Right now spawning bass are roaming this remote river in Southeast Virginia. If you like fishing cover for largemouths, check out the bassin' before it's too late!
Professional angler Curt Lytle lips a typical Nottoway keeper. This fish came from an oxbow on the river. Photo by Marc N. McGlade
By Marc N. McGlade
Flowing out of the beautiful landscape of southeastern Virginia, the Nottoway River twists and turns its way through cypress swamps and cotton, soybean and peanut fields. A remote and overlooked bass fishery, the majestic Nottoway meanders in a southeasterly track toward the North Carolina border where it joins the Blackwater River. At this confluence, the Chowan River begins. The Nottoway River houses many areas harboring fat largemouth bass - just waiting for anglers to visit.
Native Americans found this area an ideal place, furnishing them with all the natural resources needed - including fish. And 400 years later, the river still turns out good fishing. The Nottoway River is an excellent fishing destination for largemouth bass. The sheer number of bass is impressive, but so, too, is the distinct possibility of hoodwinking a fat pig.
Most die-hard anglers living in the southeastern part of the state venture to the Suffolk lakes, the James River, Lake Gaston or Buggs Island when looking for quality largemouths in the region. That's just fine and dandy for locals who know about the Nottoway's potential. The other places, of course, are fine places to fish, but this river is overshadowed - continually and sometimes unfairly - by other more popular bassin' destinations.
During May, Nottoway's bass are in all modes of the spawn: pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn. Anglers can enjoy excellent weather and outstanding fishing here during the late spring.
GOOD NUMBERS AND FAT ONES, TOO
Chip Long, a fisheries biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), has done some work on the Nottoway River. Most of it over the past two years has dealt primarily with anadromous fishes such as striped bass, American and hickory shad, alewives and blueback herring.
"However, this year (2003), I began looking at populations of Roanoke bass, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass," he said. "The Nottoway River boasts one of the best riverine populations of largemouth bass in southeast Virginia."
To quantify that statement, Long said 37 citations (8 pounds or 22 inches in length) have been registered in the past five years alone. As for numbers, Long's electrofishing studies during 2003 recorded 17 fish per hour.
Nottoway largemouths get plentiful and big by choking down crawdads and other fish species, Long said. "If 37 citations have been reported in the past five years, I'm sure the top-end weight for largemouths would be in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 pounds," he said. "I'd say the outlook from our perspective of the Nottoway River's future is good."
EXPERT TACTICS ON THE NOTTOWAY
Two locals know the many intricacies of this fertile river very well. Bobby Kinsey and Curt Lytle, both from Suffolk, have been chunking and winding their baits here for years.
Kinsey, 34, said, "The whole river can be good, but some of the local favorites such as Round Gut, Simmons Gut and the Bronco Club can be better at certain times."
There's plenty of cover to choose here, mostly lily pads and cypress trees. Kinsey says choosing one over the other is simply a matter of availability.
"When the pads are up, the fish definitely seem to prefer them to wood. Once the pads are gone in the fall, winter and early spring, the fish have no choice but to be on wood cover," he said.
With all the cover this river has to offer, it would appear to be a boating hazard - but that isn't necessarily the case.
"The river is easily navigated at least up to what is called 'the narrows,'" Kinsey said. "The river is plenty deep to drive larger boats in. A first-timer on the river would be fine by just staying in the middle. Shallow areas are usually covered in newly emerging lily pads by May, so they are evident."
Lytle, 35, has been a professional bass angler for seven years and still guides clients to this quality fishery. The Suffolk-area angler caught his biggest largemouth about 10 miles downstream of the confluence of the Nottoway and Blackwater rivers.
Lytle said: "Be mindful of any trees that may have washed in from flooding or from Hurricane Isabel; otherwise, it's pretty easy to navigate."
Kinsey added, "Small aluminum boats are more practical for the shallow parts of the river toward Courtland, but larger boats are fine everywhere else."
This river has wind-driven tides, not true lunar tides. Current is usually slow during May, since very few cold fronts with strong north winds pass through that time of year.
"You can find stronger current if you run way up toward Courtland where the river is more shallow and narrow," Kinsey said.
Additionally, the water clarity is usually slightly stained to somewhat clear by May, said Kinsey, depending on rainfall amounts. Water clarity always dictates how anglers should fish a body of water, and these two experts have their tried-and-true methods for Nottoway bass.
Lytle looks for spawning fish during May.
"Fish here can be in pre-spawn, spawn or post-spawn during the month," he said. "Usually by mid-May, the height of the spawn takes place, but every year is different. With that in mind," he added, "I target the mouths of creeks or bays. Any of the oxbows off the river are excellent, too. These are the most stable places to catch bass.
"If you can find a sandy bank, it's ideal," Lytle explained. "In more cases than not, you're going to find a mucky bottom and the bass will spawn on the cypress knees."
Kinsey agreed that during May the fish are into the spawn full swing. Fishing pressure will certainly dictate the amount of success you have on the Nottoway, he said.
"On quiet weekdays with most of the river to yourself, you can expect 15 to 20 fish with quite a few 2-pounders," he said. "There is always the possibility of a fish in the 5- to 8-pound range in that river."
Kinsey said the water temperature is generally in the 60s by early May. "Floating worms in the newly em
erging pad fields is hard to beat," he said. "Spinnerbaits and topwaters will take their share of fish, too. Standby soft plastics like lizards and creature baits will always catch fish down there."
Lytle likes to throw small plastics, too, preferably a black-and-blue, 4-inch creature bait or a Texas-rigged lizard with a 1/8-ounce weight and 3/0 hook. You will trigger bites from spawners, and possibly some pre-spawners, he said.
Because visibility on this river is very limited, you won't be able to employ sight-fishing.
"The visibility on the Nottoway is only 6 to 12 inches under normal conditions," he said.
Lytle fishes the entire month in water 4 feet or less. Although his bread-and-butter bait is the plastic creature bait or lizard, he'll also use small crankbaits or small spinnerbaits.
"These are good choices for newcomers to this river, since they might not be familiar with the areas," Lytle said.
"As the month progresses, more fish will be post-spawn and when they really start eating again will attack topwaters," he added. "They can be found in the same spots as during the spawn: oxbows, mouths of creeks and mouths of bays. Once the spawn is over, buzzbaits, white or bubblegum floating worms and large topwaters are good choices."
Kinsey fishes shallow, too. He targets the 1- to 5-foot depth range, but toward the end of May, post-spawn topwater action can be incredible when the weather gets right, he said.
"Back in early June 2001, in a Region 7 tournament, my team partner and I ran to the Nottoway from the Chowan River and caught 10 fish that weighed a little over 38 1/2 pounds," Kinsey said. "All of the catching took place in about three hours and the bag included an 8-pounder! We caught a lot of the fish on topwaters in the pads."
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For fisheries' information regarding Nottoway River largemouths, contact the VDGIF in Chesapeake at (757) 465-6812, or visit their Web site at www.dgif.state.va.us.
The main public boat ramp is on Route 258, just south of Franklin. It's a double-wide concrete ramp with a dock. A large parking lot can accommodate upward of 50 trucks and trailers.
Contact Curt Lytle by e-mail at email@example.com or visit his Web site at www.curtlytle.com. To reach Bobby Kinsey, call (757) 465-1408 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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