- Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 February 2013 10:57
- Published on Wednesday, 27 February 2013 10:55
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In a recent correspondence with John Odenkirk of VDGIF, I learned that reports many of us had already heard about snakeheads being in the Rappahannock River are true. I was also able to receive more information about the bass population in the upper and lower portions of the river as well. Here is the
summary of what Odenkirk shared from his findings that he and his fellow biologists put together over the past few months.
First of all, snakeheads are increasing in population and are much more common than they were. That is probably not lost on any angler regularly fishing the Potomac River. In fact, snakeheads have been documented in all the tributaries down to the Chesapeake Bay. As you get closer to the bay they move upstream on the tributaries to escape the salinity.
News came last year of an angler fishing Ruffin’s Mill Pond that caught one. VDGIF did some sampling of the pond, found more snakeheads and then an angler fishing Massaponax Creek, which is below the pond, caught one snakehead. VDGIF was conducting largemouth bass surveys on the lower Rappahannock River when they found a snakehead near Hicks Landing.
The news does not end there. Further sampling below the U. S. 301 Bridge turned up more snakeheads on the river.
Odenkirk’s report states, “It is apparent that Northern snakeheads have successfully colonized the Rappahannock River - the second drainage in VA to become infested. It remains unclear, but appears likely that colonization occurred both from angler introduction (Ruffin’s Mill Pond) and dispersion from the Potomac River.”
If you have not tasted the snakehead you are missing out. What they lose in looks they make up for in taste. They are great grilled, baked or broiled and they are not bad fried either. The meat is very firm and mild tasting. May and June tend to be the easier times of year to catch them because they are spawning and visible in the creeks. Once July and August get here they can be caught, no doubt, but weeds in the creeks can be thick. Bowfishing is prime from late spring through the summer. Topwater lures, Senkos and plastics will get their attention as well.
Despite fears that they will decimate the largemouth population, that does not appear to be happening. The Potomac tributaries appear to be in prime shape with great populations and size structure despite the snakeheads being numerous and large.
Odenkirk’s report also showed the status of the largemouth bass on the river. According to the data that he collected from six different sites as he normally does, the sampling resulted in a new record of 48 fish per hour of sampling. This collection was done between Fredericksburg and Port Royal. The abundance of bass over the past ten years appears to be increasing very noticeably. He also noted in his data that the size structure of the largemouth was good and the sampling for young was also a record last fall.
Finally, his data showed that the strongest year classes they see when using their sampling data include 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012. That said, the anglers that chase green fish should continue to see better fishing than 10 years ago.
If we can get some aquatic vegetation to grow in the river we would really see a great fishery come on strong.
The data for smallmouth is not as good though. Biologists use four sites to conduct their surveys. Their surveys showed a record low abundance of fish. They feel that poor year classes and the grass in sampling areas may have impacted their data. Interestingly, a number of largemouth bass have moved into the upper river and possibly impacted the smallmouth bass population, sampling results or both.
If the data is reliable, the fingerlings, or young of year as they called them, were in short supply this past fall. In fact, other than the 2010 year class, the last five years were relatively poor in terms of seeing spawning success and/or survivability of the smallmouth fry.
In summary, biologists feel the smallmouth bass fishery may seem degraded somewhat from previous years until we get some strong year classes again. This does not mean you won’t be able to catch a trophy fish. Strong year classes in 2004 and 2005 should still be represented, although in smaller numbers as those fish die off. If nothing else, the river is a gorgeous one to spend a day floating or wading and there are plenty of redbreast sunfish and other fish to catch if the smallies are not biting well.