Indulge yourself with one or more of these excellent fishing trips this year -- right here in Virginia. (February 2006)
Many if not most of us Virginia anglers like to go on what we sometimes call dream trips -- those special excursions to destinations where the bass are a little longer, the trout a little wilder, the stripers a little heavier, and the muskies a little meaner. My mission is to cover 12 dream destinations, one each from January through December. Some of these junkets are to the mountains of the southwestern part of the state, some in central climes, and others in the Chesapeake Bay. All of them are worth considering when you plan your angling year.
Captain Ferrell McClain of Reedsville raves about the offshore striper fishing available in January.
"Within three miles of the Virginia coastline and the Eastern Shore on the ocean side, there's big-time fishing for big stripers in January," he said. "Fish over 30 pounds are fairly common, and some of the stripers caught in 2005 topped 50 pounds, with one fish going about 63 pounds. These fish spend the summer off the coast of New England, then they migrate down the coast sometime between November and December.
"By January, they've come our way and will stay here until the water temperature drops some more. Then the stripers will move down to the Carolinas. This fishery has been very consistent the past four years."
Capt. McClain relates that the best way to contact these fish is to troll for them. Often the linesides congregate at depths of 30 to 40 feet.
For guided trips, contact Capt. McClain at Bayfish Sport Fishing Charters in Reedsville at (888) BAYFISH or www.bayfish.net.
February can be a surprisingly good time to seek out the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest's wild trout. So says Colby Trow, who along with his brother, Brian, operates Mossy Creek Fly Fishing in Harrisonburg.
"This past February, I had some fantastic days fly-fishing for trout in the national forest," Trow said. "This was especially true on those days when the temperature warmed a little. Instead of camping on one pool and making 30 casts, I like to visit as many spots as possible and make just a few casts to each. At this stage of the winter, my game plan is based on the theory that it's better to move a lot and come across a few active fish, than it is to stand in one spot and cast to inactive fish.
"Surprisingly, dry-fly patterns can be very effective, even though there usually isn't much insect activity on the surface. I recommend attractor patterns, such as size 18 Adams Parachutes and yellow stonefly imitations."
For more information and guided trips, contact Trow at (866) 667-9275 or
Upper New River
Floyd County guide Mike Smith maintains that some of the best walleye fishing in Virginia takes place on the upper New River from late February through March. Specifically, he targets the river between Ivanhoe and Allisonia from his jet boat.
"I locate the fish with my depthfinder in the deeper holes in the river, the 12- to 18-foot range, usually," Smith said. "The walleyes are often suspended on deep rock shelves during the winter months when the water temperatures are less than 45 degrees. I drift across them using deer hair jigs tipped with plastics or minnows. This is meticulous fishing and entails a very light bite that often takes clients a while to get the hang of.
"Once the water temperatures reach the upper 40s, I fish the walleye run. There is a lake run and a river run; the lake-run fish can be caught near Allisonia, while the river-run fish tend to congregate below Foster Falls and below Buck Dam. This is well known by both locals and the state biologists who are often seen shocking fish from these areas for use in the stocking program.
"The DGIF biologists are taking the genetic strain of walleyes indigenous to the New River and artificially spawning them, then reintroducing the fry to the river and lake. The result is that these reintroduced fry have a better survival rate than they would have had. This should only help to improve this already incredible fishery."
Mike Smith's clients have caught marble-eyes up to 13 pounds, 9 ounces. He operates Greasy Creek Outfitters and can be reached at (540) 789-7811, or visit his Web site at
Until 1995, when the last traditional trout opener took place, many Old Dominion trout enthusiasts looked forward to the first day of the trout season, which for many years occurred on the first Saturday in April. The anticipation and thrill of opening day was often something that budding anglers would become caught up in, and even veteran Virginia anglers would plan for days for the event. Parents would take their children on their first trout-fishing trips, and old friends would gather once more at traditional fishing holes on their favorite streams. As the minutes ticked down to legal fishing time (some years it was high noon and others it was 9 a.m.), fishermen would ease into the water with their spinning reel bails open and their arms cocked.
