Saltwater, freshwater, big water, small streams — Virginia offers excellent angling in every state year-round. Most anglers have several "favorite" fisheries that they like to hit at certain times of the year, but are well aware that there are some good fishing spots out there that they have never tried. We've picked three proven destinations for each month of the year for you to consider as you make your 2016 angling plans.
Lake Anna Stripers
Across the state, striped bass present the best shot at enjoying a fresh winter meal of fish. On Lake Anna, the power plant outflow at the 3rd Dike is where warm water exits and attracts baitfish (shad and herring) and therefore striped bass too. Most anglers head for this location. Use a fish finder to determine the depth the fish are holding.
If you are savvy enough and tough enough to brave the cold using a cast net to catch fresh shad or herring, then do so. They are the best bait. Drop live baits down to the striped bass. Dead baits are not very effective.
Jumbo minnows will work in a pinch. Some anglers use Toothache spoons, jigs with sassy shads or slowly troll deep running crankbaits, umbrella rigs or Stretch type lures. Catching a limit of four fish in the mid-20 inch range is a decent possibility at Anna!
OTHER OPTIONS: Catch nice crappie in Sandy River Reservoir along the ledges with jigs tipped with minnows. Ice fishing for trout in mountain reservoirs with Trout Power Bait when the ice is at least 4 inches thick can be very productive.
South Fork Holston River Walleye
One of the signs of spring in the Southern Mountain Region is the bustle of anglers fishing the South Fork of the Holston River for walleye as the fish begin their run up the river. The fish are accessible for bank anglers who follow the Virginia Creeper Trail and cast shallow-diving crankbaits or sassy-shad tipped jigs into the eddies and pools.
Alvarado is a good starting point, but boat anglers who put in at the Whittaker Hollow boat ramp on the South Holston Lake and run upstream as far as they can will have an opportunity to take fish while drifting back downstream.
Steve Owens, VDGIF fisheries biologist, tells us that the fish average 2 to 8 pounds and have a minimum size limit of 18 inches and a creel limit of 5 fish per day.
OTHER OPTIONS: On the Northwest River find yellow perch hitting drifted or trolled jigs tipped with minnows. Fish the Potomac River tributaries for yellow perch along channel edges.
South Holston Lake Crappie
South Holston Lake is one of many places across the state where the fishing is excellent for Mr. Specks. Anglers will find that the fish are still deep — 15 to 30 feet — and found along the creek and river channels at the upper end of the lake this month. Typical jig-and-minnow combinations are standard armament for crappie enthusiasts. Crappie often reach 10 to 17 inches in this lake. There is a 10-inch minimum and a creel limit of 15 fish per day.
Bank anglers will find that there is access via TVA property and around the Whittaker Hollow boat ramp. Boat access can be had at Avens Boat Ramp, Washington County Park boat ramp and, of course, Whittaker Hollow boat ramp.
OTHER OPTIONS: Northern Snakeheads will be found on cover (natural wood, docks, piers) if not on mud flats hitting soft plastics fished slow. Ponds in the southeastern portion of the state turn on for trophy largemouth bass that will hit creature baits as they prepare to spawn.
Waller Mill Largemouth Bass
April bass anglers will find that fishing is great at Waller Mill Reservoir, which serves as a water supply for the city of Williamsburg. Scott Herrmann, VDGIF fisheries biologist, has noted that the reservoir has produced some quality fish the past few years.
"Anglers who fish the reservoir on a consistent basis are able to find a pattern that works with the schools of bass," he said.
Herrmann went on to say that there is a lot of overhanging shoreline brush or tree cover that offers protective cover during the spawn in the second week of April. Up until this occurs, the fish are targeting juvenile gizzard shad that survive the winter.
Therefore, any shallow-diving, shad-colored crankbait will do the job. Once the spawn begins, use soft plastics near the shoreline to entice strikes. On average, fish weigh 2 to 3 pounds, but some nice 4- to 5-pound fish are available, too.
