Fishing for some ideas on good places to fish in Virginia 12 months out of the year. (February 2008).
In the classic 1941 movie The Maltese Falcon, the Humphrey Bogart character Sam Spade, when asked about the statue of the infamous raptor, proclaims it "the, uh, stuff that dreams are made of."
I like to think of this annual story on fishing destinations as providing Virginians with the stuff that angling dreams are made of. Few if any of us will be able to take all of the 12 major trips profiled in this article, let alone the 24 additional ones listed. But we can all fantasize about the angling adventures presented, and, maybe, enjoy many of them this year and more in the years to come.
Pursuing catfish during the summer months is a traditional Virginian and Southern pastime, yet Roger Jones, who operates Hook, Line, and Sinker Guide Service, points out that the wintertime action has been outstanding on the lower James in recent years.
"January is a fine month to go after blue cats, but really the entire cold weather period from November through March has been good," he said. "The blues range from between 5 and 60 pounds, and it's no surprise for my clients and me to catch fish between 30 and 40 pounds. The fishery for big blues just keeps getting better and better."
Jones related that wintertime blue catfish infrequently move shallow, staying away from flats and shallow tributaries of the tidal river. Where these fish do congregate are at the edges of main channel dropoffs and where flats adjoin the channel. However, structure situations such as these are considerably sweetened if wood cover exists. The guide looks for cover on structure situations, such as where logs, sunken barges and debris from duck blinds exist. Rockpiles can similarly make fair structure excellent.
For guided trips, contact Jones at (800) 597-1708 or online at www.hooklineandsinkerguides.com
Upper New River
One of the most exciting fisheries to emerge in the past decade has been that of the walleye on the lower New River below Claytor Lake. Mike Smith, who operates Greasy Creek Outfitters in Willis, said that solid numbers of fish in the 5- to 10-pound range haunt the waterway.
"Look for the walleyes to be on gravel bars, points, and ledges," Smith said. "If the water has some stain to it from winter runoff or if the day is overcast, the fishing can be especially good. Generally, the fish will hold deep, at least 8 feet and sometimes as much as 20. At night, these same types of areas will hold fish -- they just move shallower."
Interestingly, Smith noted that as a byproduct of angling for these trophy walleyes, he and his clients also catch some jumbo smallmouths. March can be just as good a month as February, the guide continued, so there is really a two-month period where the chance at a trophy marble-eye is excellent. The focal point for the fishery is the section from below Buck Dam to Claytor Lake.
For guided trips with Mike Smith, contact him at Greasy Creek Outfitters, (540) 789-7811 or online at www.greasycreekoutfitters.com
Smith Mountain Lake
Smith Mountain is primarily known as a striper lake, but don't forget to consider the crappie that swim there, said Dan Wilson, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) biologist for the 20,000-acre impoundment.
"Black crappie are the primary crappie species," Wilson said. "We do see an occasional white crappie, but very infrequently. About the only area we see white crappie is in the upper Blackwater arm around Buoy 50."
Wilson related that although the lake produces many quality-sized crappie, anglers should not expect to consistently catch large numbers of these fish. The crappie population is smaller than at some other Virginia reservoirs, but the quality of these fish is very good.
Wilson said that the March through May period is a prime time to visit the lake and that the upper ends of the reservoir should be the best place for anglers to set up shop, especially near fallen trees or brushpiles. Many boat docks dot the impoundment and these, too, draw papermouths.
For more information, contact the Smith Mountain Lake Visitors Center at (800) 676-8203 or online at www.visitsmithmountains.com
Certainly, one of the most exciting fisheries in the Commonwealth is the tailrace below Lake Moomaw's Gathright Dam. Pete Tackett of Blue Ridge Fly Fishers in Roanoke raves about this tributary of the upper James.
"The lower Jackson is absolutely one of the best tailrace fisheries in the region," Tackett said. "The Jackson is also one of the few streams anywhere in the country where stocked trout have produced viable populations of wild trout. This is especially a rarity in Virginia.
"The river has both rainbows and browns, but the browns are the ones that grow so large. Fish in the 20-inch range are a real possibility. I think one of the reasons why the fishing is so good is that the water temperature remains in the 50s all the way from when it comes out of Gathright down to the MeadWestvaco mill in Covington."
