- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

After thorough studies and sample seinings, biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have mostly good news for anglers who prefer to fish for smallmouth bass.

Smallmouth bass fishing in the upper James River should be good in 2007.

Biologists say the river went through several years (1999 to 2003) of below average to poor smallmouth spawning success. The fish during those years weren’t plentiful. However, the spawning success was outstanding in 2004, average in 2005 and a little below average in 2006. Good numbers of “smallies” in the 8- to 14-inch range will be available. Bigger specimens are there as well, but all James River smallmouth bass 14 inches to 22 inches long must be released unharmed when caught and only one fish more than 22 inches in length may be kept a day.

In the nearby Rappahannock River, recent studies promise wonderful smallmouth bass fishing thanks to two excellent year classes (2004 and 2005), which were followed by an average spawn last year. But when the three year classes are linked, they represent a strong grouping that will turn up more abundant and larger smallmouths.

Incidentally, forage increases because of the removal of the Rappahannock’s Embry Dam to help shad migration will also enhance in bass growth and higher biomass in the upstream water.

Sad news comes by way of the Shenandoah River’s North Fork, South Fork and main stem because of fish kills that have occurred for the past three years. The kills have affected the adults of three fish species (smallmouth bass, redbreast sunfish, northern hogsucker) and to date no one knows the cause. There is a Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force that is trying hard to determine what caused sudden die-offs of fish.

The state says although the bigger smallmouth bass are not as plentiful any longer, there has been above average spawning success in 2004 that will rebuild the river’s smallmouth population.

However, parts of the Jackson River between Covington and Iron Gate will supply high numbers of 8- to 12-inch smallmouth bass. Biologists say anglers will hook an occasional trophy fish in its murky waters, but they will be few and far between. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also says that is a great place for float-tripping.

Western Virginia Sports Show — The popular Western Virginia Sports Show will have its annual run Friday through Sunday at Augusta Expoland, near Staunton, Va. More than 200 vendors of outdoor gear and apparel, as well as displays and guides from throughout North America and Africa, will be on hand. The show also features outdoor contests, a rainbow trout fishing pool and exhibitors showing the latest hunting and fishing equipment. There will also be free seminars on outdoor skills throughout the weekend. Also, check out the Big Buck Contest, comprising North American deer taken outside Virginia.

With coyotes being seen these days in every Virginia county, one seminar sure to draw attention will be Tom Bechdel’s “Calling All Coyotes.” It will provide pointers on how to bring the predators into shooting range.

Augusta Expoland is located between Staunton and Fishersville on Interstate 64 at exit 91. For details, contact Mark Hanger at 540/337-7018, or check out www.westernvasportshow.com.

Open House at wildlife center — Want to see owls, snakes, hawks, possums and maybe eagles? The Wildlife Center of Virginia, a leading teaching and research hospital for native wildlife, in Waynesboro will have five Sunday open houses this month and in March. The center says this is a rare opportunity to observe how the highly rated wildlife hospital goes about its daily operation. Open houses will be held on Feb. 25, March 4, March 18, April 1 and April 15. The Center will have three separate sessions each day at 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. As a wildlife emergency room and hospital, the Wildlife Center is not usually open to the public. There is no charge to see the facility, but reservations are required. Call 540/942-9453 or go to wildlife@wildlifecenter.org.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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