Seven Great Virginia Fishing Destinations
Summertime offers some great angling opportunities. Here's where to find them.
Summertime is a great time to be out on the water.
The weather is warm and the fishing is hot. Here are some of the best fishing destinations.
If anglers are looking for a smallie smorgasbord then they should plan a trip to the upper James River. Biologists report that the catch rates of adult smallmouth bass are the highest they have been. While the average size smallie is around 12 inches, there are plenty of 15- to 2-inch fish too. One of the better trophy smallmouth trips would be a float from Eagle Rock down to Horseshoe Bend. It is a long float (13 miles) and anglers should get on the water at daybreak and hit the better looking spots and pass on others.
Depending on the water levels, hit the deeper riffles and seams with shad colored jerkbaits on a jig head or jigs with crawfish colored plastics on them. The fish are likely to hit on the downfall, so watch your line for clues of a pick-up. Once the sun climbs up in the sky, go deeper and probe ledge edges, boulders and log jams with longer casts as you float down.
No one area is noticeably better than another. It is often the presentation of the bait and approach without spooking fish that is key. There are also good numbers of rock bass and musky in this stretch, so consider throwing braided lines.
If You Go
The launch is at Route 220 near Eagle Rock on Craig Creek. Pull out is 13 river miles downstream at the ramp on Route 43. If you rather not fuss with hauling your own canoe and figuring out a shuttle, contact Twin River Outfitters to rent gear and get a reasonable shuttle.
Cool Trout in NOVA
Anglers in Northern Virginia could easily take a day trip to fish for brook trout at Rapidan WMA. The WMA is over 10,000 acres and ranges in elevation from 1,400 to 3,800 feet. So, take your hiking boots. These are native fish, not stocked, and can be a fun challenge.
Hiking up the Rapidan further from easy access points to fish pools will not only get you into better fishing, but the scenery is fantastic. Biologists report that the streams are healthy and full of stoneflies, mayflies and caddis too.
Fly fishermen should tie up accordingly and use lightweight rods for the trip. Not only are they easier to carry up the mountains ,but they are appropriate for the fish and size of the water too. Spin anglers don’t have to feel left out. Flipping a 1/16-ouncePanther Martin with orange hair and gold colored blades or similar spinner or even free lining a large earthworm stealthily cast along larger boulders and rocks, or logs will take fish.
Use an ultralight rod to enjoy the experience. Polarized glasses, drab colored clothes, and a stealthy approach will be key to success. Another consideration would the nearby Conway River for wild brook and brown trout.
If You Go
Be sure to stop at Wolftown Mercantile Country Store to get loaded up on freshly made country sandwiches. The old timers in the store will share some tips on the fishing too. Consider taking some camping equipment and camp at one of the primitive campsites on the river while you fish.
Back Bay White Perch
Most people that enjoy white perch think of these tasty fish as a springtime run of fun in tidal rivers. However, several years ago, Chad Boyce, fisheries biologist with VDGIF, turned me on to the fact that Back Bay has a great fishery for them that is actually really good in early summer.
Fish the early part of the month before things get too hot by getting on the water early or late and targeting the leeward sides of grassy islands or in front of duck blinds. Use a split shot and cast parallel to the grass along the cuts and bait up with shrimp, red wigglers or even small pieces of cut bait cut in strips.
When you find one perch you will find others. These fish are not small either. Most are big enough to filet. An ultralight rod will be the most fun with these panfish. Another option would be to use small spinners, hot pink jigs with white curly tail grubs or even a tiny spinnerbait such as Beetle Spin. The northern end of Back Bay tends to better. Move around until you find the fish and don’t be too surprised if you catch crappie or really fat football sized largemouth.
If You Go
Consider staying at North Bay Shore Campground as traffic in the Virginia Beach area can keep you from getting on the water at prime time. The campground is very clean and quiet, and a canal leads you right out to the fishing. Take food and supplies with you. Also consider a GPS to find your way back to the campground.
Solitary Scenic Float for Panfish and Bass
I love float trips in the summer because you can cover a lot of water, take a dip or head for the shade when you need to relax for a minute and still catch plenty of fish. The Nottoway River in southern Virginia near Jarratt west of I-95, is an amazingly scenic river that will leave anglers wanting to come back again and again.
The fishing is primarily for the numerous large redbreast sunfish, smallmouth and even Roanoke bass. The longer trip (11 1/2 miles) is from Cutbank Bridge (Route 609) to Double Bridge (Route619). You can only use a canoe or kayak on this trip. Be sure to get to the take out before dark.
A shorter trip is the 5-mile jaunt from Route 619 at Double Bridge to Route 630 — a very easy trip and makes for a great first day trip and then hit the other stretch the second day.
