Gerald Almy: Virginia’s walleye fishing opportunities
Although many people don’t know it, Virginia has superb walleye fishing. This week we’ll continue our rundown on the prime waters in the state for this gamefish, but first a quick look at the biology of walleyes might be helpful.
Often called “marble eyes,” the walleye has a temperature preference that lies somewhere between coldwater fish, such as salmon, and warm water species, like bass and catfish.
When they have the opportunity, they’ll gravitate to waters with a mercury reading of 65 to 75 degrees. Searching for water in that temperature range can help in pinpointing this gamefish.
Walleyes also prefer clear water over cloudy and like a gravel or rock bottom. Sand is also to their liking, but muddy bottom habitat is used only as a last resort.
Walleyes eat plankton and tiny zooplankton when they are first born, soon followed by insects. Before they even reach the size of a pencil they turn to small fish as their main prey.
This becomes the major part of their diet for the rest of their lives. That makes lures that imitate minnows excellent choices for walleyes. Jigs, crankbaits, spinners, spoons and thin-minnow plugs are all good bets. Live bait works, too, such as shiners, nightcrawlers and a Midwestern favorite, the leech.
With that background, here’s a look at several more good spots in the state to try for walleyes.
Smith Mountain Lake: Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, this 20,000 acre clear water lake ranks as one of my favorite walleye spots. Part of the reason is that as you fish for walleyes, you’re also likely to catch smallmouth bass, largemouths, stripers and crappies as well. That makes for an interesting day whether the walleyes cooperate or not.
One of the best spots to catch walleyes on this lake east of Roanoke is on points. The fish hold near these areas waiting for schools of baitfish to swim by.
Tossing jigs and plugs is productive as is trolling with downriggers. Access is good with lots of marinas and boat ramps.
Leesville Reservoir: Just downstream from Smith Mountain on the Roanoke River you’ll find Leesville. The majority of this lake’s walleyes run a healthy 18-22 inches, but fish up to 6 pounds are also available.
The best area in the lake is between the Leesville Dam and mile marker 6. Fishing after dark in June with shallow-running minnow plugs along shore is a productive tactic.
Don’t be surprised to catch fish in water less than 2 feet deep at this time. Be careful of floating logs, though, as you navigate the lake. Debris is common because of the pump-back power generation operation.
During the day, fish deeper water, up to 20 feet if the lake is clear. If it’s muddy, the shallows can produce just like at night.
Philpott Reservoir: This is another south-central Virginia walleye hotspot. The fish here are plentiful and grow fast, reaching 18 inches at just 2-1/2 years of age.
Don’t expect to take a limit of five, but you stand a good chance of taking a couple of walleyes here, mixed with stray bass – both smallmouths and largemouths.
There are even some trout in Philpott, with rainbows occasionally topping 5 pounds. The walleyes themselves can grow up to 8 pounds in the lake.
Flannagan Reservoir: This lake’s walleye population has made a strong comeback from a 2004 fish kill. The best way to catch walleyes here is to use thin minnow plugs at night along the banks, much as you would on Leesville. At this time alewives are running the shoreline and walleyes move in chasing them.
If you head out during the daytime, employ downriggers and troll or choose a less expensive method – using lead core lines to take lures deep. Another tactic used on the lake is drift fishing with live bait under lanterns.
The light attracts baitfish, which in turn draw in the walleyes. Use live shiners or nightcrawlers as your offering. The lake has an 18-inch minimum size limit.
Clinch River: Several other rivers besides the New are good for producing Virginia walleyes, one of them being the Clinch. Walleyes are native to this river, but only reproduce in low numbers. To improve that situation, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has been stocking the river with fingerling walleyes raised in hatcheries.
Prime spots to try in the Clinch include creek mouths and ledges as well as shoals. Walleyes like to hold in these locations where they can ambush minnows swimming by.
Staunton River: This is another Virginia flowage worth trying. Crankbaits and live nightcrawlers are two top offerings. Both plastic-tail and hair jigs are also good when crawled back slowly. The best area is from Leesville Dam to Brookneal.
Try fishing near brush along shore or below riffles. And keep a tight grip on your rod. Most years the Staunton gives up several walleyes that qualify for trophy citations. A fish that size can put up quite a fight.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.