Salt water, fresh water, big water, small water -- Virginia's got some top angling for any taste.
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Imagine having to choose the top three fishing destinations or trips for each month of the year in Virginia. The possibilities are endless. Biologists, tackle shop owners and guides are a great source of information throughout the year as we do research to write the best stories. This particular article has a little taste of some of the very best angling no matter what game fish you prefer to tempt with your lures or bait. We encourage you to also try something different out of our lineup and enjoy that as well.
South Holston Reservoir is an impoundment shared by both Tennessee and Virginia and is 7,580 acres in size. Virginia's portion of the TVA reservoir is 1,600 acres. There is plenty of forage at South Holston and the black bass grow large. With plenty of structure in the form of rock bluffs and shale this lake looks like a typical smallmouth lake in the northern states.
The smallmouth fishing is red hot in the coldest months, making January a great time to get on the reservoir to catch quality-sized fish. Most fish can be found in 12 to 15 feet of water at this time of year, depending of course on the weather. Last year the sampling that VDGIF biologists conducted produced "the best recorded catch rate in recent years." The size structure of the smallmouth in the lake is very good. In fact, last year's sampling produced the best percentage of quality fish on record. Fifty-seven percent of the smallies collected measured over 14 inches!
Tournaments often produce five fish limits near 25 pounds for smallmouth at South Holston. Jigging spoons is very productive and suspending crankbaits will do the job too. Check out the South Holston Reservoir Fishing License at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/news/release.asp?id=256
One of the earliest spawning fish is the yellow or ring perch. These tasty ringed fish show up in the Occoquan River and stack up just off the channel on flats mid month and are fat with roe. Anglers who put in a boat at Pohick State Park can easily make the run upriver towards the headwaters. A jon boat is all that is needed although I have witnessed many canoes and even a kayak angler casting to the bank.
Chris Jabs lives in nearby Occoquan and fishes the river for ring perch. He reported that jigs tipped with minnows slowly hopped along will take scrappy fish but a simple bottom rig will also do the trick to. Take plenty of minnows and a tapeline. A citation fish is not out of the question.
One cannot mention crappie in Virginia and not think of Buggs Island. The crappie fishing at Buggs is very consistent, with slab-sided fish commonly caught in mid to late March. Obviously the best places to begin looking for crappie are near structure, but more importantly, focus on the tributaries. Buffalo Creek, Nutbush, Bluestone and Grassy Creeks get a lot of attention. However, any creek on this massive impoundment will hold crappie.
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The average crappie is going to stretch to nearly a foot long. Many crappie will be caught between 9 and 14 inches. There are plenty of nearby ramps around the lake. Crappie tend to spawn earlier here than in the rest of the state so get a jump on it now!
April is such a great month to fish that it was hard to decide on a single top fishing trip. In an effort to do something different and diversify we are tipping readers to the outstanding hickory shad fishing this month. Hickory shad follow the run of American shad and white perch up the Rappahannock River from the ocean each spring. April is the top month and catching this mini tarpon is as easy as stopping along the riverbank in Fredericksburg from the first week of the month through May.
If you are strictly a catch and release angler you can fish above the Rt. 1 Bridge among the boulders and eddies. River Road winds along the river making access a short walk to the river. Cast brightly colored jigs and spoons across current or downstream and work them back rapidly. Light or ultra light action rods work best and are the most fun. Low light times often produce fish on every, or every other cast. Be prepared for dazzling runs and leaps from these acrobatic fish.
If you want to keep a few roe shad for traditional Tidewater breakfast, fish below the Rt. 1 Bridge and be sure to keep only hickory shad: American shad are off limits.
Pelham Reservoir is the dark horse of this annual guide to fishing. No one really expected Pelham to rise to the top, but the bass fishing, more specifically the trophy bass fishing, has exploded there. Last year's sampling turned up 83 quality bass. This figure trounces Occoquan, which had 39 quality or preferred fish per hour of sampling.
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The 255-acre water supply reservoir for Culpeper has a good mix of terrain along its banks but there is no bank fishing available. Boats, and small boats at that, are the way to go. Since the lake is only accessible to small boats when the lake is full, fishing pressure is limited. This obviously contributed to the record bass in the impoundment.
Electric motors are allowed and a permit for fishing is required. Go to the Treasurers office on South Main Street in Culpeper or call 540-829-8220.
Many may think of bream as a kids' fish but if you catch Shellcracker from the waters of Western Branch Reservoir you will likely change your mind. Chad Boyce, VDGIF fisheries biologist, likes to fish Western Branch for Shellcracker and finds many anglers focus on the lower end of the impoundment where there are stumps. Catching a Shellcracker 11-12 inches long is common and some larger fish are definitely present as well.
Boyce commented that anglers should use chunks of nightcrawler vs. the standard red wiggler because they will last longer. A split shot pinched above the hook 12 to 18 inches is standard tackle for this trip. Drift fishing with the breeze is popular although anchoring and moving as the bite dies down is also a good approach. If you are fishing in an area where there are snags, consider using a wire hook.
