New River - Fishing Opportunities
The New River offers a variety of fishing opportunities as well as some real trophy fishing potential. Largemouth bass, spotted bass, and smallmouth bass (called black bass) are all found in the New River. Smallmouth bass are, by far, the most abundant of these black bass in the river.
March, April, and May are the top months to catch trophy-smallmouth bass from the river, but a good number of trophy "smallies" are also caught in July, August, and September.
Techniques that produce these large smallmouth bass include fishing nightcrawlers, soft plastics, and top water lures in the summer months. Anglers should do well year-round with any bait that mimics crayfish, which are smallmouth's preferred prey. During summer months, buzz baits worked around downed trees or weedbeds (particularly water willows) often produce strikes from lunker smallmouths.
While smallmouth bass are the top species to catch from the New River, sections of the river hold trophy largemouth bass as well. This is particularly true of the Montgomery County portion of the New River (from Claytor Dam to Big Falls). In September 1999, Gloria Treadway hooked into an 11-pound giant in this section of the river. According to Department records (dating back to 1963), this was the biggest largemouth bass ever caught from the New River. Prior to Mrs. Treadway's catch, the biggest largemouth bass caught in the New River were 10-pounders caught in April 1991 and May 1994.
The muskie is the largest game fish found in the New River. They are stocked throughout the entire New River from North Carolina to West Virginia. The current Virginia state record, a 45 lbs 8 oz trophy, was caught in the lower New River in June 2007. From 1997 through 2003, 190 citation size muskie (15 pounds or 40 inches) were registered in Virginia. In fact, from 1990 through 2003, 45% of all muskie citations registered in the state were caught in the New River.
A four year research project on the lower New River muskie population was recently completed by a Virginia Tech graduate student. This study, funded by the VDGIF, looked into seasonal muskie movement in the river, habitat preferences, feeding habits, and growth patterns. The food habit portion of the study consisted of pumping the stomachs of over 200 muskies collected during electrofishing surveys. The released muskie probably never knew they lost a meal! Young muskie ate primarily shiners (a small minnow), mid-size muskie fed on rock bass and sunfish, and the largest fish mainly fed on suckers. Although a muskie is an opportunistic feeder and will eat almost anything, only 5% of the recovered food items were smallmouth bass. Anglers have a much greater impact on the smallmouth population than do the muskie. For additional information on the research and New River muskie in general, contact Joe Williams, Fisheries Biologist in Blacksburg, at 540-961-8304, Ext 3.
Catching a muskie can be a real challenge. It can take many, many casts to hook into one of these "toothy critters" but the excitement of fighting one is well worth the effort. Good numbers of muskie can be found near every boat landing and in the river reaches in-between. Large crankbaits, jerkbaits, and in-line bucktail spinners are all good baits for muskie. Live bait fishing (including the use of trout) can be an extremely effective fishing method in the winter months.
We know more about the New River walleye population than ever before thanks to a graduate research project conducted in the late 1990's. This Virginia Tech study, also funded by the VDGIF, identified a genetically unique native walleye population in Claytor Lake and the upper New River above the lake. Despite stockings of other genetic strains since the 1930's, this native strain has continued to reproduce, but in very low numbers.
Since completion of the study, efforts have been made to protect and enhance the native walleye fishery through selective broodstock collection and fingerling production at hatcheries in Virginia and West Virginia. We have been fortunate to stock over 61,000 native fingerling walleye and more than 600,000 baby walleye into the river from 2000 through 2003. No other genetic strains of walleye have been stocked in Claytor or the river since 1996.
Walleye fishing in the New River is best during the winter months and peaks from February through May during the walleye spawning season. Two main spawning grounds for river walleye were identified during the research study, Fosters Falls (in Fosters Falls Village, part of the New River Trail State Park), and the area upstream from there at Buck Dam. There are two boat ramps in the Village, both of which are best suited to shallow running jon boats. Below Buck Dam is a newly constructed parking lot and bank fishing access site at the end of State Route 636 in the Austinville area. The current Virginia state record (15 pounds, 15 ounces) was caught from the upper New River near one of these two areas. Small jigs tipped with minnows, plastic grubs, and minnow type jerkbaits are all effective walleye baits.
All sections of the river have populations of flathead and channel catfish. Good areas to fish for catfish downstream from Claytor Lake include the river just below Claytor Dam, below Pepper's Ferry Bridge (Route 114), the Whitethorne and Belspring areas (all three locations are in Montgomery County), and Narrows, Pearisburg, and Eggleston in Giles County. Upstream from Claytor Lake, catfish are numerous from Foster's Falls to Allisonia (Pulaski and Wythe Counties), near Foster's Falls in Wythe County, and in the Baywood and Independence sections in Grayson County.
Panfish typically caught from the river include redbreast sunfish, bluegill, and rock bass. Rock bass are found in the highest numbers, but their sizes vary between areas of the river. Good locations for nice-sized rock bass include Radford and Whitethorne in Montgomery County, and Old Town, Baywood, and Mouth of Wilson in Grayson County. Many of the major tributaries of the New River provide an opportunity to catch numerous sunfish in solitude. Some of the streams to check out include Big Walker and Wolf Creeks in Giles County, the Little River in Floyd and Montgomery Counties, and Reed Creek in Wythe County. Since these streams are primarily on private lands, anglers should ask streamside landowners for permission to fish them.