Today, of course, the state offers a year-round trout season, except for the streams that have been designated as Heritage Waters. Those streams are closed to fishing on the Friday before the first Saturday in April, so that they can be restocked. They will reopen at 9 a.m. on April 1 this year.
Among the streams that were Heritage Waters in 2005 were Beartree Lake, Bark Camp Lake, Cripple Creek, Jennings Creek, Lake Witten, Liberty Lake, Lincolnshire Lake, Middle Fork Holston River, Passage Creek, Pedlar River (upper), Pigg River, Rose River and Tinker Creek. For a complete listing of these bodies of water, consult the DGIF's Web site at
www.dgif.virginia.gov. For information on stocking, call (434) 525-FISH.
The spring yellow perch fishery on Lake Moomaw is the one that nobody talks about but that everybody has heard of. If that statement is contradictory, let me explain. Yellow perch, a close relative of the walleye, are renowned for their tasty fillets. According to state figures, large numbers of citations are coming from this northwest Virginia impoundment, yet few anglers are talking about their success.
A testament to the quality of this fishery is that the current state record, a 2-pound, 7-ounce brute, came from Moomaw in 1999. Perch measuring 12 inches or weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces qualify as citations. Interestingly, Moomaw is one of the few places west of the Blue Ridge where yellow perch fin. This fish is usually associated with tidal rivers, such as the Rappahannock and Chickahominy, and tidewater lakes, such as Prince and Western Branch.
Captain Ferrell McClain proclaims croaker as the perfect species for Chesapeake Bay anglers who want to catch a mess of fish for the pan.
"Come June, the croaker fishing in the bay can't be beaten," the Reedsville guide said. "There are a lot of them around then in the 1- to 3-pound range with a 3-pounder being a citation. There is no limit on these fish, but I tell people that they are limited by the number of fish that they want to clean.
"What's more, croakers are very hard fighters for their size. I call them 'saltwater smallmouths.' If you want a real battle, go after them with a spinning rod and 10-pound-test. Look for the fish to be feeding on the bottom for shrimp and little mussels. Rarely do I find them very far off the bottom."
McClain said that not only are the fish abundant, but also they are widespread. This fish is found from the Maryland line to the Chesapeake Bay bridge tunnel.
Richmond's Roger Jones, who operates Hook, Line, and Sinker Guide Service, has a ready answer when asked where his favorite bassing destination is during the dog days.
"No question, the Chickahominy River," Jones said. "On high tide when the bass move into the hydrilla and lily pads, the fishing can be just outstanding. Another good thing is that the Chick's bass are often active all day -- even during the middle of the day. With the tides always moving, the water is well-aerated. There's just no comparison between the activity levels of bass on a tidal river with the activity levels of bass on one of our lakes.
"When the tide goes out, the bass remain active, but anglers will have to move away from the vegetation to find the fish. That's because the bass typically move out to the first dropoffs on the main channel. Even then, the fish will still be in water just 3 to 5 feet deep, much shallower than you would find them on a lake. I like to run crankbaits like Bandit's 200 series across those drops. A good color is anything in a shad pattern or in firetiger."
Other good places to find the Chick's tidal bass are docks, laydowns, duck blinds and cypress tree knees. Jones said that the bass average between 1 1/2 and 2 pounds, with fish up to 6 to 7 pounds possible. But the real attraction of a trip to the Chickahominy is the large number of those keeper-sized bucketmouths. For guided trips, contact Jones at (800) 597-1708, or visit his Web site at
Trout fishing in August? DGIF fisheries biologist Joe Williams maintains that the Crooked Creek Fee Fishing Area in Carroll County is a dandy midsummer destination.
"In the summer, there are just as many trout to be caught at Crooked Creek as there are in the spring," Williams said. "In fact, the summer months are a good time to go as there is less fishing pressure and the stream continues to be stocked. In addition, the stream receives some fish that are bigger than the normal put-and-take trout. Crooked Creek also receives some big breeder trout.
"Another appealing thing about Crooked Creek is the scenery. Rolling hills, fields and pastures, woods and rhododendron along the shoreline -- the stream is just gorgeous."