Boat access can be had through the park. The Williamsburg Parks and Recreation has been working on a new and improved ramp that will hopefully be ready by the time this issue hits mailboxes. Jon boats are available for rent with or without an electric motor.
OTHER OPTIONS: American and hickory shad are readily taking shad spoons and jigs on the Nottoway and Blackwater River. The upper New River is a hotspot for smallmouth bass that will take shad- or crawfish-colored jigs and plastic combos.
South Holston Lake Smallmouth
South Holston Lake is a hotspot for smallmouth bass. Steve Owens, VDGIF fisheries biologist, pointed out that during the spring the fish relate to the bank and are out to depths of 20 feet. Using a boat from Washington County Park boat ramp, Aven's Boat Ramp and Whittaker Hollow boat ramp will put anglers within striking distance of good smallie habitat.
Cast jigs in crawfish colors or crankbaits along rocky shoreline to catch fish that average 15 to 20 inches long. All creeled smallmouth must be at least 15 inches. Five fish may be kept per day.
OTHER OPTIONS: Largemouth are hitting plastic worms on Lake Witten while anglers are casting bottom rigs for the croaker run starting around Virginia Beach.
Claytor Lake Channel Catfish
We have a different take on catching channel catfish this year courtesy of a reliable source I have used for a number of years. John Copeland, who works as a VDIGF fisheries biologist, also likes to fish. He reports that he catches some very nice channel catfish while trolling 1 to 2 miles per hour in 10 to 15 feet of water in Claytor Lake from Clapboard Hollow down to the dam.
Copeland specifically targets rocky points and bluff areas. Use shad or minnow type plugs for best results. However, he also admits that the standard chicken liver or hotdog will also take fish from Lighthouse Bridge upriver to Allisonia.
OTHER OPTIONS: Fish for trout on the South Fork of the Holston River using artificial flies and single hooks on spinners and jigs. Don't forget the Lake Prince Shellcrackers, which will be hitting red wigglers in water 10- 20-feet deep off of hard sandy points near woody debris.
Chesapeake Bay Cobia
Cobia, AKA, "The Man in the Brown Suit" is the target of chummers and eel slingers all month as the bite peaks. These massive game fish can be found from Windmill Point all the way to the ocean. Shoals and humps are great places to look for them.
There are two ways to approach cobia fishing. First, anglers wearing polarized glasses ride around with boats equipped with towers looking for cruising fish. When a fish is spotted, a live eel is slung ahead of the fish with hopes the cobia will take the bait. The second way to hook one of these beasts is to set up a sizeable chum slick and put out cut bait and eels.
Capt. Ryan Rogers of The Midnight Sun Charters likes to put out a few baits under bobbers and a few baits with bottom rigs. Using 50-pound braid and a 40- to 50-pound leader is advisable due to the strength of these fish. Cobia must be at least 37 inches to keep and only one fish may be kept per person.
OTHER OPTIONS: Hungry Mother Lake catfish are busy gobbling up chicken liver offerings from the bank, while the smallies on the Clinch River are easy targets on float trips using soft plastic grubs.
Chesapeake Bay Sharks
During the past few years, anglers have seen a noticeable uptick in the number of sharks that they are encountering. Most of the sharks are 3 to 5 feet long — not monsters, but great fun on light tackle. I spoke to Capt. Ryan Rogers about his effort to put his clients on these toothy predators and asked how he went about it.
"The sharks begin to show up on the edge of the lower end of the Rappahannock Cut Channel over hard bottom towards the end of July. We use standard bottom rigs with steel leader on the hooks for the smaller sharks and when we get to the bigger guys, we use a single hook with steel leader and an egg sinker or fish finder rig," he said.
Rogers uses cut bait, either chunks of bunker or fillets of bluefish or croaker. A stout rod with 40- to 50-pound braid will do the job and anglers can have a lot of fun catching them on light tackle. Kids in particular love battling a shark.
