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2014 River Fishing Report

Region 1

The 2014 fishing outlook for the tidal James River and its tributaries is very good. This fishery compares favorably with some of the best lake fishing in the state. Boat electrofishing catch rates of largemouth bass have been stable over the last decade ranging from 54-89 fish per hour. In 2012, overall catch rates of largemouth bass were 83 fish per hour. Favorable fishing conditions are based on catch-per-unit-effort of preferred size bass (for largemouth bass, 15 inches and greater), and an index of the proportion of largemouth bass greater than or equal to 15 inches in the population (RSD-P). In 2012, catch rate of that sized largemouth bass was 12 per hour. This is a slight decrease from 2011. However, it is still very good compared to other fisheries around the commonwealth. The proportion of preferred sized bass in the James River was slightly lower in 2012 (at 21 percent), but should still provide good numbers of bass 15 inches and larger.

The Chickahominy River continues to be a popular destination for many anglers and has sufficient submerged aquatic vegetation and a strong forage base of threadfin shad to offer anglers a great place to target largemouth bass. The 2012 electrofishing surveys yielded high diversity, with 37 species and a bass catch rate of 66 fish per hour. The catch rate of preferred bass (≥ 15 inches) was 14 fish per hour, and several strong year classes of juveniles were observed. The largest bass of the survey weighed 8 lb. 5 oz., and numerous 4- to 6-pound bass were collected. For action other than largemouth, a variety of species are present. Many enjoy fishing for blue cats (abundant here), and the river provides good black crappie and yellow perch action.

Largemouth bass fishing on the lower tidal Rappahannock River (east of Port Royal) may be slow in 2013. Electrofishing surveys in 2012 produced a catch rate of only 15 fish per hour. Bass abundance in tributaries such as Gingoteague Creek was higher (at 47 fish/hr). Submerged aquatic grass growth was limited to only a handful of the areas sampled. Hydrilla provided some habitat in Pee Dee Creek, Baylor’s Creek, and Drake’s Marsh. Preferred sized bass (≥ 15 inches) were collected at 5 fish per hour. Anglers may want to target bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish, which were abundant in areas with a significant amount of flooded shoreline timber, and yellow perch in Drake’s Marsh. Many of the tidal tributaries provide exciting opportunities to catch a bowfin, as 157 were sampled mostly in the 20- to 24-inch range.

Region 2

Anglers will find fewer smallmouth bass in most areas of the upper James River (Iron Gate to Scottsville) in 2014. Spawning success for smallmouth has been below average five of the last six years. Anglers should expect to see reduced numbers of fish up to 13 inches. However, the numbers of larger fish (≥ 14 inches) continue to persist from good year classes seven to nine years ago in most areas. The next few years are expected to be poor smallmouth fishing compared to recent history. The decline in smallmouth is linked to poor reproduction during multiple and successive years and not due to fish kills from disease outbreaks that began in 2007. There have been some fish lost to these outbreaks, but so far, not in catastrophic numbers; and there has been very little evidence of disease in 2011 through 2013. As for other species in the upper James, channel and flathead catfish numbers should be similar to last year—plentiful in places but not consistently abundant river-wide. Numbers of muskellunge appear stable (not increasing like during the past ten years) and are found primarily upstream of Lynchburg. There are now adequate musky to provide a relatively good chance of a hookup. Sunfish (rock bass, redbreast, and bluegill) numbers should also be above average this year and have been more consistent than smallmouth bass.

Smallmouth bass fishing in the Staunton River in 2014 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 inches and greater. Growth rates of smallmouth bass are above average, and survival is good which helps the Staunton be a consistent producer of quality-size bass. Population estimates performed late summer 2013 indicated smallmouth bass population size declined somewhat since surveys in 2006, but the population is still very healthy. Angler surveys in 2013 indicated the fishery was dominated by anglers who live nearby and average over 70 trips annually. The Staunton has excellent smallmouth bass habitat; anglers new to the river should concentrate on abundant rocky habitat as well as submerged trees extending from the bank. 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 excellent fishing for channel and flathead catfish. Catfish are well distributed throughout the river and should be available from shore or boat. A striped bass spawning run from Kerr Reservoir also provides a very popular and unique fishing opportunity in April and May.

