Saltwater, freshwater, big water, small streams: Virginia’s got some top angling opportunities anywhere. We’ve picked three of the best for each month of the year. We have whittled down the choices for you on popular waters as well as some “under the radar” spots to enjoy some aqua therapy.
Images by Vic Dunaway
JAMES RIVER: Crappie
January in Virginia can be a fickle month. However, anglers with cabin fever and an eye on the weather should seriously take advantage of a string of warmer days, particularly towards the end of the month, when the sun starts gaining strength. Herring, Powell, or Wards Creek are good locations to begin.
Anglers can run from the launches near the mouth of the Chickahominy or upriver from Jordan Point Yacht Haven. 101 Jordan Point Rd. Hopewell, VA 23860. Jordanpoint.com (804) 458-3398.
Focus on the overhanging trees that reach out into the channel. Your fish finder can tell you what depth the fish are holding at around the submerged treetops, or you can jig a minnow or jig/grub very slowly among the branches. Move quietly and cast ahead, particularly if the sun has been warming the waters for a few days. Sometimes the fish are near the surface.
OTHER OPTIONS Urban trout ponds are giving up chunky trout on Berkley Power Bait around the state, while fat yellow perch are taking minnows dragged through the tributary channels of Back Bay.
BEAVERDAM SWAMP RESERVOIR: Crappie
February is the beginning of the crappie bite in Virginia to include Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir near Gloucester. Once the ice is gone, anglers use fish finders to find gizzard shad and crappie. The larger crappie key on the baitfish. Ranger Station Cove has been a good place to start, but if no fish are found biting there, continue trolling around the lake; particularly the upper portion. Scott Herrmann, fisheries biologist for VDGIF, advises anglers to be selective when harvesting crappie exceeding 13 inches.
The fishery is in great shape now, but too much harvest could quickly wipe out the trophy fishery. Instead, take the 10- to 13-inch fish. Remember, only 25 crappie per person, per day is permitted. You don’t have to keep an entire limit either. Trolling minnows or jigs with bright colored grubs such as white or chartreuse, is very effective. Keep the speed slow though.
OTHER OPTIONS While at Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir don’t be surprised to pick up jumbo yellow perch while crappie fishing. Elsewhere, hit shallow headwaters in small ponds with long casts and plastic crayfish imitations for bass on unseasonably warm days.
STAUNTON RIVER: Walleye
VDGIF reports that the walleye fishery has really improved in the past few years due to increased stockings at Leesville Reservoir. Apparently some of the fish pass through the dam and into the river. The fishing is good from the dam down to Brookneal this month as the fish are moving upriver to spawn.
Look for walleye to hit shad colored or crayfish colored crankbaits. Some anglers like to freeline minnows or whole night crawlers too. There are put ins at English Park boat ramp in the town of Altavista off Route 668. Another launch is at the Long Island boat ramp at Rt. 761. From Altavista to Brookneal there are some healthy rapids so using a canoe should be done only by experienced anglers. The take out at Rt. 501 above Brookneal does allow limited motorboat use before hitting riffles above and below the ramp.
OTHER OPTIONS At Lake Orange the big crappie are hitting minnows fished in 5 to 10 feet of water along brushpiles and other structure. Over at Frederickburg the bigger white perch of the year are hitting bloodworms on the Rappahannock River.
POTOMAC RIVER: Largemouth Bass
The Potomac River has been a destination of bass anglers nationwide for years and for good reason. This river system has plenty of forage, a variety of structure and plenty of tidal creeks to find fat 3- to 4-pound largemouth in. The fishing is quite good in April when bass are in various stages of the spawn throughout the month.
Anglers should key on areas from Potomac Creek all the way to Washington D.C. Fish the shallows near emerging vegetation or along docks and walls. Since the weather and water movement can change the bite and preferences, keep an arsenal of pig and jigs, plastic worms and spinnerbaits handy and rigged on multiple rods.
The mouths of the creeks and the area up around D.C. in the shallows are key spawning areas. Be willing to change up if the bite dies. Talk to other anglers and share information.
OTHER OPTIONS Trophy largemouth bass will be hitting plastics while spawning at Lake Connor. Anglers dragging planer boards on the Chesapeake will find monster striped bass taking bright colored parachute rigs near the channel.
WALLER MILL RESERVOIR: White Perch
Anglers will find an underutilized white perch fishery at Waller Mill Reservoir to include fish 10-12 inches! The white perch school up very tight, but once you find them they are numerous. VDGIF sees schools as large as 200 fish turning up while electro sampling during surveys. Anglers should target downed trees and find gizzard shad schools, particularly the juvenile fish.
Scott Herrmann, VDGIF fisheries biologist, noted that the lower basin of the reservoir has historically been a tad better for white perch. Use crappie jigs, tiny shad imitation cranks and soft plastic curly tail grubs. Red wigglers on a split shot rig or even small minnows will catch the perch too. Leave the tail hanging off the hook when using worms. Waller Mill Reservoir is a trolling motor only water. Jon boats can be rented at the park office.
OTHER OPTIONS On the Potomac River various sizes of catfish are inhaling cut shad fished off ledges and points. Meanwhile, Upper New River anglers will find smallmouth bass chasing crayfish crankbaits around rocky structure in pools.
CHESAPEAKE BAY: Cobia
Cobia anglers will find really nice sized fish arriving at the middle /end of June near York Spit, Windmill Point and other shallow, shoal type areas. Chum on the shoals during a moving tide and put out various lines with live croaker, eels, or large strips of cutbait, or sight cast huge, bright colored bucktails with a sassy shad, eels, or live croaker ahead of fish.