Crooked Creek is not a typical western Virginia stream, as it is a valley creek with a low gradient. Five miles of stream are stocked, and two additional miles are managed as a wild trout fishery. A two-mile-long hiking trail also exists for the benefit of anglers. (Note: Fishing must cease at 7 p.m., so that the stream can be restocked for the next day.) No camping facilities are available at the fee fishing area, but private facilities are available nearby. The fee fishing program operates from the first Saturday in April through September at Crooked Creek.
If you are looking for some very lightly pressured panfish for the autumn period, three lakes in northern Virginia may be worth checking out, said Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) biologist Steve Owens.
"Fall crappie fishing is almost non-existent in Region V," Owens said. "By that time of year, most folks have switched gears and are hunting. If I had to pick a few areas to crappie fish, I'd hit Lake Orange, Lake Curtis and Lake Anna. Orange is currently managed with a 9-inch minimum size limit for crappie. A research project showed that crappie at Lake Orange had very fast growth rates, that is, 9 inches by age 3. But exploitation by anglers was high enough to suppress the true trophy potential of the lake.
"Sampling in the spring of 2005 found large numbers of crappie in the 9- to 11-inch range, and the size limit appears to be working. Lakes Anna and Curtis are also good destinations for crappie in the 10-inch and up category. The latter two lakes are managed under general statewide crappie regulations, that is, no size limit."
At 9,600 acres, Anna, of course, is by far the largest of the bodies of water and also boasts a state park as well as several marinas. Even with its larger size and national acclaim, Anna's crappie receive very little fishing pressure, as most of the anglers visiting the impoundment are after bass.
"The best fishing for muskies on the New starts when the river begins to cool," said DGIF biologist John Copeland. "In fact, the colder the water becomes, the more some of the most dedicated muskie anglers go after this fish.
"The New River is the primary trophy muskie fishery in Virginia," Copeland continued. "Since 1990, 45 percent of the trophy muskies entered in the department's angler recognition program were caught in the New River. The state-record muskie, a 45-pound giant, was a New River fish."
Copeland stated that the heart of the muskie action takes place between Peppers Ferry Bridge and McCoy Falls. Fish are stocked from below Claytor Lake Dam to the West Virginia line. Interestingly, the most recent survey showed that only 1 to 2 percent of the New's anglers targeted this member of the pike family.
DGIF biologist Vic DiCenzo said that three lakes in this region can be particularly productive for crappie: Kerr, Briery Creek and Sandy River. The biologist said that at Kerr, the specks average 12 inches (with a range of 8 to 14 inches); at Briery, th
ey average 10 inches (with a range of 8 to 14 inches); and at Sandy, the papermouths average 8 inches (with a range of 6 to 11 inches).
"Fall is a great time to take advantage of the reduced fishing pressure and fish for crappie," DiCenzo said. "Oftentimes anglers have great success during fall turnover as water temperatures cool."
DiCenzo suggested that anglers use sonar to locate submerged brushpiles on Kerr and Sandy rivers and to employ maps to locate points and old ponds on Briery Creek. In November, fishing pressure such as it is at Briery Creek will be relegated to largemouth bass, as that species is the major draw at the Farmville-area impoundment. Largemouth bass receive much of the angler pressure at 48,900-acre Buggs Island and Sandy River as well, so fans of crappie should have plenty of brushpiles to themselves.
South Holston Reservoir
Located in Washington County in far Western Virginia, 7,580-acre South Holston Reservoir is by far the largest impoundment in that part of the state. DGIF biologist Tom Hampton maintains that the wintertime period brings some of the best smallmouth action of the year.
"South Holston Reservoir continues to offer excellent fishing for smallmouth bass," Hampton said. "Winter patterns produce fish in the 6-pound range each season. South Holston is the destination in southwest Virginia for trophy smallmouths."
Most of South Holston lies in Tennessee, and that state and the Old Dominion do not have a reciprocal license agreement. To be safe, Virginia anglers should strongly consider purchasing a Tennessee fishing license. For more information on how to do so, consult the Web site for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency at
www.tnwildlife.org. In the Volunteer State, the creel limit for black bass is five per day, and no minimum length limit exists on the Tennessee side of the reservoir.