Hot water and even hotter air temperatures can bedevil even the most talented Old Dominion anglers during the dog days. Try these alternative bass fishing destinations to beat the slow bite this summer.
Lou Giusto of Woodstock holds up a 20-inch-plus summertime smallmouth taken on the New River on the Fries float. The smallie came from the Double Shoals section. Photo by Bruce Ingram
By Bruce Ingram
I have paddled through overly warm water on Virginia's rivers, and I have motored through superheated water on the state's lakes. And neither practice is much fun or very productive in terms of catching bass, whether you're after smallmouths in the streams or largemouths in the lakes. If you're interested in trying some different - and perhaps more productive - places this August, then read on.
WHITEWATER FLOATS ON THE NEW AND JAMES
Of all Virginia's rivers, the New holds more Class II-plus rapids and more whitewater-filled trips than any other waterway. For example, several years ago, Lou Giusto of Woodstock and I chose one of those floats, Fries to Byllesby Reservoir, as a destination for our midsummer getaway in order to escape the crowds.
This 7-mile trip includes the longest single rapid in the Old Dominion, the Class II-III Double Shoals Rapid, which extends for well over a mile. A breakdown of the Fries float shows why it can be so productive.
The put-in is on river left below the dam in the community of Fries. The actual access point is a concrete ramp at Riverside Park, which is off Route 94. Only riffles characterize the first half-mile of the trip, but good-sized smallies inhabit this section. The river meanders along for another 1 1/2 miles or so until you arrive at the Route 606 Bridge. After another half-mile of slow water, the pace of the New gradually accelerates.
First you will come to a Class I ledge; then follows a rock garden, another Class I ledge, and finally, Double Shoals. I must strongly emphasize here that novice and intermediate canoeists should not attempt Double Shoals. This whitewater section is only for expert paddlers, kayakers, and rafters. Giusto and I were in his raft, so we experienced no difficulty. But venture into Double Shoals with a beginning paddler, and the odds of the two of you overturning increase significantly.
Soon after entering Double Shoals, you will encounter some Class II drops, which can evolve into Class IIIs in high water. Rapids, drops, swirling eddies, and current of some kind extend almost from bank to bank, and the smallmouth hiding areas are numerous. Also numerous are the places where you can beach a boat and wade-fish. Lou and I caught several quality smallies from the top of Double Shoals, including multiple fish in the 15- to 18-inch range.
A little over halfway through Double Shoals, you will spot a river right island and bluff. Next come more Class II rapids, several of which exhibit dangerous hydraulics below. This section features just as many quality bass lairs, and Lou and I landed one smallie here that topped 20 inches.
Double Shoals eventually ends, and Class I rapids and riffles then ensue for a short distance. And when that swift water ends, so does the quality bassing. You will then have a 45-minute long paddle through the backwaters of Byllesby Dam to reach the river right take-out, which lies off Route 739 in Carroll County.
Another lightly fished whitewater excursion on the New is Foster Falls to Allisonia (13 1/2 miles). The put-in is directly below the Class III-IV Fosters Falls on river right at the New River Trail State Park off Route 608. Obviously, I recommend that you put-in below Fosters Falls instead of at the access point above it.
The whitewater begins not far below the put-in. You will have to negotiate a Class I-II rapid as you course down the right side of Baker Island.
If Double Shoals is the longest rapid in the Commonwealth, then the next rapid you encounter on the Fosters Falls float must rate as the most unusual in the state. The Class II Bertha Shoals, which lies below Baker Island, features a ledge that runs down from a river left bluff and continues across the river as the rock structure angles downstream.
This unusual ledge creates a current flow that varies tremendously from one side of the ledge to the other. Sometimes on the right side of the ledge, the current even reverses and heads back upstream. Be very careful that your boat does not become caught in these crosscurrents.
After you leave Bertha Shoals, all you will have to deal with are 6 miles or so of Class II to III rapids before you arrive at more tranquil water - a major reason why only advanced paddlers should attempt this float. Below Bertha come, in order, a Class I-II, another Class II, a 100-yard-long Class II, and a Class II-III. The last of these rapids is particularly challenging, as no clear pathway exists. All of these rapids are upstream from the Route 100 Bridge.
