub on a jig head. Craft cruises coves looking for schools of fish that have moved in to spawn in the spring. Most of the fish he catches are over 9 inches but many also exceed 12 inches. Craft practices catch and release with the roe laden females that are ready to broadcast eggs.
OTHER OPTIONS: Buggs Island bass anglers are finding fish in the prespawn stages in coves beginning to look for nesting sites. Lake Orange anglers will find big crappie hitting in 6 feet of water on minnows.
APRIL – Sandy River Reservoir Largemouth
Sandy River Reservoir in Southside has had a reputation for quality bass fishing for years now. Anglers will find the bass spawning at the beginning of the month and at post spawn at the end of the month.
Fish the standing timber in either creek arm or find a beaverhut or felled tree to probe with cranks and plastics. Once the weather warms the fish will also be found in the aquatic vegetation, which can be fished with jigs or in shallow water with topwater lures. Fish are commonly caught weighing more than 5 pounds.
OTHER OPTIONS: Large Hickory shad are taking bright colored darts and jigs in the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg. Huge striped bass are inhaling sassy shad rigs trolled in the Chesapeake Bay.
MAY – Pond Bream
May is the month when the bull bream are actively spawning. If you ever wanted to have the need to use a filet knife on a bream, this is the time to do it. Look for bream in any pond across the state to be guarding nests in coves, off shallow points and on flats. Red wigglers are a favorite but crickets, hoppers and grubs work well. Small crankbaits and plastics will also do the job. Make long casts and drag the bait right into the nesting area. Where you find one fish you will find others. The largest bream tend to spawn first and sometimes are found deeper, so fish the fringes of the nesting area in deeper water too.
OTHER OPTIONS: Hunting Run Reservoir largemouth bass will be hitting plastics in the grass. Philpott anglers will be night-fishing for walleye that are feeding on alewives.
JUNE – Virginia Beach Crabs
Much of the state has not seen stellar crabbing in recent years but crabbers on piers in the Virginia Beach area have done quite well in their quest to have a crab feast. Crabbing on the piers is not difficult but crabbers need to understand the currents are strong and swirl near structure. Therefore use enough weight to get crab traps or trotlines down near the bottom for the crabs to latch on to the bait.
Drop trotlines and traps down and check them every five minutes or so. Keep a long handled net nearby to scoop up crabs trying to escape. Remember to check the regulations with regard to sizes that can be kept and licenses that may be required. These are subject to change before press time. Crabs must be kept alive to be safely consumed. Therefore, don’t soak or allow them to be submerged in water. Keep them on ice at the top and even wrapped in wet newspaper. Discard any dead crabs before steaming them.
OTHER OPTIONS: The Back Bay white perch action is very good using fresh shrimp near grassy islands. Rappahannock blue catfish will be hungry and eating anything after their spawn.
JULY – CBBT Spadefish
Spadefish are a highly sought-after fish and commonly found along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel during July. These scrappy fighters congregate in schools near structure and can usually be caught sight casting to them if the water is not too turbid. Go out armed with plenty of fresh clams. Chop some up to use as chum for attractant and keep the rest fresh on ice.
The spades can also be caught deeper near the pilings of bridges in the area. Use a very small hook, a few split shot and cover the hook with clam. Lower as close as you dare to the pilings or structure and hang on. A fluorocarbon leader, Spiderwire or braid is also a good idea. Once the spades are hooked they will head straight for cover and turn sideways, so use at least a medium-action set up.
OTHER OPTIONS: Offshore the tuna and mahi mahi bite is very good for anglers trolling ballyhoo. Wading for flatheads on the James River is a cool way to catch supper.
AUGUST – Big Tumbling Creek Stocked Trout
In the heat of the summer it can be tough to find a place to fish. The prospect of wading in the shade and casting to trout in cool water is definitely a winner, particularly if you are on Big Tumbling Creek located within the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Southwest Virginia near Saltville. There are nearly 7 miles of water with falls and pools to explore. The stream is stocked four times a week through September with rainbow trout (and sometimes brook or brown trout). The fish average 12 inches, although some trophies are available. Fishing is permitted ($8 a day) from 5 a.m. daily through one hour after sunset. Anglers can camp there too!
