From the ocean to the mountains, there are plenty of great places to fish in Virginia. We've picked 36 of the best as the tops spots for angling 12 months a year.
|2004 FISHING CALENDAR|
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By Bruce Ingram
I have a confession to make; I have not watched one of those fishing shows on television in years. Why should I be an armchair angler? Virginians have plenty of lakes, rivers and streams that provide excellent sport throughout the year. So stop watching someone else hauling in the big one, and try some of the winter destinations mentioned here right now. And after doing that, consider planning out your itinerary for the rest of the year with some of these destinations.
JANUARY I once spent a glorious winter weekend in the Tidewater region fishing a number of the region's best bodies of water. That winter, the weather was simply too cold in Western Virginia's Botetourt County where I live for game fish of any species to be active. Not so on my journey through the eastern reaches of the state, where every lake I stopped at had feeding fish.
During that swing, by far the most impressive of these lakes was one of the Suffolk-area impoundments, 777-acre Lake Prince, which lies near Windsor. For the angler looking to fill a cooler with tasty sunfish fillets, Prince is the place to go. Crappie, bluegills, warmouths, redbreasts, pumpkinseeds, redears and fliers all dwell in this body of water. And if these members of the sunfish family are not enough to raise your spirits and eliminate the winter doldrums, Prince also harbors more than a few yellow perch - one of the tastiest panfish around.
FEBRUARY Just as Lake Prince would be my first choice for winter sunfish, Lake Anna would be my preferred destination if wintertime largemouths were the quarry. This north-central Virginia impoundment draws interest during the cold weather period primarily because of the North Anna Nuclear Power Station on its shore. The warm water discharges from the power plant attract baitfish, which in turn entice largemouths. The result is that when bass fishing is slow throughout much of the state in February, red-hot action can often occur on Anna.
Another reason to visit Anna in February is because this impoundment usually receives intense fishing pressure from April through September, but the winter months are one of the few times all year when you won't have to wait in line to access Anna. The cold-water fishery here is by no means a secret, however - the word has been out for a long time.
Solid places to prospect for Anna's off-season bucketmouths include Sturgeon Creek, the Pamunkey River arm, and Ware and Duke creeks. If you want to concentrate solely on the water below the nuclear power plant, a good place to start is downstream from the discharge at Dike No. 3.
Finally, don't be discouraged if the weatherman predicts a cold, nasty day with the chance of precipitation. Local expert Teddy Carr, a guide from Locust Grove, has told me that some of his best catches have taken place when the water temperature is barely in the 40s and a front is approaching.
Dale Thacker of Troutville hoists a big Smith Mountain Striped bass. Photo by Bruce Ingram
MARCH Announcing that Smith Mountain Lake is the best place in Virginia to go striper fishing in March is not hot news, but it is the truth. Indeed, this 20,000-acre impoundment near Roanoke and Lynchburg is the premier place to wet a line for linesides the other 11 months of the year and has been so for most of the past 30 odd years.
Smith Mountain Lake
March is my favorite time to go after the lake's striped bass because the chances are very good that an angler can duel with fish in the 10- to 20-pound range. In fact, a pair of fish in that size range brought to one of the lake's many marinas would not raise many eyebrows among the locals. Late winter/early spring fish have to be at least 25 pounds or so before a fisherman can consider having temporary bragging rights. And bigger fish certainly are a possibility.
In March, many stripers congregate in the area between Hales Ford Bridge and up the lake to Bay Rock Marina near Vinton. Linville Creek is a well-known striper hotspot, as are the back ends of tributaries in the Roanoke and Blackwater River arms. Sometime in March or April, the stripers will start to migrate to the Cedar Keys area, among others, as the fish stage in their attempt to spawn. Such reproductive attempts always fail though, because the lake simply does not have enough free flowing water for the linesides to carry off a successful spawn.
At Smith Mountain, the limit is two stripers per day with a minimum length of 20 inches. Consider releasing fish that size and holding out for bigger ones - you may be very glad you did so in March. Later in the year during the warm weather period, released fish have a much lower chance for survival and it is probably best that an angler keep legal-size fish.