Tackett cautions anglers not to debark from their boats and wade-fish. Much of the lower river is under King's Grants land regulations, meaning that landowners also posses the river bottom. Popular access points include Johnson Springs, Indian Draft and Petticoat Junction.
For more information, the best patterns and guided trips, contact Blue Ridge Fly Fishers at (540) 563-1617 or at www.blueridgegeflytfishers.com
Lower New River
For trophy muskies, the premier place to go now in the entire state is the lower New River below Claytor Lake Dam. VDGIF fisheries biologist Joe Williams told me that the two float trips that attract the majority of the muski
e anglers are Peppers Ferry to Whitethorne and Whitethorne to Big Falls.
However, many if not most muskie enthusiasts (and they total only about 1 to 2 percent of the anglers who ply the lower river) concentrate upstream and down from the Whitethorne ramp. This area features islands, logjams, deep pools and goodly amounts of vegetation, such as water willow beds and patches of elodea and curly leaf pondweed -- in other words, ideal muskie habitat.
Beginning in May, the good news is that the fish often hold in shallow depths -- for them, that is -- under 10 feet. The bad news is that the lower New's muskies remain the proverbial fish of a thousand casts. Another tidbit of bad news is that this section receives heavy recreational boat traffic.
Still, a not inconsequential snippet of good news is that muskies in the 50-inch range lurk in this section.
For guided trips, contact Britt Stoudenmire at Canoe the New Outfitters and Guide Service at (540) 921-7438 or at www.icanoethenew.com
One of the most delightful ways for families to spend a summer vacation is a stopover at a Virginia state park. For angling families, they can enjoy a dazzling array of angling opportunities. For example, Douthat State Park and its namesake lake offer trout fishing in the impoundment's depths and largemouths, bluegills and chain pickerel along the shoreline.
At Hungry Mother State Park, families can seek out largemouths and bluegills at the lake there, and the same holds true at Pocahontas, Holliday Lake, Bear Creek and Twin Lakes state parks. What's more, these bodies of water are small ones, and folks can catch plenty of fish from the shorelines.
If your family owns a boat and prefers larger impoundments, state parks exist along the shorelines of such major lakes as Claytor, Lake Anna, Smith Mountain and Fairystone. The latter especially is an intriguing destination because angling opportunities at its namesake lake and Philpott are both a possibility.
For more information, call (800) 933-PARK, or go online to www.dcr.virginia.gov
What's a Roanoke bass you may ask? Ironically, it's not a bass at all but a close relative of the rock bass and truly the largest sunfish in Virginia. Living only in Virginia and North Carolina and in our state only in the Roanoke River drainage, this sunfish occasionally tops 2 pounds and has been known to reach 4 pounds. Imagine the strike of a rock bass (which is known for its vicious hits but lackluster fights) and the pulling ability of a bluegill (but multiply that fourfold because of the Roanoke's size potential) and you'll have a fair idea of what it's like to battle this fish on light tackle.
The Nottoway flows through south central and southeastern Virginia, with its waters eventually entering the Tar Heel State. A number of access points exist for the waterway, and the VDGIF lists three possible excursions: Cutbank Bridge to Double Bridge (11.5 miles), Double Bridge to Route 630 bridge (five miles), and Peter's Bridge to Carey's Bridge (nine miles).
Please note that the VDGIF lists the Roanoke bass,
Although they thrive in the Nottoway, as a species of special concern because of its now limited range, so consider catch-and-release. This species has disappeared from much of the Roanoke River drainage because of siltation and competition with the rock bass. For more information, consult the VDGIF Web site at <a href="http://www.dgif.virginia.gov
Guide Ferrell McClain can't wait for the Spanish mackerel action to peak every year in August.
"Spanish mackerel are really attracted to warm water and high salinity," McClain said. "Mackerel start showing up in July, but in August they come flooding into the Chesapeake Bay. They stay here until around Labor Day and then when the water starts to cool, begin to move out, heading south.
"Mackerel really seem to be attracted to areas where there are rip currents. Places like Smith Point Bar, Windmill Point Bar and some spots west of Tangier Island really can attract the mackerel."
