Sunday, January 27, 2013
12 months of tackling Virginia's top sport fish targets
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- Electric ski suit fails to create big buzz on the slopes
- Beech: A unique mountain resort (with photo gallery)
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The Wild Life blog
One of the bonuses of living in a relatively temperate state — really, it could be a lot worse — is that fishing can be a year-round activity without having to drill through the ice for a few months.
There’s good fishing to be had from January through December. In fact,
the options are so vast and varied that the list below includes not only
a best bet for each month of 2013, but alternatives.
January — Coastal bluefins
Last winter bluefin tuna invaded Virginia’s nearshore coastal waters, mingling with schools of striped bass and often hitting lures intended for the smaller fish.
Fishermen were quick to take advantage of the bonus fishery, catching lots of the giant fish, most of which were released due to strict federal reglations.
With the ocean striper season generally disappointing this month, anglers are really hoping that big tuna will show up like they did last year.
A few tuna have arrived off Virginia Beach, but it hasn’t blown up. That doesn’t mean it won’t, however.
While a 300-pound tuna requires stout tackle, the nearshore waters are accessible on mild weather days in boats such as those preferred by many inland striper anglers. The key is to be ready to roll to the coast at short notice when the fish show up.
Alternative: Craig Creek’s chain pickerel are active, especially on mild days.
February — New River walleyes
Home to a unique strain of native walleyes, the New River is a hot spot for the tasty and challenging fish during the late winter spawning run.
The hole beneath Fosters Falls is a traditional February hot spot. Getting a primo fishing position can require an early wait in line at the New River State Park facility at Fosters Falls.
While Fosters Falls is popular, the river all the way to Allisonia at the head of Claytor Lake holds decent numbers of fish and the crowds are minimal.
Minnow-tipped feather jigs and hard minnow lures such as the Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue are popular walleye-getters.
Alternative: Throw big plugs for New River muskies.
March — Kerr Reservoir crappies
Kerr Reservoir, which is also known as Buggs Island Lake, has long been Virginia’s best crappie lake.
While April can produce the fastest fishing, anglers stand their best chance of fooling a 2-pound-plus slab earlier in the spring.
Slow-trolling or drifting with jigs and minnows over stumpy flats is a popular technique because anglers can cover a lot of water, which is important on a huge reservoir such as Kerr.
Alternative: Yellow perch will move into shallow shoals in lakes to spawn with water temperatures are 45 to 55 degrees.
April — Smith Mountain Lake largemouths
Serious largemouth fishermen might argue that March is actually the premier month for largemouths at the lake. Tournament results last year, when fishermen were using Alabama rigs to catch tremendous bags from winter into early spring, could support that assertion.
However, for the average Joe weekend fisherman, it’s tough to beat April.
Some bass will still be in pre-spawn mode but others will be on beds, providing for fun sight-fishing action.
Alternative: Trout stocking season is in full swing so it’s a great time to hit your favorite stocked lake, creek or river.
May — Lake Moomaw brown trout
While Lake Moomaw doesn’t spit out trophy trout like it once did, the pretty mountain reservoir still produces some hogs.
Last May, trolling specialist Billy Brads of Lexington tangled with the lake’s biggest-ever brown, a 12-pound, 8-ounce behemoth.
Downriggers can help trollers reach trout, but fancy gear isn’t necessary. Many of the lake’s biggest trout fall to fishermen dunking live minnows or alewives under their boats while drifting.
Alternative: Cast small dry flies to have a ball with native brook trout on mountain creeks.
June — Suffolk sunfish
Why drive nearly five hours to fish for bluegills and redear sunfish? Because Suffolk’s water supply reservoirs offer by far the best chance for an angler to catch a sunfish — or many — topping the 1-pound mark.
In fact, Lake Prince and Western Branch Reservoir often produce redears topping 2 pounds.
Live crickets, nightcrawlers and fly rod poppers all work well in late spring.
Take a cooler and keep every fish you catch, because fishing pressure that keeps population levels in check is why the lakes produce trophy sunnies.
Alternative: After fishing for sunfish, trailer the boat over to Back Bay, where largemouth bass are making a great comeback.
July — New River smallmouth bass
The dead of summer isn’t the best time to catch a heavy bass, but it’s a great time to have a lot of fun.
Fly gear or ultralight tackle with small soft plastics will produce steady action during daytime float trips. If bigger fish are the goal, wait until dark and crawl black single-bladed spinnerbaits through deep holes.
Alternative: Don’t ignore the James River for summer smallmouths. The fishery has rebounded nicely since fish kills a few years back.
August — James River blue catfish
Blue catfish in the tidal James and other coastal rivers have gained national acclaim in recent years, and for good reason.
The fish are abundant and large.
Fishing for the big cats is not complicated. Most anglers simply dunk big chunks of bait on the bottom in deep holes and channels.
Alternative: Hit the lower Chesapeake Bay for exciting sight-fishing action for cruising cobia.
September — Coastal puppy drum
This past September, Virginia’s inshore coastal anglers experienced outstanding fishing for juvenile “puppy” drum.
Few of the fish topped 18 inches but that will change this fall when the fast-growing fish return and are a year bigger.
Anglers fishing with bait and lures in the shallows should be in for a light tackle bonanza.
Alternative: River smallmouths are on their pre-winter feeding frenzy.
October — Jackson River trout
Fall is an ideal time to hit the Jackson River tailwater, casting small lures and fly rod streamers for the river’s hungry wild rainbow and brown trout.
While deep holes hold some big fish, don’t ignore small pockets.
One caveat: Be careful about where you stop to fish and wade as some areas fall under private ownership. If the banks are posted, obtaining landowner permission is suggested.
Alternative: After having spent the warm months in the deep, crappies can once again be found around shallow shoreline cover.
November — New River muskies
Muskies always seem to be hungry, but they’re at their most active when water temperatures are brisk.
Fall is a great time to muskie fish because the toothy predators are really aggressive. A bonus? Everyone else is deer hunting so you’ll have the river pretty much to yourself.
The best bait is anything big and gaudy that you feel confident casting all day.
Alternative: Stocked trout streams are getting lots of fish, but not lots of pressure.
December — Smith Mountain Lake stripers
Anglers who don’t mind getting out in chilly weather can find good striper action at the state’s best inland water for the big battlers.
In December a variety of tactics can be effective.
Fishing live bait on downlines and on planer boards is one favorite technique, while some trolling experts stick with pulling spoons and umbrella rigs. Another approach is to cast or drop a jigging spoon or Fluke on a leadhead into a school.
Alternative: Drifting small live minnows over deep weed beds is a good way to connect with yellow perch.