APRIL The Smith River is, in my opinion and that of many trout enthusiasts, the No. 1 place to seek out brown trout in the Old Dominion. And April is quite probably the most enjoyable time to do so, and perhaps may be even the best month to do so. When the redbuds are just starting to produce their purple blooms and daytime temperatures have settled comfortably into the 60s, going flyfishing to this stream in the Martinsville and Bassett area is a rite of passage for many state long rodders.
The only downside in this idyllic scenario is that the river's browns are notorious
ly hard to fool, and once a bruiser brown has sipped in a size 18 pattern of some sort, he'll be as hard to bring in as he was to fool. Many anglers converge upon the stream on weekends when the water levels on this tailrace fishery are lower and more stable. The stream is often quite clear then and long, delicate casts are an absolute must.
Actually, though, my best days on the Smith have been during the middle of the week when I have forsaken the fly rod and employed spinning equipment. In my opinion, the browns are easier to fool when Philpott Lake is releasing plenty of stained water into the Smith River. "Easier to fool" is a very relative statement when the topic is this stream's browns, however.
MAY An angler could become involved in a pretty heated discussion concerning whether April or March is usually the best month to go crappie fishing on Buggs Island Lake. No matter which side you might take in this discussion, little doubt exists that this 48,900-acre impoundment in south-central Virginia reigns supreme among the state's papermouth fisheries.
The Buffalo, Grassy and Butcher creek arms are well-known spring holding grounds for the lake's specks. And anglers can expect a goodly percentage of those fish to be between 9 and 12 inches. With fish that size, anglers shouldn't have to endure too long a time on the water before having enough good size fish to take home to eat. And, frankly, when I go after the lake's crappie, that goal is always foremost on my mind.
Another positive attribute having to do with Buggs' crappie is the fact that finding good habitat for this game fish is usually no problem. Many brushpiles have been sunk in the lake's coves and an overabundance of natural cover exists as well. Both are reasons why year after year, Virginians drive from both the eastern and western reaches to angle for Buggs Island's crappie.
JUNE Virginia offers three pay-as-you-go trout fishing destinations: Big Tumbling Creek, Crooked Creek and Douthat Lake. Although each has its own special charm and wonderful qualities, Big Tumbling Creek, which lies within the Clinch Mountain WMA, rates my nod as the best of the trio and a wonderful place to go after rainbow trout in June.
Big Tumbling Creek
Big Tumbling comes by its name naturally as the stream cascades down a mountain forming a series of small waterfalls and plunge pools. The stream receives heavy infusions of trout, and every one of these pools seems to have several good-sized rainbows lurking within. The little slicks and runs below these pools and above the next waterfall are also fetching places to seek out trout.
Because Big Tumbling is an upper elevation stream and the stocking continues throughout the summer, this is one place anglers can visit throughout the dog days and expect solid trout action. A daily permit fee of $4 is required from the first Saturday in April through Sept. 30.
JULY The first time I ever angled for cobia I had never heard much about these fish and could not quite comprehend just how big they grow. When my boat mate told me that his goal was to put a 50-pound fish inside the boat, I admit that I could not comprehend catching a fish that size. Later, when he dueled with one such fish near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, I quickly saw the attraction of these behemoths.
And so have other people - especially in July. In fact, on July 7, 2002, Steve Hasynic of Norfolk caught a 104-pound, 8-ounce cobia at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT). This fish was a new state record and was one of 217 cobias that qualified for citations in 2002 - at press time, the last year for which figures were complete.
Besides the CBBT, other areas within the bay worth checking are the Cabbage Patch, the C-13 Buoy, and the Inner Middle Ground Shoal. Anglers are allowed to keep only one fish, and it must be a minimum of 37 inches.
AUGUST For years, a once-a-summer tradition for me was to go to Lake Moomaw and enjoy night-fishing for smallmouth bass. Typically, a friend and I would put in around 6:30 p.m. and spend the night cruising this 2,530-acre lake's many points for brown bass that had moved shallow in their search for crayfish.
