Gerald Almy: Virginia’s most overlooked sportfish
Old Dominion anglers are lucky. We have fine trout fishing, excellent smallmouth, striper and largemouth waters and a variety of tasty panfish to go after. One interesting gamefish that tends to get overlooked, however, is the walleye.
Sportsmen and women in northern states or Canada would be surprised at that. In those areas, walleyes are considered one of the most respected of all gamefish.
Yes, those areas have a greater abundance of walleye waters and more walleyes per acre to try for. But there are a surprisingly large number of rivers and lakes in the Old Dominion that do hold this marble-eyed quarry, and some of them have very healthy populations of the delectable olive-bronze fish.
Over this week and next, we’ll rundown some of the finest walleye destinations in the state where you can wet a line for free and catch this delectable quarry.
New River: This river’s name is misleading. The New is actually one of the oldest waterways in the world. Regardless of the name, though, the New must stand at the top of any list of walleye waters in Virginia.
For one thing, it has given up the last three state record fish. It also holds the “historical” record (caught before modern verification methods were established). That fish weighted an amazing 22 pounds, 8 ounces, just 3 ounces shy of the world record, pulled out of Arkansas’ Greer’s Ferry Lake.
The heaviest walleyes come from this river in the southwestern part of the state during winter, but if you can settle for more modest fish of 2-6 pounds, plenty can be caught right now during summer months. The action will then get better and better as weather cools in fall. The section of water from Fries Dam downstream to Allisonia is especially productive.
Hungry Mother Lake: This body of water covers just 108 acres, making it a great choice if you don’t like fishing large impoundments that sprawl over thousands of acres. It’s also a great place to take the family. June and July are excellent months to catch walleyes here.
The main forage species in Hungry Mother is the alewife. These baitfish are sought out by the walleyes when they move into the shallows at night.
The forage fish swim in small circles and create a swirling noise that savvy anglers use to locate them and the walleyes that are likely close by. Good offerings include live alewives as well as shad, minnows and nightcrawlers.
Fishing for walleyes in this lake is best after dark, but some fish can also be caught during the day. If you venture out at that time, try areas near structure such as fallen trees.
After summer sets in, oxygen levels are depleted below 15 feet. It’s best to concentrate on shallow water at that time.
Lake Brittle: Here’s another small lake with good numbers of walleyes. Brittle is just a short drive away in northeastern Virginia. The fish mostly run 2 to 3 pounds, but every now and then you’ll latch onto a 5 or 6-pounder here. Netting samples biologists have done in recent years show good numbers of fish ranging up to 5 years old.
Walleyes are being tagged by biologists at Lake Brittle and several other walleye waters. If you catch one with a tag, you’ll get a cash reward by returning it to the state fishery department.
Simply cut through the monofilament holding the tag on with a knife or scissors and return to the address listed. Include information on where and when you caught it, whether you were targeting walleyes and if you caught any others on the trip.
Lake Robertson: This lake has been stocked with walleyes since 1983. The idea behind that effort was to control the overabundance of sunfish in the lake. A small population of walleyes still exists, and they are mixed with good numbers of largemouths and catfish.
Recent sampling by fishery personnel on Robertson turned up several walleyes over 20 inches and one that taped out at 27 inches and weighed 8 pounds.
The dam area is particularly good on Robertson. Try crankbaits, jigs and live minnows for the walleyes. In fact, those lures are good bets for all of the other waters listed as well.
Next Week: More top walleye waters and tactics.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.