Below the Route 100 Bridge only Class I rapids and riffles dot the New, and the river especially slows about a mile past where Swan Branch enters on river left. The take-out is a river right concrete ramp off Route 693 at Allisonia.
The James changes from a Piedmont to a Tidewater river at the fall line at Richmond, and because of that change, some 7 miles of whitewater exist within the city. Once again, only expert paddlers should take this junket, and I strongly recommend that all float-fishermen wear a lifejacket.
Some anglers access the James at Huguenot Bridge (Route 147), while others put in downstream off Riverside Drive at the Ponypasture landing. The Class II Ponypasture Rapid lies below, then come some Class IIIs and a Class II rock garden. Below Belle Island exists more intense whitewater. First comes a Class III rapid, next several more Class IIIs, and then the notorious Class IV Hollywood Rapid. More Class IIIs and IIs lie below. The take-out is on river right at a bateau ramp, Ancarrow's Landing.
Dale Huggins, who operates Short Pump Outfitters in Richmond, says that the 7-mile section is known locally as the "city stretch" because of its flow through an urban area. Huggins offers guided wade-fishing trips on this section and knows of no guides that offer float-fishing trips. For guided trips and good fly patterns for the Richmond James, contact Huggins at 804-751-4562, www.shortpumpoutfitters.com. Finally, should you take any of these floats this summer, please strongly consider portaging the major rapids.
TIDAL BASSING ON THE CHICKAHOMINY
Roger Jones, who operates Hook, Line and Sinker guide service in Richmond, maintains that August is a grand time to journey to the tidal Ch
ickahominy for largemouth bass.
"Great August fishing exists on the Chick," said Jones. "The river's tidal flow is what makes that fishing so nice because the changing of the tides puts oxygen into the water. Summertime bass on Virginia's lakes go deep, but on tidal rivers like the Chick, the fish are just as shallow and aggressive as they are in the spring.
Summer fishing in 2003 was the best it has been in several years, according to the guide. He believes this was true because the drought from 2001 and 2002 made the river too salty and the fish harder to pattern. Because of the two drought years, fishing pressure decreased in the river, and as a result, he and his clients caught larger bass than usual last year.
For example, the Chick is known for its large numbers of 12- to 16-inch bass. Last year, those fish were still in the river, but Jones found a good many more 2 1/2- to 3-pounders as well.
Jones also believes that the continuing growth of hydrilla fields on the waterway has both improved the fishing and changed the holding patterns of the fish. In the past, the guide explains, perhaps the most common pattern was for anglers to work the first dropoff out from lily pads during the low tide period. But now with hydrilla so omnipresent, the bass tend to remain somewhere in the grass even when the tide is out. The individuals who have remained faithful to their old dropoff patterns, continues the Richmonder, are not experiencing the success of those who are aggressively exploiting the newly formed grass patterns.
Another example of how the river's summertime fishery has changed, relates Jones, is that the hydrilla explosion has made the high tide period quite productive. The guide says he likes to employ several patterns then. First, he will fan-cast a buzzbait across the grass expanses and hope that somewhere along the bait's path, a bucketmouth will explode from beneath the canopy.
A second method is to retrieve floating worms across the grass and then when an opening in the vegetation appears, allow the crawler to descend into it. The third option is to flip or pitch a jig-and-pig or a Texas-rigged soft plastic concoction into the openings in the grass. Another possibility, says Jones, is to run a 1/4-ounce spinnerbait or a crankbait parallel to the weed edges.
Lily pads used to be the predominant vegetation on the tidal Chick, and this vegetation still draws bass. Jones uses the same artificials for the pads as he does for the grass, but he also likes to flip and pitch plastic frogs to the tops of the pads or adjacent openings. Interestingly, the guide maintains that fake frog fishing is probably more popular on the Chickahominy than on any other bass fishery in the state.
Although the dropoff out from the grass gambit is not as strong a pattern as it used to be, Jones emphasizes that it still should be checked out every time an angler visits the river during the dog days. The guide likes to work crankbaits across the dropoffs and uses plastic baits and jig and pigs as well.
A final pattern involves the many cypress trees that dot the shallow water environs. Casting soft plastic baits to the knees of these trees has traditionally been a fruitful summertime game plan.