Region 3

Angler reports for the New River upstream of Claytor Lake in 2013 were good. Abundant young smallmouth will contribute to angler catches in 2014 with good numbers of 7 to 14 inch fish. Fish for walleye from Fries Dam to Claytor Lake where the Department concentrates its stocking efforts. Anglers catch good numbers of walleye in this section from February to May with Foster Falls (headquarters location for the New River Trail State Park) being the best location. Rock bass and redbreast sunfish will continue to provide fun fishing opportunities. Anglers may also encounter an occasional channel or flathead catfish. Muskie populations have increased from Ivanhoe to Allisonia.

The New River below Claytor Lake should produce good catches of smallmouth bass up to 16 inches in 2014. Bass fishing should get better in the next three years with above average smallmouth spawns during three 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 2013 electrofishing catches for redbreast sunfish and rock bass were good. Target panfish by downsizing lures to catch fish with smaller mouths. Good areas for panfish include Claytor Dam and Whitethorne in Montgomery County and Pembroke to Pearisburg in Giles county. If you prefer big fish, why not really upsize your gear and target muskie? Muskie are abundant in certain sections with good numbers of 30 to 40 inch fish available. Throwing large spinnerbaits and stickbaits could result in hair-raising strikes. The next one could be a trophy muskie pulling your line, so why not try it? Remember, muskie in the New River are regulated by a 42-inch minimum size with a 1 per day creel. The Department and Virginia Tech are conducting a new study of muskie food habits and growth. More information on that study will be available in the next couple of years.

The Middle Fork Holston River will offer a variety of great fishing opportunities in 2014. The river has very good numbers of smallmouth bass, redbreast sunfish, rock bass and bluegills located throughout the navigable sections in Smyth and Washington Counties. Smallmouth bass are abundant and can grow to decent size, up to 18-20 inches. 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 Clinch River will provide some good fishing in 2014. Most of the smallmouth bass collected during the 2012 electrofishing sample were less than 14 inches in length, but some larger fish are available. About 9 percent of adult smallmouth bass exceeded 14 inches in length, 2 percent measured more than 17 inches and less than 1 percent were over 20 inches in length. Rock bass and redbreast sunfish size and numbers are good, so they might fill in some of the time between smallmouth bites. Walleye fishing is improving as the walleye population continues to be enhanced through stocking. Walleye collected in the 2012 samples ranged from 17-21 inches. Late winter and early spring time is the best time to target walleye. The Clinch has a wide range of fish species to catch and makes for a great day out on a local river. Visit the Clinch River website for additional access and fishing information.

The North Fork Holston River should offer good smallmouth bass fishing opportunities in 2014. Anglers will find very good numbers of smallmouth bass between 14 and 18 inches in the North Fork Holston River. Samples collected in 2013 show 28 percent of adult smallmouth bass exceed 14 inches in length, and 10 percent measure more than 17 inches long. The 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 inches in length are not as common as 14 to 18-inch fish, but many are landed each year. Visit the Holston River - North Fork website for additional access and fishing information.

Region 4

The South Fork Shenandoah River is known in angler circles as a “numbers” fishery, and 2014 should be consistent with these expectations for smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish. Abundance of adult smallmouth bass remains well above the 18-year average. In 2012 and 2013, biologists documented an increase in the number of adult smallmouth between 11-20 inches. The majority of these fish came from two excellent spawns (2004 and 2007). Fish surviving from 2004 are reaching 20-inches, while 2007 fish should be in the 14- to 15-inch range. Spawning success was below average in 2008 and 2009, so anglers could see fewer 12- to 13-inch bass in 2014. Successful smallmouth spawning in 2010 and 2012 should keep the river fishing good in upcoming years. Overall, smallmouth fishing in the South Fork and mainstem should be excellent in 2014. Anglers should also expect excellent catches of redbreast sunfish. Density of sunfish can vary by location and habitat, but there should be plenty of 6- to 7-inch fish available.