The last few times I have performed this summer ritual I have noted that my buddy and I have caught just as many largemouths as smallmouths and that the latter species has typically been in the 2- to 4-pound range. The truth is that though Moomaw has long been one of the state's best smallmouth impoundments, the largemouth bass fishery there is quite impressive as well. In fact, anglers who want to do well in tournaments on this body of water, which lies near Clifton Forge and Covington, often target largemouths, regardless of whether they are fishing at day or night.
Although largemouths can be found throughout the lake, a good place to start is in the upper end where the Jackson River enters. Expansive grassbeds exist here in the summertime.
SEPTEMBER September is usually not a good time to go fishing on many of Virginia's lakes, so it makes perfect sense that this month is when we should turn to what is arguably the state's best smallmouth river for action - the New. Year in and year out, the Old Dominion's brown bass anglers debate whether the James or New is the best stream for mossybacks. While I prefer the James for good-sized fish in the 12- to 18-inch size range, little doubt exists that the New River ranks the highest for fish in the 19- to 22-inch range.
Perhaps the best section of the New to angle for these overgrown bronzebacks is from below Claytor Lake Dam to Glen Lyn. Nine possible float trips exist below Claytor Lake, and I rank eight of them as good to excellent, the only exception being the one that begins at Bluff City.
The only drawback to fishing the New in September is that recreational tubing and canoeing is still quite popular there, especially the early part of the month. The Whitethorne to Big Falls float, for example, is notorious for its pleasure boat traffic. If you can, sneak away to the New on a September weekday and chances are that you will see very few float-fishermen or pleasure boaters.
OCTOBER Below the Route 1 bridge in Fredericksburg, tidal forces begin to come into play at the beginning of the lower Rappahannock. And it is in those waters that one of the true giants among Virginia's freshwater fishing congregation thrives - the blue catfish. Moreover, blue cat action continues all the way to Tappahannock, and some of those fish top 50 pounds.
Besides the large size of these fish, another attribute of fishing the lower Rap is that this waterway usually receives less pressure than the tidal James and Potomac do. The anglers who do seek out the river's blues often concentrate their efforts in Cat
Point Creek, Port Royal Landing and Little Falls Landing. Look for deep-water pools out of the main current that have plenty of wood cover in the form of trees or manmade debris.
NOVEMBER The relationship between Smith Mountain Lake and its sister impoundment immediately downstream, Leesville Lake, is almost like that of Cinderella and one of her stepsisters. While Smith Mountain receives a great deal of publicity, Leesville toils on as a virtual non-entity, never receiving the acclaim it deserves.
To be sure, Leesville is a much smaller lake at 3,400 acres, and it contains more floating debris than any body of water I have ever been on. But the striper fishing in November can be nothing short of phenomenal, and an angler visiting the lake then will have very little competition for these game fish.
Also keep in mind that the current state-record striped bass, a 53-pound, 7-ounce specimen, came from Leesville in 2000. Although fish that size are rare anywhere in the United States, anglers have every reason to expect fish in the 10- to 20-pound range.
DECEMBER At 1,579 acres, Western Branch is a large impoundment by Tidewater Virginia standards. But that is not the only thing large about this Suffolk area body of water - it conceals some very hefty bluegills. Actually, this lake is not only known for its bull bluegills but also for its oversize redear sunfish. Both game fish often top 1 pound.
Given its relatively large size for the region and its existence in the heavily populated Tidewater region, Western Branch receives intense fishing pressure from spring through early fall. But by December, the crowds have diminished considerably, leaving the lake to hardcore anglers.
Don't worry about taking home a limit of bull bream, either. One of the reasons that Western Branch produces such large bluegills is because it does receive heavy angling pressure. The remaining fish thus have a better chance to attain large size, a much better chance, in fact, than if the lake were not so popular with anglers.
The 12 choices listed here are not meant to be a definitive list of where to go in the Old Dominion each month of the year. We Virginians are blessed with superlative fishing, and there is no need to sit by the television experiencing our sport through the actions of angling celebrities and their guest stars.
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