Jones suggests that summer anglers concentrate their efforts on the 15- to 20-mile stretch of the river from below Walkers Dam to the Chickahominy Haven area. Both the main river and tributaries such as Shipyard and Black Stump creeks can be productive.
The veteran guide also has an opinion about when to fish this river.
"For summertime fishing, the time of day on the Chickahominy doesn't really make a difference," he said. "Maybe the morning and evening hours offer a little better fishing, but the middle of the day bite can be awfully strong as well. I also don't think running with the tides so that you can always be working low tide is such a good thing anymore. The high tide period can be just a productive; the only non-productive period is when slack tide is taking place, and that only lasts 5-to-15 minutes or so."
For guided trips with Jones, contact him at 804-276-1924 or 800-597-1708.
NIGHTTIME ACTION ON ANNA
Located between two major metropolitan areas (Richmond and Washington D.C.), Lake Anna receives intense fishing and boating pressure during summertime days. However, guide Teddy Carr, who fishes the lake year round, says the fishing pressure is only marginally less at night.
"There is a whole other fishing crowd at night; you wouldn't believe how crowded the lake is then," said Carr. "I totally fish the North Anna and Pamunkey branches during the summer. I almost never go below the splits (that is, where the two arms converge). The big difference between night-fishing and day-fishing on Anna is lure choice. At night, bass use their sense of hearing or their lateral line to home in on their targets more so than their sense of sight."
Carr notes that bass see in black and white at night and believes that to appeal to their sense of sight you should use dark colored lures like black spinnerbaits with big Colorado blades. These lures create a lot of vibration. Use big, wide wobbling cranks that have at least a black or blue back.
When he fishes soft plastic, he does it on a Carolina rig, and he prefers creature baits - baits with big ribs along their sides and "a lot of arms and tails sprouting out in every direction." All these appendages displace water as you retrieve the bait, helping the bass move in on the bait's location.
As for locations, Carr fishes at night in the same places that he does during the day.
The only difference is that the bass, when active, position themselves a little shallower at night, especially on full moon nights.
In fact, given a choice, Carr says that he would take Anna on a night with a full moon over a day trip.
His favorite locales are lake points at the mouth of large tributaries, major main lake coves, and main lake ridges near the river channel. A lot of these ridges have submerged rock piles that are next to the channel. The tops of these ridges can be littered with stumps or chunk rock. Ridges give the bass the choice of moving from deep to shallow by only moving a few yards.
"I almost always prefer to crank these areas or drag Carolina rigs over them," says Carr. "When using a big crankbait, having the right rod is critical. I like a 7-foot medium action."
Among the "good areas" he recommends on the Pamunkey arm are the mouth of Ware Creek, Terry's Run, Day's Roadbed, Henry's point, and the Hunters Landing area.
"As for the North Anna branch, I like the main-lake points and ridges in the Christopher Run area," he said. "I also like the old Rose Valley Cemetery section. If shallow water fishing is to your liking, then you can go into the backs of major tributaries that have a
substantial current flow coming into the lake; if there is no current flow, then you're wasting your time. The best area for this type of fishing would be in the North Anna River itself.
He does have a word of caution for nighttime anglers, however: anytime you attempt to go into the backs of these types of tributaries you will encounter "boat eaters" like large boulders, stumps, and flats.
But one of the reasons the risks are worth the trip is that the rivers have flow to them and, he says, they are cooler by usually seven degrees than the main lake. These areas are small on Lake Anna and receive a lot of fishing pressure. Once he finds a spot with the right cover and temperature, he will throw a spinnerbait, topwater chugger, or a buzzbait. The riverine sections contain a variety of types of cover, such as grass, stumps, rocks, and laydowns."
For guided trips with Teddy Carr, contact him at 540-854-4271; e-mail: email@example.com.
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The creative dog-days angler is often the one who is able to enjoy the best action for smallmouths and largemouths. Consider the destinations detailed here for your bassing itinerary.
(Editor's Note: Bruce Ingram is the author of the following books (cost is in parentheses): The James River Guide ($15.00), The New River Guide ($15.00) and The Shenandoah/Rappahannock Rivers Guide ($18.00). To obtain a copy, send a check to Ingram at P.O. Box 429, Fincastle, VA 24090.)
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