Steve Owens is a VDGIF fisheries biologist and an avid angler who has caught several citation brook trout from this water. He stated that many anglers use bait such as nightcrawlers or Powerbait but flies are also good. Joe’s Fly or a Rooster Tail are other popular choices.
OTHER OPTIONS: Spot are abundant in the Chesapeake Bay and will readily nibble Fishbites fished on the bottom. Floating the Mattaponi for a mixed bag of fish using small crankbaits is hard to beat this month.
SEPTEMBER – Chesapeake Bay Bluefish
For some reason the best catches of bluefish up to 5 pounds seem to be in September or late August these days. Anglers will find the big schools of blues marauding through schools of menhaden from Point Lookout down to the CBBT. Take a pair of binoculars and stop occasionally and scan the horizon for diving birds, a sure sign a feed is on.
If your passion is trolling, set your lines out and make a wide circle around the feeding frenzy to avoid spooking the fish. Use surgical eels, Clarke or Drone spoons with a good leader. Use of a #1 and #2 planer will help the cooler fill quicker. Once you begin getting fish on a certain rod check the color of lure and the size of planer and switch the others to that combination.
OTHER OPTIONS: The Shenandoah River has some great panfishing this month; successful anglers use live bait in the deep pools. Potomac River tributary headwaters hold nice bass in the grass this month.
OCTOBER – Shenandoah Smallmouth Bass
In October many of us trade the rod for the bow, but the smallmouth bass fishing on the Shenandoah River can be quite good once the water cools down a bit. After the first few cool nights, the fish seem to become more active and easily caught float fishing. A good float would be the 5-mile stretch from Bealers Ferry to High Cliffs in Page county just down from the town of Luray. Access points are on U.S. Forest Service land on the west side of the South Fork of the river. Steve Reeser, fisheries biologist with VDGIF, noted that this past year there were really good numbers of 8-and 9-inch fish and 13- and 14-inch fish. He also stated that there were some fish in the 16- to 18-inch range. Small crankbaits and jerkbaits are the way to go.
OTHER OPTIONS: Chesapeake Bay stripers are now in season in Virginia waters and will become more common in the chum slick. The upper James River smallies will be hammering cranks along ledges.
NOVEMBER – Urban Trout Ponds
VDGIF actively manages and stocks 8 urban trout ponds, primarily in the eastern half of the state. These include Armistead Point Pond in Hampton, Cook Lake in Alexandria, Dorey Park Lake in Henrico, Locust Shad Park Lake in Prince William, Old Cossey Pond in Fredericksburg, Northwest River Park Lake in Chesapeake, Shield’s Lake in Richmond and Ivy Creek Park Pond in Lynchburg.
A trout license is required November through April. Anglers find that using Trout Powerbait, whole red wigglers and small, brightly colored spinners are the best bets. The fish that are stocked are typically eating size, but a few very large specimens caught. There is a 4-fish-per-person limit of trout larger than 7 inches.
OTHER OPTIONS: Upper James River musky will be attacking large jerkbaits. Early in the month, largemouth anglers will entice largemouth upstream of Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock in deep pools.
DECEMBER – Lake Anna Stripers And Hybrids
Lake Anna is a great winter fishing destination for striped bass and, more recently, hybrid striped bass. Hybrids were stocked in 2014 to see how they would do. In two years they grew to 14 inches and biologists expect they will grow quite a bit by the time this issue reaches your mailbox. The average striped bass is approximately 18 inches or 2.5 pounds. Both species must be 20 inches to keep.
John Odenkirk, who manages Anna, noted that there are plenty of legal striped bass out there and he does not think it will be too much longer before a few of the hybrids make the legal cut too. There is a 4-fish limit in aggregate at Anna for these fish.
Many anglers head to the Dike 3 area to fish because of the warm water discharge, but both species fish can be found all over the lake. Use your depth finder to locate bait and schools. Sometimes a heavier jighead is appropriate to get the bait down to the fish. Otherwise, fish Toothache spoons, which are available at Fish Tales on the lake.
OTHER OPTIONS: James River blue catfish will be hogging down gizzard shad this month. Buggs Island Striped bass are also chasing gizzard shad.