There is more time to fish since the distance is half and the redbreast sunfish are abundant here. Take plenty of Beetle Spins, Panther Martins and red wigglers to entice the feisty redbreast. If you use crayfish cranks or small split tail jerkbaits you will hook up with the smallies.
Make casts into the shady edges, along logs jams and other structure. Longer casts, particularly to shallow areas, as you go along as these are key to a heavy stringer.
If You Go
There is not much in the way of supplies or stores near this fishing destination. Be sure to at least get your sodas or hotdogs and last ditch food at the Weeks Market in Purdy if you don’t already have it in your cooler. The nearest accommodations are south in Emporia, so plan accordingly.
Southwest VA Mountain Trout
If your idea of a summer road trip involves mountains in the southwestern portion of the state, be sure to head to the Clinch Mountain Fee Area near Saltville or the Crooked Creek Fee area near Galax. VDGIF fisheries biologist, Steve Owens, suggested these great areas where the entire family could get in on the fun of catching lots of trout 10to 12 inches and potentially fish up to 8 pounds. These sites are stocked four times a week through September.
A basic fishing license and an $8 daily permit are required, allowing you to keep six fish. The Clinch Mountain area includes 7 miles of Big Tumbling Creek and its two major tributaries, Briar Cove Creek and Laurel Bed Creek. The Crooked Creek section is approximately five miles with two miles managed as a wild trout fishery.
The stocked trout will readily take typical trout offerings such as Trout Power Bait, spinners, live red wigglers or night crawlers and even crayfish. Flies will also work too. Hike away from the easy access points and try to be stealthy. Holdover fish from previous stockings will be found away from the normal stock sites and they can grow large. Be sure to pay attention to posted rules at the site.
If You Go
Consider staying at Hungry Mother State Park where you can rent a nice cabin and even fish for catfish or panfish there. If want to visit Cabela’s, it is down the road 45 minutes in Bristol.
JAMES RIVER CATFISH
If you like catching catfish, particularly large numbers of catfish, you cannot go wrong on Virginia’s tidal rivers. The James is probably the most centrally located river and has the best potential for catching not only numbers of blues, but some channel cats and some flathead catfish too. There are three great put in places for this road trip.
Take your boat of any size and head to Deep Bottom Ramp in Henrico County (9525 Deep Bottom Road, Henrico, VA, 23231). This ramp is on a deep oxbow of the James and offers even small boats a chance to get into big fish or large numbers of fish.
The Chickahominy Riverfront Park (1350 John Tyler Hwy., Williamsburg, VA, 23185) is within a mile of the James and anglers will find good fishing right off the pier. However, going out in a boat to the James and fishing creek mouths nearby will bring in loads of catfish. You might even set up for the big one too.
Last, Jordan Point boat ramp (101 Jordan Point Rd., Hopewell, VA, 23860) is on a busy stretch of river but the nearby Harrison Bridge often has stacks of catfish piling up around it.
At any of these ramps, get fresh cut shad and cut into small strips for eating size fish or whole filets with a fish finder rig for monster blues.
If you are looking for a flathead, try catching your own bream and hook them live. Fish at night for the big bruisers on the channel edges combined with structure such as pilings, logs or rocky structure.
If You Go
Jordan Point has a full service tackle shop and marina for your needs. Chickahominy Riverfront Park has campsites if you want to stay while you fish. There are plenty of nearby attractions if you want to bring the family too.
Put some Salt on that Fish
One of Virginia’s hottest inshore fisheries as of late is the cobia fishing. Cobia normally stack up from the York Spit to the mouth of the bay. However, many are now being caught off the mouth of the Potomac River too. Look for the fish to show up in early June when the water warms and head further up the bay to the Point Lookout/Target Ship area as things heat up.
In mid-July the fish will be in densities such that even off the Virginia Beach oceanfront anglers are hooking them. The key to cobia is to find a reef, shoal or structure of some sort. Even structure like a floating grass mat, buoy or wreck will hold fish. Take fresh chum and lots of it and anchor up putting out rigs with live croaker or eels.
Make a point to float some baits and use bottom rigs on others. Count on some sharks to eat some of your offerings. If running and gunning is your thing, keep a big bucktail with a sassy shad on it handy or a live croaker to be hurled ahead of fish as you spot from above with polarized glasses. Approach as quietly as possible or risk spooking the fish.
Another sure fire bet is to fish off the Virginia Beach oceanfront trolling Drone or Clarke spoons along the tide lines. Last season there were numerous Spanish with some up to 5 pounds being caught. Anglers can expect some Taylor blues to fill the box too. Keep both species cold in the cooler and try smoking the blues for a taste treat.
If You Go
Check out Virginia Beach Fishing Center, if you are traveling from out of town and want to keep it simple and just charter a knowledgeable captain to guide you to the fish (200 Winston Salem Ave., Virginia Beach, VA, 23451).