Anglers should not overlook largemouth bass, as this river harbors a quality largemouth population, and finding good numbers of 2- to 4-pound fish should not be difficult if deeper, slower sections with woody debris are targeted. Anglers also reported excellent musky catches and sightings in 2013 - mostly in the longest and deepest pools. Channel catfish in the 3- to 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. Overall, 2014 anglers should encounter similar (to better) fish populations in most of the South Fork and mainstem, compared to prior years.

Consistent spawning success and positive angler reports from 2013 indicate that the North Fork Shenandoah should be fishing well in 2014. Anglers should mostly encounter smallmouth bass in the 9- to 12-inch 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 inches 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 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.

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 2014. The Maury offers excellent habitat for smallmouth bass and sunfish throughout its 30-mile journey to the James River in Glasgow. The majority of smallmouth bass are generally smaller than 12 inches, but there are adequate numbers of quality-sized bass (12-20 inches) 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 Rivanna River continues to provide wonderful fishing opportunities for any anglers. The Rivanna contains good catfish and panfish fisheries and provides an excellent smallmouth bass fishery. Anglers should experience good to excellent catch rates for smallmouth bass up to 14 inches. There is even potential for anglers to catch that often coveted trophy smallmouth (20 plus inches). Smallmouth bass fishing should be good throughout the river, but by far the best populations were located in the lower river reaches (downstream of Palmyra to the confluence of the James River). In 2014, the agency will begin stocking walleye in the Rivanna River to develop a fishable population. Walleye will be stocked below the Rivanna Reservoir down to Palmyra, and anglers should see a fishable population within 3 years. No walleye below 18-inch may be harvested due to a statewide minimum size limit. There are numerous public access sites that offer wade fishing opportunities and float fishing trips ranging in length from 2 to 16 miles. The lack of hazards and major rapids should allow a comfortable trip for even the most novice boaters.

Anglers should expect similar (reduced) numbers of smallmouth bass on the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers in 2014 as in recent years, and size structure should again be above average (probably the best chance for catching 16”+ fish in the past 5 years). This trend follows the status of smallmouth populations in many of Virginia’s rivers and reflects numerous, recent poor to average year classes and the maturation of several dominant and persistent year classes predating the string of mediocrity. Largemouth bass numbers and size structure continue to increase especially in lower, slower river sections (e.g., Motts’s Landing) with abundant Hydrilla growth. Channel catfish are extremely abundant and offer great potential for a shore lunch.

Conversely, largemouth bass abundance on the lower (tidal) Rappahannock again attained record level in 2013 (56/hour electrofishing) and was comprised of several recent, strong year classes. Size structure should improve in 2014, with plenty of 3-pound + fish, as strong year classes continue maturation. The reach of river from City Dock to Port Royal has not looked better since surveys began a decade ago. Northern snakeheads were first identified from the Rappahannock River in 2012. Fish captured in Ruffin’s Mill Pond, in Massaponax Creek below the pond, near Hicks’s Landing on the mainstem, and in creeks below Route 301 all suggest colonization occurred both from angler introduction (at Ruffin’s Mill Pond) and dispersion from the Potomac River. Catch rates of snakeheads did not increase significantly in 2013.

Tidal Potomac River tributaries—including Aquia, Occoquan, and Pohick—should produce excellent catches of largemouth bass and Northern snakehead in 2014, as electrofishing surveys in 2013 produced catch rates of 11 fish per hour for snakeheads (unchanged from 2012), and 86 fish per hour for bass (nearly a record). These creeks have recently experienced several years of good bass recruitment. Anglers seeking snakeheads should target natural wood and docks before vegetation emerges, then shift to spatterdock and hydrilla edges later in the season. 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.