Right now you're probably concentrating on bagging a few doves, figuring out the flight patterns of the local resident geese, or getting your archery gear ready for deer season. But don't forget fishing just because hunting seasons are starting to arrive.
Many species of gamefish are biting throughout the state and should feed heavily for at least another month or two. Here are some of the top rivers and lakes to try right now.
Shenandoah River: One of the best places to wet a line in September is the Shenandoah River, according to local guide Harry Murray, of Edinburg. The river temperature is dropping off from the 80's into the upper 70's and that has smallmouths feeding strongly. Murray recommends streamers fished deep or surface poppers early and late in the day.
If you prefer spin tackle and artificials, small grubs, soft plastic jerkbaits, thin-minnow plugs and 4-inch plastic worms are drawing action. Live bait fishermen are scoring with hellgrammites, live nightcrawlers, minnows and madtoms (small catfish). If you decide to fish with bait, be sure to set the hook fairly quickly, so the bass doesn't swallow it deep and can be returned to the river unharmed.
James River: This river offers deep pools, swirling eddies, riffles and boisterous rapids that hold a bounty of fat smallmouth bass. Lately a number of fish up to 20 inches have been caught, mixed in with lots of 10-14-inchers. Fly rodders are scoring with nymphs and poppers. Spin fishermen are using curly-tailed grubs, crank baits and soft plastic jerkbaits twitched just under the surface. Expect lots of redbreast sunfish and rockbass to smack these lures also, and you may latch onto a few sassy catfish as well.
Kerr Reservoir: This lake straddling the North Carolina border is also called Buggs Island. But whatever name you give it, the fishing here is excellent now. Deep crankbaits are producing on points and drop-offs along with soft plastic lures such as grubs, worms and jerkbaits. As waters cool a bit, switch to spinnerbaits and topwater plugs fished up in the button brush and willows along shore. Crappies are a bit slow now, but will pick up as waters cool and take minnows around bridge pilings and outer edges of shoreline brush piles.
Stripers are being caught trolling with large minnow plugs with small jigs attached 18 inches behind them. Look for fish in the main lake near points and along river channel edges.
Lake Anna: A similar pattern is yielding excellent results for stripers on this nearby lake, 28 miles southwest of Fredericksburg. Anglers are also catching these fish by drifting with live shad and sight casting to breaking schools feeding on shad on the surface. Use bucktail jigs or Sassy Shads for this fishing.
Anna is also the scene of terrific bass action. Use large plastic worms during the heat of the day over deep-water structure, along with grubs and deep-diving crankbaits. If you make the two-hour drive from the Shenandoah Valley early enough and are out on the water at dawn, cast topwaters and soft plastic jerkbaits to cover along shore for some fast surface action that should last about an hour.
Crappies are swarming around most of the lake's bridge pilings. The best way to catch these fish is to probe water 8-14 feet deep with small chartreuse chenille jigs or live shiners. It won't take long to fill a live well or cooler with these tasty silver, black and white panfish. Fillet them and sautee in lemon and butter for a mouth-watering treat or scale and fry up whole.
Chickahominy River and Lake: This location is producing good bass fishing both in the tidal river and above the dam in the lake. Live minnows and topwater lures work best in the lake for bigmouths, while river fishermen do well with crankbaits, large spinnerbaits and plastic worms. Fly fishermen can score with cork or balsa poppers fished near the flooded tree trunks.
Bluegills are hitting worms and crickets or small sponge spiders on a fly rod. Small to medium catfish are also biting well on the lake with cut bait or nightcrawlers.
Moomaw Lake: Less than three hours down I-81 from the Valley, this clear mountain lake is a good spot for big brown and rainbow trout. Fish live shiners 20-40 feet deep, sight cast to cruising fish on the surface or troll with small spoons and Rapalas.
Smith Mountain Lake: Stripers are deep here, but they can still be caught with the right techniques. For most local anglers, that means drifting and slow trolling with live shad rigged on down lines. The main river channel and deep points are the best spots.
As waters cool later in September, head towards the coves where shad are congregated. The stripers will follow them there and nab one-fourth to three-eighth ounce bucktails with a saddle hackle tied in along the flanks for extra fluttering appeal.
Smith Mountain is always exciting to fish because besides the stripers there are excellent populations of small and largemouth bass, crappies and bluegills, plus a smattering of walleyes and muskies. You never really know what's going to strike on any given cast. That definitely keeps the excitement level high.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.