2015 River Fishing Report
Smallmouth Bass fishing in the Staunton River in 2015 should continue to be average to good. Strong year classes produced in 2007, and average year classes in 2008 and 2009 should provide anglers with good catch rates of Smallmouth Bass 14” and greater. Year class strength has been consistent but slightly below average for the past three years, so catch rates should remain consistent with those seen recently. Growth rates of Smallmouth Bass are above average, and survival is good which helps the Staunton River be a consistent producer of quality-size fish. Population estimates performed late summer 2013 indicated Smallmouth Bass population declined somewhat since surveys were last performed in 2006, but the population is still very healthy. The Staunton has excellent Smallmouth Bass habitat - anglers new to the river should concentrate on the abundant rocky features as well as submerged trees extending from banks. The river also holds a number of Spotted Bass, and the chance to catch a spot over 12 inches is very good. In addition to black bass, Staunton River anglers will find fishing for Channel and Flathead Catfish to be excellent. Catfish are well distributed throughout the river and should be available from both shore and boat. A Striped Bass spawning run from Kerr Reservoir provides a very popular and unique fishing opportunity in April and May.
Smallmouth Bass experienced excellent reproduction on the upper James River in 2014. Good June flows created ideal spawning conditions and produced the most abundant year class in two decades. Anglers can expect average numbers of catchable size fish (> 14”) in 2015 and large numbers of small (6-8”) fish. However, adult abundance should start increasing considerably in the next few years as the 2014 year class continues to grow. The James itself provides a density gradient of Smallmouth Bass population characteristics. As a general rule, the upper James (Eagle Rock) has higher catch rates and decreases down river to impounded sections between Big Island and Lynchburg. Towards James River State Park, anglers can expect to see fewer fish. However, don’t shy away from the lower James - just be more cognizant of the habitat you’re fishing. Try heads of pools above impounded sites between Big Island and Lynchburg and anywhere fast water meets slack water below riffles (three to six feet depth is ideal). Overall, the adult population remains low but is in the process of rebuilding. We are hopeful the 2014 year class will shift the fishery back to what it was in the early 2000s (plenty of large fish). Over a decade of poor spawns in the 2000s created a decline in the population which was evident in surveys and very noticeable to anglers. Rock Bass and Redbreast Sunfish also had good reproduction and were most abundant above Lynchburg. Flathead and Channel Catfish were numerous in downtown Lynchburg - several fish over 25” were captured. Muskellunge catch rates were also very good from Lynchburg to Eagle Rock, but none were captured below Lynchburg. The highest musky catch rates were between Buchanan and the Reed Creek boat launch on Big Island - the majority captured were between 35 and 40”.
One important note regarding the New River is the new Smallmouth Bass size limit in 2015. Effective January 1, 2015, from Fields Dam in Grayson County downstream to the Virginia/West Virginia State Line (not including Claytor Lake), the size limit will be a 14 to 22” restricted slot, requiring release of all bass from 14 to 22”. Creel limit remains 5 per day, with one allowed over 22”. This new size limit also applies to the Little River in Montgomery County downstream from Little River dam and Big Walker Creek (Giles County) from the Norfolk and Southern Railroad Bridge downstream, and Wolf Creek (Giles County), from the Wolf Creek Dam downstream.
On the Upper New River (above Claytor Lake), abundant young Smallmouth Bass will contribute to angler catches in 2015 with good numbers of 7 - 14” fish. The section from Buck Dam to Allisonia is the best area of the Upper New River for Smallmouth Bass fishing with excellent numbers of 14 to 22” bass available. During spring 2014 electrofishing from Buck Dam to Allisonia, 30% of Smallmouth Bass collected by Department fisheries biologists over 7” were also over 14”, and 4% were over 20”! Walleye fishing is best from Fries Dam to Allisonia where the Department concentrates stocking efforts. Anglers catch good numbers of walleye here from February to May with Foster Falls a prime location. Rock Bass and Redbreast Sunfish provide fun fishing opportunities particularly from Mouth of Wilson to Fries where these sunfish are more numerous. In pool areas from Ivanhoe to Allisonia, anglers can catch Channel and Flathead Catfish which are more numerous upstream from Claytor Lake than downstream. Muskie populations have increased from Ivanhoe to Allisonia offering opportunities to catch a trophy that will light up your lure!
