By Ken Wilson–
Put me on a mountain, way back in the backwoods.
Put me on a lake with a biggin on the line.
– Montgomery Gentry
We have the mountains, we have the backwoods, and we sure do have the lakes and the rivers. Fishing and boating enthusiasts have everything they need here in Central Virginia, including the mild winters. All that means their favorite time of year is . . . pretty much year-round.
Canoers can paddle right through downtown Waynesboro on the Waynesboro Water Trail, a four-mile stretch of the South River. Boat ramps located at either end, in Ridgeview and Basic parks, make for easy access, but the river is also accessible along the way. Experienced boaters classify the Trail an “easy paddle,” with only Class I and Class II rapids (Class VI is the highest on the scale) along the way. The Trail is open sunrise to sunset.
Waynesboro’s Paddle the Park program offers rentals of solo and tandem kayaks for use in Ridgeview Park on Sunday afternoons until the end of pool season (an August date as yet to be determined). Rentals are first come, first served, and rates are $10 per hour for solo kayaks and $15 per hour for tandem kayaks.
A limited number of canoes and kayaks are also available for rental on Albemarle County’s 62-acre Chris Greene Lake through August 22 at just $5.00 an hour.
Water skiers around here are apt to head to Lake Anna, whose 20 square miles ripple through Louisa, Orange and Spotsylvania counties, making it one of the largest freshwater inland lakes in Virginia. Water ski season at Lake Anna extends from April through October. Cool air and cool water make full wetsuits or dry-suits necessary early and late in the season. Short wet suits usually suffice by mid- May, and swimsuits will do in June, July and August. For calm water, go out early.
“The diversity that Virginia has to offer for fishing opportunities makes it probably one of the best states I’ve lived in for fishing,” says Carson Oldham, owner of the Albemarle Angler in Charlottesville’s Barracks Road Shopping Center. “Within three hours you can either be catching brook trout in the high mountain streams or you can be in the Chesapeake Bay catching stripers and redfish and flounder and everything else—it’s amazing.”
Oldham’s a fan of Chris Greene Lake, where the fishing for largemouth bass, bluegill and more is good from the bank, or in a canoe, kayak or non-motorized boat, and of the lower part of the Rockfish River, a 28.7-mile-long tributary of the James River in Nelson County with “phenomenal” smallmouth fishing. “The James,” he says, “definitely has a lot of catfish in it.”
During the summer months he loves floating the James, Shenandoah and Rivanna rivers for smallmouth bass.
Central Virginia is brook trout territory too. “The Jackson River in the Hidden Valley area [in Bath County] is phenomenal for floating the tail waters,” Oldham says. “The Moormans River right here in Charlottesville is a phenomenal brook trout stream.” He’s referring to the North Fork of the Moormans River, which runs near Crozet and flows into the Charlottesville Reservoir, from which the city gets its drinking water. Fishing there is catch and release, with single hook artificial lures allowed. The beautiful North Fork also has swimming holes and waterfalls.
The Rapidan, which begins in Shenandoah National Park, was the first fish-for-fun fishery created in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and is another fine brook trout river, with many catches in the 7-9 inch range, but some ranging up to 10 inches. Only single point hook artificial lures may be used here—bait is not allowed. All trout must be immediately returned to the water unharmed.
Virginia’s trout season extends year-round. The state limit is six trout per day, none less than seven inches. Exceptions exist for heritage, urban, special area, special regulation, and fee fishing waters, so it’s best to check carefully. Wild and stocked trout are plentiful in the spring and fall, and during mild winters. Low stream flows and warming water temperatures mean tougher luck June through September.
At Orange County’s Lake Anna, the fishing goes on even in the dead of winter, thanks in part to water flowing into the lake from the nearby Dominion Power’s North Anna Power Station, which can be as much as seven degrees warmer than Mother Nature’s average. Best known for its lunker largemouth bass, Anna has also been stocked with bluegill, redear sunfish, channel catfish, striped bass, walleye, blueback herring and threadfin shad. Anglers can access the boat ramp starting 5:30 a.m; lights illuminate the ramp when the sun does not.
Lake Nelson in Nelson County has a concrete boat ramp, a courtesy dock and gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Nelson is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, channel catfish, and crappie. Electric engines are permitted here, but gas engines are not.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries offers a free classroom boating safety course. Pre-registration is recommended since classes fill fast. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadron (a recreational boating organization with more than 35,000 members) offer classroom courses costing $25–40. For water lovers, Oldham says, “This is a great state. I encourage people to get out and enjoy the outdoors and the boating and fishing that Virginia has to offer.”