By the time this column sees newsprint, summer will literally be right around the corner. In March, it feels as if we’ll wait an eternity for it. In October, it seems it lasts only for an instant. The passage of time being what it is, this summer will pass before you or I know it, and there’s no sense in not taking advantage of it. Here I’ve listed a handful of low-budget sporting adventures to liven up your summer and maybe even jump-start a new obsession.
Fish a Piedmont Blue Line
Truly a low-budget endeavor, “blue-lining” can be done close to home and with little gear. Blue-lining refers to fishing small tributaries to larger rivers, which are represented by a thin blue line on a topographic map (download free at: usgs.gov). The term often comes with a trout fishing connotation, but, blue-lining doesn’t have to stop there. The Piedmont is full of small tributaries that hold fish during the late-spring and summer. Once you’ve located a small stream with a map, scout it for fish-holding potential, gain access, and fish. The species you will be fishing for correspond to the river the stream feeds, but will most likely include fallfish (which are often considered “trash fish,” but put up a great fight on light tackle) and redbreast sunfish. As for tackle, I usually carry a small daypack loaded with the essentials—a small tackle box filled with spinners, small spoons, and jigs, and an ultra-light rod spooled with four-pound line.
Looking to escape the encroaching heat and enjoy some unusual fishing opportunities? Woodstock Reservoir in Shenandoah County is a small, little-known impoundment on Little Stony Creek. Little Stony Creek, a trout fishery, flows through the George Washington National Forest and offers good brook trout fishing throughout most of the spring, summer, and fall, depending on rainfall. A well-maintained trail begins where the Forest Service Route 92 crosses the creek and extends two miles to the reservoir. Packing in a float tube or kick boat will put you in a position to cast to hidden fish along the wooded shoreline or to cruising brookies.
The stretch of the South River between Grand Caverns and Grottoes is a challenging float and features some class II rapids—a change of scenery from the docile upper river that many local trout anglers are familiar with. The river boasts healthy trout and smallmouth populations, but the aforementioned stretch is known for producing quality largemouth and carp. The latter species grows to large sizes in the river and doesn’t see much fishing pressure. Carp can be caught using cat-fishing tactics, or can be spot-and-stalked, as tailing fish readily take minnow or crayfish lures and flies. Pursue carp for something new, but don’t overlook the river’s largemouth bass and trout fishery.
Poor Man’s Musky
Known as a “rough” species, there is an overlooked fish that presents a similar toothed ferocity, is just as tough to hook, and is more prominent in central Virginia’s waters than the mighty musky—gar. The longnose gar is the only gar species found in Virginia, and makes its home in the waters of many of the state’s freshwater rivers—a detail bowfishermen are beginning to take advantage of—including the Rivanna and James Rivers. For anyone who has fished for gar before, the challenge is readily realized. Gar are large (some up to 25 pounds), selective, and ancient fish. The gar family has existed on earth for over 245 million years, and they cruise the waters with an attitude that reflects that. They become most active when water temperatures reach 75 degrees, but can be caught earlier. Sight, stalk, and throw a baitfish imitation to a feeding fish and you are in for a fight you will not forget—if you can hook him. Despite an impressive collection of fine teeth, a gar’s mouth is mostly bone, and can be quite difficult to lodge a hook into. For best results, present and aim to set the hook into the fish’s cheek as it takes your lure at a quartering-away angle.
If you find yourself rationing both money and time, this option might be the most frugal for you. The commonwealth is speckled with thousands of small farm ponds—usually on private property—but a kind landowner is usually permissive to the courteous fisherman. Farm ponds are known for being unpressured and rich, regularly producing large bass, sunfish, and crappie. This kind of fishing is readily available, affordable, a great way to introduce a youth to fishing, and, overall, a great adventure, as you never quite know what you’ll run into.
The featured adventures are just samples. Take time to enjoy nature and look in the right places this summer, and you’re sure to create some of your greatest memories yet.