A few weeks ago we looked at some of the top walleye fishing waters in the state. In this column we’ll examine a few more spots to try, but first a bit of background on the biology of this fish might be helpful.
Known by the nickname “marble eyes,” the walleye has a temperature preference that lies somewhere between cold water fish, such as trout, and warm water species, such as bass and catfish.
Given the opportunity, they’ll gravitate to waters of 65 to 75 degrees. Looking for water in that range can help you pinpoint this gamefish.
Walleyes also prefer clear water over murky and like a gravel or rock bottom to the lake or river. Sand is also okay, but muddy bottom habitat is used only as a last resort.
Young 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 primary prey.
Once they get a taste for smaller fish, this becomes the major component of their diet for the rest of their lives. That makes any lures that mimic minnows excellent choices for walleyes.
Jigs, crankbaits, spinners, spoons and thin-minnow plugs are all good bets. Live bait works, too, such as shiners, leeches and nightcrawlers.
With that biological background in mind, here are several more good spots in the state to try for this big-eyed bronze quarry.
Smith Mountain Lake: Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, this 20,000-acre clear water lake is one of my favorite walleyespots. Part of the reason is that as you fish for walleyes, you’re also likely to catch good numbers of smallmouth bass, largemouths, stripers and crappies. 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 here waiting for schools of baitfish to swim by.
Casting with jigs and plugs is productive as is trolling with downriggers. Access is good with lots of marinas and boat ramps.
Leesville Reservoir: Immediately downstream from Smith Mountain on the Roanoke River you’ll find Leesville. The majority of this lake’s walleyes run 18-22 inches, but fish up to 6 pounds are also available.
The top area in the lake is between the Leesville Dam and mile marker 6. Night fishing
in June with shallow-running minnow plugs along shore is a productive tactic. 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.
Philpott Reservoir: This is another south-central Virginia walleye hotspot. The fish here are plentiful and reach 18 inches at just 2-1/2 years of age.
Don’t expect to catch a limit of five fish, but you stand a good chance of taking a couple of walleyes here, mixed with stray smallmouths and largemouths.
There are even some trout in Philpott, with rainbows occasionally topping five pounds. The walleyes themselves can grow up to 8 pounds in the lake.
Flannagan Reservoir: The top tactic for 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.
At midday you can employ downriggers and troll. A less expensive method—using lead core lines to take lures deep—also works well. A final 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 Virginia rivers are good for walleyes, one of them being the Clinch.
Walleyes are native to this river, but only reproduce in low numbers. To improve that situation, the Wildlife Department has been stocking the river with fingerlings raised in hatcheries.
Best spots to try on the Clinch River are creek mouths, ledges and shoals. These are the locations where walleyes like to hang out to ambush minnows.
Staunton River: This is another Virginia flowage worth trying. Crankbaits and live nightcrawlers are two top offerings, though jigs are also good. Try fishing near brush along shore or below riffles. And keep a tight grip on your rod. Most years the Staunton River gives up several walleyes that qualify for trophy citations.
Fish that size can put up a good fight when using light tackle.