Gerald Almy: Fishing heats up on lakes, rivers

Gerald Almy

If you like fishing, it would be hard to find a better time to hit the lakes and rivers than right now. Waters have warmed into ranges that have fish feeding actively, but not hot enough that they have gone into the “summer doldrums.” Here’s a rundown on some of the best fishing opportunities in waters that are popular with Shenandoah Valley sportsmen and women.

Lake Anna: Stripers are biting early and late for anglers casting topwater plugs, jigs and Sassy Shads. Shiners and live shad are also drawing strikes from the big pinstriped bass. Trolling with big-lipped plugs trailed by a small jig near creek channel edges is extremely productive.

Crappies have left their spawning beds and are now concentrated around deep water brush piles and bridge abutments. A small live minnow is the most reliable offering, but you can also score vertically jigging or slowly retrieving small chartreuse-colored jigs.

Bass anglers are hitting the shallows and points very early with jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and topwater plugs. After the sun comes up for an hour or so, head to deep structure and use grubs, plastic worms or deep diving crankbaits.

Smith Mountain Lake: Although it’s a bit farther away than Lake Anna, Smith Mountain is a favorite destination for many Shenandoah Valley anglers. Stripers are the number one sportfish here. This lake accounts for more citations for that species than any other water in the state.

Most stripers are holding in the lower reaches of the lake, but getting ready to make their move back up both major feeder rivers. Creeks and coves are productive for fish in 15-40 foot depths. Drifting or using planer boards with shad is yielding lots of action.

Also try casting jigs in the ¼-3/8 ounce size over points and bars. Work them back steadily, pausing occasionally to mimic a wounded shad struggling to swim. At night casting Red Fins is productive in coves.

Catfish are hitting cut and live bait in 8 to 20 feet depths. Slab crappies are biting near docks and brush in deeper water. Large minnows are the best offerings. Smallmouths and largemouths are hitting well at night around docks and during the day on points and deep water structure. Use plastic worms, grubs, deep diving crankbaits and jigs with pork dressings. If you see fish breaking on the surface, cast Sassy Shads into the melee and you could catch a nice striper one minute and a 2-6 pound smallmouth or largemouth bass the next.

Lake Gaston: Largemouths are striking topwater baits around weed beds and docks, particularly early in the morning. At night black Jitterbugs are scoring for intrepid anglers who don’t mind braving the dark. Wear a floatation vest at all times if you go out at night. During the day, hit points and deep reefs with plastic worms for the best action here. For stripers, fish live minnows or shad near bridge abutments. Trolling with lures such as the Big Mac and a trailing jig 18 inches back is also a great way to catch these pinstriped true bass.
Bluegills will strike small sponge rubber spiders or popping bugs near docks and weeds. They’ll also nab an earthworm, cricket, or small red wriggler beneath a bobber. The water is clear and 74 degrees.

Shenandoah River: Fly rod expert Harry Murray, of Edinburg, rates the smallmouth fishing in both branches of the Shenandoah as excellent. The water is very clear, at normal level and about 74 degrees. Good flies include Murray’s Heavy Black Hellgrammite and Murray’s Olive Marauder, sizes 4 and 6.

The river’s bronze bass will also strike small thin-minnow plugs, grubs and soft plastic jerkbaits for lure tossers. If you want to use bait, go with hellgrammites, live shiners or madtoms. The latter are difficult to find, but will often draw strikes from the biggest smallmouths of all. Murray says the native brook trout streams in Shenandoah National Park are also yielding great sport with nymphs and small dry flies.

New River: It’s a bit of a drive, but this river is yielding superb smallmouth action with occasional rockbass, walleyes and muskies thrown in. Topwater popping bugs work for fly fishermen, while grubs and crankbaits are producing for spin fishermen.

Tidal Potomac: The biggest bass are recovering from the spawn and found in thick weeds. Spinnerbaits, topwater lures and weedless spoons are all producing action here in the shadows of the Nation’s Capital. Shallow crankbaits, which we wrote about a few weeks ago, are also a top offering. The Mann’s Baby 1-Minus is a hot lure right now. Texas rigged plastics are also being nabbed by hungry bass.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.