- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Ever have the desire to hook a big bass, catfish, rainbow trout or crappie? Put away those Florida and Texas fishing magazines that can make you drool with the anticipation of fishing there. Instead, head to Virginia.
We've said this for 30 years: Virginia is one of the best states when it comes to all-around fishing, even hunting. What other state has a fairly large population yet can deliver top-flight outdoors adventures? Virginia does it all the time.
For example, the most recent rundown of trophy freshwater (including some brackish, tidal areas) fish citations issued to successful anglers by the state's department of Game and Inland Fisheries, reveals that Virginia is a veritable heavyweight when it comes to 20-pound-and-over blue catfish.
In one year, 1,623 blue "cats" of that size and many much bigger were caught in Virginia waters. The James River just below Richmond was best, with more than 1,000 trophies, followed by the upper tidal Chickahominy River, the Rappahannock River between Fredericksburg and Leedstown, Buggs Island Lake and its sister lake, Gaston, on the Virginia/North Carolina line. Mind you, many more than that were caught, but not all are reported.
If it's the nation's most popular gamefish, the largemouth bass, you seek, 1,418 largemouths that weighed a minimum of eight pounds were reported to fisheries officials last year. The big bass were widely distributed throughout the Old Dominion, but the best waters for wallhanger bass included Briery Creek Lake in south/central Virginia with 76 trophy bass, including one of more than 13 pounds, and two more than 12 pounds. Those are bass big enough to compete with any state in this land.
Those among us who believe that the nuclear power station Lake Anna, west of Fredericksburg, sometimes resembles the Dead Sea as far as fish catches are concerned are happy to report that it was second best in the state with 50 officially reported 8-pound-and-over bass. Beaverdam Swamp, Smith Mountain Lake and Lake Chesdin also ranked up there for heavy largemouths.
Smallmouth bass, or "brown fish," as locals call them, are highly regarded for their fighting ability, and the mountainous New River turned up 240 smallmouths that weighed at least five pounds each. That's fantastic because there had to be a similar number of 5-pounders that was never reported, and many that were let go without becoming part of official statistics.
Besides the New River, add the upper James, the Shenandoah, Smith Mountain Lake and the North Fork of the Holston River as producers of heavy smallmouth bass. Incidentally, a 5-pound smallmouth bass probably is twice as old as a 5-pound largemouth. "Brown fish" take a lot longer to grow.
And let's be honest, how many places do you know of that can deliver 495 rainbow trout that weighed a minimum of four pounds? Virginia did it in one year, and Cripple Creek in the mountains gave up 192 such whoppers. Crooked Creek and Cedar Springs, in second and third place, respectively, delivered big trout, as did many other stocked waters.
If it's America's top panfish, the crappie, you're after, the perennial winner is Buggs Island Lake (also known as Kerr Reservoir) in the south/central part of the state. Buggs Island gave up 87 crappies that weighed at least two pounds, or measured 15 inches or more. Kerr Lake's number actually is low compared to years past, but it's still the best in the state, followed in order by Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Anna, Beaverdam Swamp and Lake Chesdin. However, the latter four combined couldn't match Buggs Island Lake.
We know it won't impress people from Canada or the northern tier of U.S. states, but among Southern waters, Virginia came up with 59 muskellunge that weighed at least 15 pounds. Yes, a 15-pounder is no big shakes in Minnesota, but around here it's a big deal. The New River and the James River were home to the most muskies, with the James delivering a 30-pounder, and the New coming up with two more than 25 pounds each. Hey, there have been times when I visited Lake of the Woods, in Ontario, when I would have given my boat to hook a 30-pound muskie but didn't have to go home boatless.
What bothers me a little is the dearth of northern pike throughout the state. Over the years, the northerns, while not common, were far more plentiful than they are now. Only seven pike more than six pounds were caught in the entire state last year. South Holston Reservoir down toward the Tennessee line was best for them. It also held a few big walleyes.

* Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]



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