- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

Some years ago, a number of top-rated professional tournament fishermen were asked how they rated the Mid-Atlantic states as concerned their favorite species, the largemouth bass. Only Maryland’s tidal Potomac River managed to get a kindly mention, but as far as Virginia was concerned, these national bass-fishing stars said they would have no trouble rating Virginia among the top five or six in the nation.

That’s saying a mouthful when you have to compete with Florida, Texas, California and Georgia (where the 22-pound, 4-ounce world record was caught many decades ago).

Virginia’s Kerr Reservoir, along with lakes Gaston, Anna, Smith Mountain and Claytor counted mightily, not to mention tidal bass rivers, such as the James, Chickahominy and Rappahannock. Add a cornucopia of smaller public fishing lakes - anything from five to 200 acres - throughout the state and you’ll probably agree that the Old Dominion is blessed when it comes to freshwater fishing, and that’s not taking the state’s hundreds of miles of trout streams into account.

But in matters of saltwater fishing, Virginia is considered by many to be one of the kingpins along the Atlantic Coast. For example, the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament last year again included an imposing list of entries by sport anglers. The tournament is a free annual contest in which anybody who matches or exceeds certain weights for a variety of species is recognized by the state. The catches prove Virginia is to be reckoned with among all coastal fishing states. In fact, it is a veritable magnet for discriminating anglers.

The tournament registered 5,752 trophy-size fish that earned special citation awards during the 51st annual edition of the open-to-all event. Among the hundreds of fish he caught in Virginia waters last year, Yorktown’s Rick Wineman managed to register seven award-worthy catches, including a 50-inch amberjack, 24-pound dolphin, 49-inch crevalle jack, 46-inch striper, 52-inch black drum, 46-inch red drum and 20-pound bluefish.

Among 35 eligible species, the striped bass (aka rockfish) accounted for the largest number of citations. A total of 1,298 striped bass awards were issued in 2008. They represented 23 percent of all the citations issued for the year.

Twenty-nine percent of the striper awards were for released fish that met or exceeded the 44-inch requirement, and 71 percent (926) were for kept fish that met or exceeded the 40-pound weight requirement. Eight striped bass weighing 60 pounds or more were entered, topped by a state record of 73 pounds. (Only six rockfish that weighed more than 70 pounds have ever been caught anywhere along the East Coast.)

Also impressive in 2008 were the speckled trout catches. Recreational anglers registered an unprecedented 1,053 speckled trout to qualify for citations. These trout had to meet or exceed a 24-inch minimum or weigh at least 5 pounds. Impressive requirements, to be sure.

Then there were the red drum, which can also be referred to as channel bass or redfish. These mighty shallow water fighters accounted for 10 percent of all citations. More than 550 large red drum were recognized.

Summer flounder citations numbered 475, which isn’t bad but still a drop-off from 2007, when 667 citation flatties were registered. Then there were 448 black drum that qualified for citation awards. Better yet, 98 percent of the black drum caught and properly noted were released alive.

State records were also set for two of the three new species added to the list of eligible species back in 2006. In June 2008, a 56 1/2-pound golden tilefish was hooked in 600 feet of water at the Norfolk Canyon. The catch bested a 53 1/2-pound golden tilefish caught in September 2007 in the same area. In August 2008, a 68-pound snowy grouper was caught by “deep-dropping” baits in the vicinity of the canyon. This record catch replaced a 66-pound snowy grouper caught in December 2007.

If you’re new to the area, information about the state’s saltwater fishing is available at www.mrc.state.va.us.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected] Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.

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