The Lower New River should produce good catches of Smallmouth Bass up to 14” in 2015. Bass fishing should continue to improve during the next few years with above average spawns during four of the last six years! Top locations for Smallmouth Bass are Whitethorne to Eggleston in Montgomery and Giles counties and Pembroke to Pearisburg in Giles County. Fall 2014 electrofishing catches for Redbreast Sunfish and Rock Bass were good. Good areas for panfish include Claytor Dam and Whitethorne in Montgomery County and Pembroke to Pearisburg in Giles County. If you prefer catching big fish, increase the size of your gear and target muskie. Muskie are abundant in all sections with good numbers of 35 to 42” fish available. Throwing large spinnerbaits and stickbaits could result in hair-raising strikes. Muskie in the New River are regulated by a 42” minimum size with a 1 per day creel. The Department and Virginia Tech are conducting a study of muskie food habits and growth. More information on this study will be available in the next couple of years.
Fishing opportunities for Clinch River Smallmouth Bass in 2015 should be excellent. Electrofishing catch rate for Smallmouth Bass in the Clinch River in spring 2014 (63 fish/hour) was slightly lower than that observed in the previous sample, but the numbers were still considered good. Smallmouth Bass sampled in 2014 ranged in length from 4 - 20” with an average length of just over 10”. However; fifty percent of adult Smallmouth Bass sampled were 11” or longer, and nearly 20% exceeded 14”. Four percent exceeded 17”, and trophy-sized (≥ 20”) fish were observed.
The Middle Fork Holston River will offer a variety of great fishing opportunities in 2015. The river has very good numbers of Smallmouth Bass, Redbreast Sunfish, Rock Bass and Bluegill located throughout the navigable sections in Smyth and Washington Counties. Smallmouth Bass are abundant and can grow to decent size, up to 18-20”. Anglers may also catch a few Largemouth Bass, Black Crappie, Channel Catfish and Pumpkinseed Sunfish. There are no public access points on the 32 mile navigable portion of the Middle Fork Holston River, so anglers are encouraged to obtain landowner permission when accessing the river from private lands. The upper portions of the Middle Fork Holston in the Town of Marion, Town of Chilhowie, and Atkins provide excellent trout fishing opportunities, as these sections are part of the Department's stocked trout program. Remember when fishing stocked trout waters, a trout license is required in addition to a freshwater fishing license.
The North Fork Holston River should offer good Smallmouth Bass fishing opportunities in 2015. Anglers will find very good numbers of Smallmouth Bass between 14 and 18” in the North Fork Holston River. Samples collected in 2013 show 28 percent of adult smallmouth bass exceed 14”, and 10 percent measured more than 17”. Abundance of fish in this size range appears to be the result of high annual survival (79%) rather than strong year classes or fast growth. Smallmouth bass over 20” are not as common as 14 to 18” fish, but many are landed each year. Visit the Holston River - North Fork website for additional access and fishing information.
Fishing the Maury River in beautiful Rockbridge County is always a good choice. Fish populations are extremely consistent from year to year, and anglers should expect high catch rates of Smallmouth Bass, Rock Bass, and Redbreast Sunfish when fishing in 2015. Biologists used a new electrofishing raft to sample the fish population in spring 2014. This is the first time this gear was used on the Maury and the first time this fishery was monitored in spring. The Maury offers excellent habitat for Smallmouth Bass and sunfish throughout its 30-mile journey to the James River in Glasgow. The majority of fish are generally smaller than 12”, but there are adequate numbers of quality-sized bass (12-20”) lurking in the depths. Anglers may also find themselves “reeling in” a Green Sunfish, Pumpkinseed Sunfish, Fallfish, or Largemouth Bass, as these species are also quite common. Harboring high densities of scrappy fish, the Maury is a great place to take novice anglers or a child on their first fishing trip.