July presents Virginia anglers with a variety of great fishing expeditions and although the heat can be tough the fishing is just as hot for many species. Of our three choices I would have to encourage to anglers to head to the Rappahannock River to either wade for catfish or use a small boat and fish for catfish. The blue catfish have become so numerous that they are eating everything in sight and catching a cooler full of eating-size fish is quite easy even for a novice.
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While the larger fish are best sought after sunset, the eating-size fish will take offerings of nightcrawlers, fresh cutbait, and shrimp all day long. A bottom rig, a No. 2 hook and a few split shot or even a weightless hook hanging with a gob of bait a foot and half below a stick float will do the job.
The entire river from Ely's Ford down to Tappahannock, including tributaries, is great fishing. If you are not catching fish in the deeper water then move shallow. If the fish you are catching are too small to keep you need to move and change tactics. These fish tend to school in similar sizes. Take plenty of ice and a large cooler and please take the fish home to have a fish fry!
If you talk to any charter boat captain about the month of August and the fishing in the middle Chesapeake Bay you are going to hear about several fish. They include bluefish, red drum and flounder. While the bluefish are extremely good fighters, it is the flounder that get the most attention in late July and early August. By this month the flatfish are numerous around the Cell, Buoy 42 and the CBBT as well as other inshore structure. The Cell and Buoy 42 are the most popular places to catch large flatfish.
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Wherever you fish, be sure to drift fish so that you cover the most territory. Get upwind or uptide, whichever is more predominate, and drop your offering of cut squid, bluefish or croaker down to the bottom. As the bait drags along you will feel the fish hammering away at the bait. Be sure to give the fish time to get to the hook before setting it. Use a lighter test line to tie the sinkers so you don't loose your entire rig on a piece of structure.
September is a transition month, which often frustrates anglers. However, the fishing is great if you stick with it and find just the right combination that works well. A good friend of mine, Jason Sanders, is a serious bass fanatic. Last year I asked him how the largemouth were faring on the Potomac River. It was just the excuse for Sanders to head to the river to get the answer to my question. What he found on a number of repeated trips was that the bass were moving from the grass to the timber in the creeks. Not only were the bass on the timber but most of them were quality fish.
READ: September Bass Fishing Tips
Sanders recommended fishing tributaries and hitting logs, treetops and stumps
. The cooler water seems to move the fish and congregate them. Fish slower, but don't be afraid to change baits either. Some of his fish were taken off a pig and jig while others took a simple 6-inch plastic worm. The very backs of creeks often held a surprising number of fish too.
When visiting the mountains of Southwest Virginia, trout anglers simply must visit either Whitetop Laurel Creek or the south fork of the Holston River. Both waters are within easy driving distance of each other. With respect to the fishing opportunities in October, Tom Hampton of VDGIF stated that although anglers would have to contend with leaf fall, the most beautiful trip to take would be a trout expedition on either of these scenic waters. Wild rainbow and brown trout thrive in both waters and brook trout are found in Whitetop Laurel Creek. A trophy brown trout is not out of the question and both fly and spinning anglers are able to enjoy the fishing as long as they use single-hook lures.
READ: Fall Brown Trout Fishing Tips
Take along a camera when fishing this stretch of water and have a buddy snap shots of the freshly caught fish with a backdrop of falling leaves. You won't be disappointed. Be sure to check the regulations on each section of water you intend to fish. The rules change depending on location.
November can be a tough month to fish but striped bass are active everywhere, including Claytor Lake. The 21-mile long, 4,475-acre impoundment of the New River offers anglers a river-type setting that has plenty of stocked striped bass. In 2009 there were 20 citations issued for fish over 20 pounds or over 37 inches, making it one of the top two lakes in the state for trophy fish.
The fish can be found most easily by anglers utilizing fish finders or binoculars to locate bait or birds diving on bait. Bait can be found anywhere during November but many times a check of the uplake or midlake area is a good place to start.
Some anglers prefer to use live bait to catch their fish. Catching your own bait requires that you master throwing a cast net but once you do the bait is free. Look for bait congregating in coves and motor quietly over to the school and shut the motor down to drift within range.
Use the same tactic if you cast lures to the fish too. Redfins, Rapalas and crankbaits work very well. If the fish are busting bait on top, cast topwater lures into the fray and hang on to your rod.
Lake Cohoon gets the nod for great fishing during December. It was a tough pick because of the other two choices for the month are quite good and anglers cannot go wrong with either of them. However, the chance to put a pickerel citation on the wall to add diversity to your certificates is too great to pass up. For years many anglers considered pickerel to be trash fish. However, their popularity has come on as more anglers have found out how hard they fight and have bad their tempers can be when a flashy lure goes by.
Cohoon is one of the mid-sized water supply lakes for Portsmouth. Each winter many pickerel over 4 pounds are caught with a few pushing 6 pounds. December and January tend to be the top months and with this being a southern water, anglers don't often have to worry about ice.
Spoons are the top choice followed by flashy crankbaits cast along logs or other structure. In deeper water jigging spoons or minnows can be effectively used. A permit from the City of Portsmouth is required for fishing.