Use a boat with a tower to get up high to see the fish on sunny days while wearing amber colored, polarized glasses to spot fish. A maximum of three fish over 40 inches with only one over 50 inches may be kept on a boat with more than three anglers; otherwise only one per person. All anglers, captains, and guides fishing for cobia must obtain a Recreational Cobia Permit from the Commission and report all harvest and cobia fishing activity.
OTHER OPTIONS Out in the ocean the spadefish bite is hot using fresh clam near structure. Landlocked anglers fishing Motts Run Reservoir will find the best shellcracker bite of the year on red wigglers down lake.
KERR RESERVOIR: Blue Catfish
This massive 49,000 acre impoundment is home to the current world record blue catfish (143 pounds) and many other mammoth fish easily besting 80 pounds. Creek mouths, river channels and other sharp contours in the reservoir are where regular blue cat anglers tend to anchor up and lob out shad baited lines at various depths.
During July, night fishing is the way to go as long as you have proper lighting, bug spray and good rod holders. It is easy to be lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the boat and then suddenly be awakened by your reel clicker screaming bloody murder. Use quality baitcasting or spinning reels. An angler favorite is a medium heavy or heavy action Ugly Stik. The fresher and bloodier the bait, the better. Fish finder rigs with stout leaders of 80 pounds are typical for the record seekers.
OTHER OPTIONS A float trip down the Shenandoah River for bream this month is very productive with poppers. Offshore anglers are trolling and catching mahi-mahi on rigged ballyhoo and sea witches.
CHESAPEAKE BAY: Spanish Mackerel
Spanish mackerel are caught on Drone or Clarke spoons trolled at 5-7 knots behind a 3-4 ounce inline sinker or a #1 or #2 planer this month all over the bay. Anglers should use 12-20 foot long fluorocarbon leaders attached to swivels to keep the line from twisting and allowing the fish to pop off.
The color of the spoon varies by day and even by hour. Find schools of baitfish and look for leaping macks to point the way. Do not drive through the bait but rather, ease around the school. The larger fish will often be on the perimeter.
OTHER OPTIONS Anglers will find great perch fishing on Potomac River shoals with Fishbites and squid strips. Carp are easy targets for bow fisherman and rod/reel anglers in pools on the upper Rappahannock.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: Snakeheads
As happened on the Potomac River, the snakehead population is rapidly expanding downriver. Anglers are using finesse worms and weedless frogs in the tidal creeks around submerged aquatic vegetation to entice strikes from these invasive but tasty fish.
The key is fishing methodically and making repeated casts. Sometimes the fish need to be angered into striking by putting it right in their face. Fish up to 10 pounds are not uncommon. Anglers are cautioned that not only are these fish powerful and full of fight, but they have very sharp rows of teeth.
OTHER OPTIONS Smallmouth anglers visiting South Holston Reservoir will find a good bite near rocky structure this month using crayfish patterns. Anglers pitching topwater lures for bass on the creeks of the Chickahominy River will find explosive strikes.
SOUTH FORK SHENANDOAH: Muskie
I spoke with Nick Secrist of Mossy Creek Fly Fishing in Harrisonburg about the fishing opportunities on the river. He noted that the muskie fishing on the South Fork of the Shenandoah can be quite good and anglers that want a challenge will target them with a 10-12 weight fly rod and sinking line. Muskie fly anglers are using huge streamers 10 to 16 inches in length to try to entice the “Fish of a Thousand Casts”. Two popular streamers are the Game Changer and the T-Bone.
These streamers are designed to look like suckers or baitfish. Sometimes flashy streamers are used to try to entice reactive strikes. Mossy Creek Fly Fishing guides anglers using framed rafts to slowly row this scenic river and stop to fish deep holes this month. Do it yourself float anglers can do the same or freeline suckers in the deeper holes.
OTHER OPTIONS Claytor Lake striper will be feeding midlake on alewives and shad. Troll umbrella rigs or bucktails.
SANDY RIVER RESERVOIR: Chain Pickerel
While Sandy River Reservoir is well known for its bass and crappie fishery, this 740 acre impoundment has some great chain pickerel action too. A chain pickerel has to be 24 inches to be considered a trophy and be awarded a certificate by VDGIF. Dan Goetz of VDGIF reports that they recently sampled a few fish 25-30 inches in size.
Anglers fishing in November should try the edges of dying vegetation in the shallow areas. Make long casts and run crankbaits or flashy spoons parallel to the vegetation. Minnow imitations such as Rapala lures, particularly jointed minnows, will entice strikes.
Live minnows fished in the same areas are good at picking up fish. Use sharp hooks to penetrate the bony mouth of these fish.
OTHER OPTIONS Smallmouth bass are hitting in the pools from Iron Gate to Lynchburg on jig and plastic combos. Striped bass are hitting near the Splits at Lake Anna on jigs and sassy shads.
HUNGRY MOTHER RESERVOIR:Hybrid Striped Bass
At 108 acres, Hungry Mother Reservoir is a good early winter destination in scenic Smyth County for anglers to get in on some hybrid striped bass action. The reservoir is just large enough to hold good populations of hybrids and handle some fishing pressure, but small enough anglers can locate and present lures or bait to the fish with reasonable effort.
Throw shad colored crankbaits onpoints and drop offs near woody debris in the lower lake, or use a fish finder to locate shad/alewives and a cast net to catch this bait. Use live bait for these feisty fish. Chicken liver has also worked well on hybrids. Anglers may creel two fish 18 inches or larger.
OTHER OPTIONS VDGIF sampling efforts show big muskie from Iron Gate to Lynchburg on the upper James River. Try trolling spoons or jigging minnows on Skidmore Reservoir near Harrisonburg for the stocked brown trout.
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