The South Fork and Mainstem Shenandoah River are known in angler circles as a “numbers” fishery, meaning anglers can expect to catch a reasonable amount of bass and sunfish on any given day. However, based on DGIF 2014 fall sampling it appears a disease/mortality event in spring 2014 greatly reduced numbers of Smallmouth Bass and Redbreast Sunfish. Abundance of adult Smallmouth Bass was well above the 18-year average in 2012 and 2013. The majority of these quality fish came from excellent spawning success in 2007. Unfortunately, fish disease episodes on the Shenandoah typically impact larger fish, and numbers were greatly reduced by the spring 2014 event. During fall 2014 fish population monitoring, biologists documented a fair number of Smallmouth Bass in the 9 – 11” range. These fish were from good spawning success in 2010 and should grow into the 11 – 13” range throughout the 2015 summer. There was also good spawning success in 2012, and these fish (7 – 9”) should start showing up to anglers using smaller baits. Spawning success was below average in 2008 and 2009, so even without the 2014 disease event there would be low numbers of 13 – 15” bass in 2015. Successful bass spawning in 2010 and 2012 should improve the fishing in upcoming years barring any future fish disease outbreaks. Spawning success of Smallmouth Bass in 2014 was excellent and was ranked second best over the last 18 years. These fish should really boost the population in the future. Overall, Smallmouth Bass fishing in the South Fork and Mainstem Shenandoah will be somewhat slow compared to recent years with a lack of larger (> 14”) fish. Anglers should also expect slightly lower catches of Redbreast Sunfish. Although catches for 2014 were much lower than recent years, they were close to the average catches from 1996 – 2006.
Anglers should not overlook Largemouth Bass, as this river harbors a quality population, and finding good numbers of 2 – 4 pound fish should not be difficult if deeper, slower sections with woody debris is targeted. Anglers again reported good musky catches and sightings in 2014 mostly in the longest and deepest pools. Channel Catfish in the 3 – 6 pound range are common, and anglers should concentrate on the lower South Fork and Mainstem. There is always the strong possibility of a mixed bag on the Shenandoah. Don’t be surprised if you catch quality-sized Pumpkinseed, Bluegill, Green Sunfish, Fallfish, Black Crappie, or even a Walleye (Mainstem).
Consistent spawning success should also aid in recovery of the North Fork Shenandoah in 2015. Although the North Fork didn’t seem to be impacted as much as the South Fork by the disease episode, there were reports of slightly fewer large fish. DGIF will investigate these reports in spring 2015. Anglers should mostly encounter Smallmouth Bass in the 9 – 12” range. However, there is always the possibility of encountering larger fish when fishing the best habitat. Fallfish are plentiful in some sections of the North Fork. They can exceed 14” and should not be overlooked. Anglers should also encounter adequate numbers of Redbreast Sunfish in most areas, Bluegill in deeper pools, and the opportunity to catch a quality-sized Largemouth Bass, Channel Catfish, or musky. Pool habitat is limited, so seek out deeper water when targeting these species. If you plan a float trip here, stick to spring and early summer, as low flows and dense underwater vegetation make fishing and navigation difficult later in the year.
It is likely anglers will experience reduced Smallmouth Bass catch rates at least through 2015 on the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers, but the dominant 2014 year class should help increase catch rates of stock and quality size fish in the near future. Smallmouth Bass electrofishing catch rate was 35 fish/hour in 2014 which was well below average, but only 12 adults per hour were collected which was near an all-time low. Big fish numbers were fair but declined since 2013 likely as a result of an additional year of mortality on previously dominant, aging year classes. Several citations were collected between the old Embry Dam site and Route 1. Smallmouth bass recruitment in 2014 was excellent and the strongest since 2010. A trend of poor year classes was finally reversed after spring flows dictated below average year classes in five of seven years spanning 2008-2014. There are plenty of Channel and small Blue Catfish to be caught for that camp dinner from well above the junction on both arms downstream to Fredericksburg.
Tidal Potomac River tributaries—including Aquia, Occoquan, and Pohick—should produce good catches of Largemouth Bass and Northern Snakehead in 2015. Electrofishing surveys in spring 2014 indicated adult bass numbers were above average, and fingerling catch was good. These creeks have recently experienced several years of good bass recruitment. Northern Snakehead catch in most tributaries was reduced from recent years, as populations appeared to stabilize – creeks further south (e.g., Aquia) had higher densities. Anglers seeking snakeheads should target natural wood and docks before vegetation emerges then shift to spatterdock and hydrilla edges later in the season, and fish very shallow. Snakehead harvest is encouraged (they have excellent culinary value), but they may only be possessed if deceased and reported to the Department at (804) 367-2925.