Shenandoah Fishing Report
Smallmouth Bass (SMB) fishing in the Staunton River in 2017 should continue to be average to good. Strong year classes produced in 2007, and average year classes in 2008 and 2009 should provide anglers with good catch rates of SMB 14” and greater. The 2015 year class was very good, so catch rates should remain consistent in the short term and should improve in two years when the 2015 year class enters the fishery. Unfortunately, the 2016 year class declined to one of the lowest levels measured in 20 years. Hopefully, the strength of the 2015 year class will compensate for this. Consistent numbers of SMB over 16” have existed in the Staunton for the last 15 years, so anglers still have great opportunities to catch quality fish in this stretch of river. Growth rates are above average, and survival is good which helps the Staunton River be a consistent producer of big fish. Population estimates performed late summer 2013 indicated the SMB population declined somewhat since surveys in 2006, but the population is still very healthy. The Staunton has excellent habitat in the reach above Brookneal; anglers new to the river should concentrate on the abundant rocky habitat as well as submerged trees extending from river banks. The river also holds a number of Spotted Bass, and the chance to catch a spot over 12” is very good especially in the lower river below Brookneal. In addition to black bass, anglers in the Staunton River will find fishing for Channel Catfish and Flathead Catfish to be excellent. Catfish are well distributed throughout the river and should be available from shore and boats. A Striped Bass spawning run from Kerr Reservoir also provides a very popular and unique fishing opportunity in April and May. Occasional catches of Walleye and Saugeye are possible especially from Leesville Dam to Altavista.
Recruitment for Smallmouth Bass (SMB) in the James River was below average again in 2016. High flows towards the end of June likely had a negative impact on the spawn. However, the 2014 year class was highly prolific, especially in upper river sections and should persist for the next three to five years. Riverwide, catch rates of adult SMB nearly doubled from 24 fish/hr in 2015 to 45 fish/hr in 2016. Densities in the upper river (above Lynchburg) averaged 75 fish/hr. What this means for anglers in 2017 is that they can expect to catch, on average, double what they normally do including lots of 12 to 16” inch fish from Lick run to Lynchburg. SMB in the lower section (below Scottsville) were still present, but densities declined as habitat transitioned from the mountain region to the piedmont and coastal plain. Larger SMB (16”+) are becoming very abundant in the upper sections of the river (above Lynchburg) where fishing pressure is light. Flathead and Channel Catfish remain abundant from Lynchburg down through Richmond with large Flatheads (20+ pounds) quite common at Lynchburg and Bremo Bluff.
Rock Bass abundance increased in certain sections of the upper James, mainly at Big Island and above, while Redbreast Sunfish densities were low compared to historical levels but remained common up river. Muskellunge catch rates continued to increase on the upper James from Lick Run to Lynchburg. Most fish were in the 36 to 44” range. Biologists have reward tagged muskies in the James River, so if you catch one with one or two yellow tags, please mail them to the address on the tag for a $20-$40 reward. For more detailed information, please see 2016 James River report.