OTHER OPTIONS: Bluefish are busy snapping at trolled spoons in the entire Chesapeake Bay. Eating-sized catfish are a sure bet if you fish cutbait in the lower Rappahannock this month.
Potomac River Catfish
The Potomac River has an incredibly abundant population of blue catfish, and even some nice-sized channel catfish. While the fish can be caught year-around on this large river, September is the best month to fish for them. After a summer of eating glass minnows, shad, perch and even small crabs, the fish have fattened up and the boat traffic has dropped off substantially.
Fish on mud flats or shoals 5 to 10 feet deep near drop-offs with cut bait, shrimp, or even squid. If you don't start catching fish in the first 15 minutes, switch over to ledges in deeper water. Expect fish 18 to 20 inches to be very common. The whole river is fair game, but my personal favorite area is around the Rt. 301 Bridge. A boat ramp exists in Colonial Beach on the Virginia side and at Aqua Land next to the bridge on the Maryland side. The area is littered with shoals, flats and structure.
OTHER OPTIONS: Look for Spanish mackerel to be hitting fast trolled spoons. Spot are hitting in Lynnhaven Inlet on bloodworms and Fishbites.
Lower New River Smallmouth
Fall is a gorgeous time to be on the lower New River floating for smallmouth bass. John Copeland suggests that anglers try the float from McCoy Falls down to Rich Creek and focus on the riffles and deeper runs this month. Use typical smallmouth lures such as Rapalas, soft plastics on jigs, and spinners. Small beetle spins or cranks in crayfish colors will work well too. Copeland says the data suggests that there will be a lot of fish under 14 inches on this float. Remember that there is a 14- to 22-inch slot and a five-fish per day creel limit. Only one fish over 22 inches.
Other Options: Smallmouth bass will also be hitting topwater baits on the Shenandoah River and white perch will be biting minnows in the Potomac River in the creeks and on main river shoals.
Smith Mountain Lake Striped Bass
Smith Mountain Lake offers anglers a really good shot at finding a nice catch of striped bass. Most anglers head uplake to the upper Roanoke, upper Blackwater and some of the larger creek arms according, to Dan Wilson, fisheries biologist. Wilson noted that there are higher densities of forage in the Beaverdam and Gills Creek areas and that attracts stripers. Anglers often find fish in schools down to 30 feet, although during low light periods the fish will go to shallower depths to chase shad. They do the same thing when the water is stained.
With that said, the most consistent way to catch striped bass is to slowly troll fresh-caught shad near bait balls or feeding fish. Trolling umbrella rigs and large spoons or crankbaits that look like shad will draw strikes. Cast flukes, swim baits and cranks along the outside edge of feeding fish too.
There is a slot limit of 30 to 40 inches on striped bass, which tells readers that the lake produces some really nice sized fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: Blue catfish will be hugging ledges on the James and gobbling gizzard shad offerings while striped bass fishing will be hot on the cool waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
Urban Trout Fishing Lakes
Anglers in urban areas wanting to get some reel time on local waters will find that urban trout opportunities should fit the bill just right. There are eight lakes that are now part of the program, including Lake Biggins in Newport News, Cook Lake in Alexandria, Dorey Park Lake in Henrico, Locust Shade Park in Prince William, Old Cossey Pond in Fredericksburg, Northwest River Park Lake in Chesapeake, Shield's Lake in Richmond and Ivy Creek Park Pond in Lynchburg.
These lakes are stocked with catchable trout beginning this month and require a trout license to fish. A limit of 4 trout may be creeled per day. Use brightly colored spinners, Trout Powerbait, small minnows or red wigglers on light line.
Other Options: Smallmouth bass can be caught near discharges from powerplants or near Great Falls by fishing deep and slow with small jigs and plastics. Musky will be slamming huge spoons or live suckers on the upper New River.