Wednesday, September 18, 2013


    Virginian’s are quite lucky to live within a few hours’ drive of excellent smallmouth angling.  But this was not always so.  

Prior to the 1800s, the smallmouth bass finned only the Great Lakes and Ohio River watersheds.  However, thanks to the smallmouth’s growing popularity as a game fish, and the booming railroad industry, the feisty bass was introduced east of the Ohio in the mid-1800s.

The beautiful Shenandoah River, with Massanutten Mountain's rocky slopes in the background.
Photo by Matt Reilly
    That historic introduction occurred in the Potomac River basin; and Virginia’s Shenandoah River became one of the smallmouth’s first home rivers in the East.

    The smallmouth’s long residence in the Shenandoah may or may not account for the river’s prestige as a trophy bass fishery, but its ledge-rock foundation and ample supply of aquatic foodstuffs to support the metabolisms of one of our country’s hardest-fighting fish certainly do.

    That thought got me up at 5:00 AM before school on Friday to pack the truck with camping, floating, and fishing gear.  After school, I grabbed my brother from his home in Charlottesville, and made the short pilgrimage to Luray, where Massanutten Mountain towers over the Shenandoah’s fertile waters.

    We made camp near Bealer’s Ferry at Shenandoah River Outfitters, who we also used as a shuttle service.

    After setting up camp, we walked a short trail to the water, just before dark.  The damselflies are really quite something on the Shenandoah, and drew fish to the surface to feed.  Casting floating Rapalas, I could often hook fish by letting its minnow profile bob on the surface, twitching it occasionally.

    The next morning, we were on the water by 8:30.  Fog sat heavily on the water’s surface, slowly being broken apart by sun.  The Shenandoah’s fishing traditions sat silhouetted against the backlit fog in johnboats, fishing bottom rigs, patiently.

A typical Shenandoah smallmouth.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    When the sun filtered through the fog completely, and sent it on its way into the heavens, a bluebird sky was revealed, and the fishing picked up.

    Short-strikes from fish made my brother’s trebeled Rapala efficient with the bluegill, while I directed the canoe and cast a grub to the swift pockets and structured shorelines.

    Too many fish to count came to hand—at least 100, between the two of us—with the largest smallmouth inching past the two-and-a-half pound mark.

    We selected an eight mile float to fill the day, but thanks to the fast pace of the river, we made it to our take-out at Bixler’s Ferry by 4:00 PM, tired, wet, and happy.

Youth and Apprentice Hunting Days

    New this year, on National Hunting and Fishing Day, Saturday, September 28, the Saturday before the opening of deer season will allow youth hunters under the age of 15 and holders of valid apprentice hunting licenses to hunt either deer or bear.  Both days are in effect statewide.

    Those hunting deer should note that either antlered or antlerless deer may be taken. 

    Blaze orange requirements are in effect for both seasons; and the use of dogs, except in tracking wounded animals, is prohibited, with the exception of bear hunting where there is an open bear hound training season.

    All daily and seasonal bag limits apply to these seasons.  For bear hunters, this means that if a bear is taken on this day, no other may be taken in any other season.

    Those supervising youth or apprentice hunters are reminded that they must be at least 18 years of age, hold a valid Virginia hunting license, and maintain close verbal and visual contact with their subject.  You do not need a bear, deer, and turkey license; and you are not permitted to carry or discharge a firearm while supervising.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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