The guide related that these dog days mackerel tend to run between 16 and 26 inches and often can be found in schools with bluefish of the same size -- both species forage on glass minnows among other baitfish. McClain said that trolling is the best way to catch the mackerel.
"Mackerel are good fighters and people like them for that fact, but they are also great to eat," enthused McClain.
For guided trips, contact McClain at Bayfish Sport Fishing Charters, (888) BAY-FISH or www.bayfish.net
Big Tumbling Creek
Big Tumbling Creek, which lies within the Clinch Mountain WMA, is well known as one of the Old Dominion's three fee-fishing areas for trout. This makes the stream a very popular destination during the spring and summer periods.
What many anglers fail to consider, however, is that Big Tumbling continues to receive daily (except Sunday) infusions of trout through September and that water levels remain stable because of releases from Laurel Big Lake. Also of note is that Big Tumbling and two of its tributaries, Briar Cove Creek and Laurel Bed Creek, consist in total of some seven miles of trout water, which means that on many outings anglers will have long stretches of the watershed to themselves.
Big Tumbling is a classic highlands rill with waterfalls and plunge pools, rhododendron and alder-shrouded pools, deep runs and boulders, and slicks and swift water. Although some places offer easy access to trout fans, in other places, folks will have to descend into a steep hollow through which much of Big Tumbling courses. Not surprisingly, those areas often offer the best fishing. For more information, consult the VDGIF Web site listed earlier.
Without a doubt, 1,143-acre Flannagan Reservoir is the most isolated impoundment in the entire Commonwealth, tucke
d away as it is near the Kentucky border in Dickinson County. Lying in one of the most rural parts of southwest Virginia, Flannagan also receives less fishing pressure than most state lakes over 1,000 acres.
That isolation hasn't prevented the body of water from developing a fine black crappie fishery. VDGIF fisheries biologist Tom Hampton told me that the department, with assistance from a local bass club, has improved crappie habitat by sinking brush and fish shelters.
Additionally, shoreline trees have been hinged so that they remain attached to their bases but fall over the water. These efforts apparently have paid off, as Hampton said that catch rates for black crappie have improved from one fish per every three hours of sampling in 1998 to 12 papermouths per hour of sampling in 2006. What's more, many crappie run from between 10 and 13 inches. For more information, consult the VDGIF Web site.
If you want to experience some of the best action for panfish in the entire South, head for Tidewater lakes, such as Prince, Western Branch, Kilby, Meade and Cahoon, this November, maintained VDGIF biologist Chad Boyce.
"I think the lakes in Tidewater offer the best overall habitat for panfish in the state," he said. "Our winters are not as cold, growth rates tend to be a little better, since our waters tend to warm earlier and cool later in the year than the northern and western parts of the state. Also, the abundance of woody debris in these lakes makes great habitat for macro invertebrates, the sunfish's main prey item.
"The fish tend to hang a little deeper in the fall, especially in the morning, but they will also readily move into shallow water when the temperatures rise during the day. Think about how fish react in the spring. Then they are waiting for water to warm before heading into the shallows to spawn. In the fall, they are seeking warmer water as well but not to spawn. But quick drops in the air temperature overnight will often send them to deeper water."
The past few years the fishing for striped bass has been so phenomenal in the Chesapeake Bay that it's impossible not to include a trip there for this game fish. Guide Ferrell McClain said that in December when the water temperature dips into the 50s, the linesides become very aggressive.
"The stripers have moved down from New England, following the water temperatures," McClain explained. "So when they arrive in the Chesapeake Bay, they are ready to eat. Many of these fish are over 40 inches long.
"Stripers move around a whole lot, but if you can find what they're feeding on, which is usually menhaden, you can find the stripers. The fish are grouped together, but I don't think that they are in actual schools. The fish just seem to have come together to attack the menhaden."
The December lineside action is noteworthy for another reason. McClain said that if a congregation of fish is located, before the flurry finishes, everyone on his boat is likely to have a hookup, many of them at the same time.
At one point in The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade exclaims, "Why should I sit around here . . ." My point exactly -- the trips described here are indeed the stuff that angling dreams are made of. See you on the water.
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