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Cabin Fever this Winter? Go Fish!

As I type this up we are looking at the possibility of snow accumulating on Sunday. (Editor’s note: yes, we did get some snow!) It is hard to believe that we made it through February with little to no snow piling up. Personally I am thrilled that I did not have to plow snow, or dig out. However, I am ready for temperatures in the 70’s and my eye has wandered over to the fishing rods a few times the last few weeks.

After sitting down to type up this column my mind began wandering back to other winters when I got cabin fever and just

had to go fishing. There were certainly times when I did not fare well on the water and it was a good thing that my freezer had some fish in it from the fall. Fresh fish is not always easy to come by in the middle of winter! However, there are some good trips to be had and I have had my share of them. Let me share some of the options with you.
Pickerel

The old jackfish or pickerel, as most know him, is a willing customer in the late winter. By now the sun is staying out longer, climbing a bit higher in the sky and the clear, cold waters of local swamps and creeks or mill ponds are good places to go wet a line for old Chainsides. Minnows are the top bait and should be cast past and along structures such as logs or stumps in the above-mentioned waters. Use a float if you want but let the minnow freely swim a few feet below the float. Give the line a pull every few minutes and don’t be in a rush. Make long casts and stay quiet in the boat. Canoes are great choices for this type of fishing.

Machodoc Creek, Gardy’s Mill Pond, Chandler’s Mill Pond and other tribs off the Potomac, particularly the headwaters, are perfect. If you prefer lures, go with a Daredevil spoon or some other spoon or flashy spinner. Fish are somewhat bony and on the small side, averaging 16-20 inches. It will take a few of them to make a meal for a family. Try skinning and broiling them and then rake the meat off the bones. Use your favorite seasoning.

Walleye and smallies
Walleye are not common in our area but I was surprised some years ago to watch my father and his friend catch a few at Great Falls on the Potomac River above D.C. Not only did they catch walleye, but my friend hooked some very nice smallmouth bass pushing 20 inches!

To top things off my father hauled in a very nice looking musky. Musky are a dedicated musky hunter’s fish. This particular fish made the mistake of grabbing a minnow my dad was using for walleye. One thing we learned about fishing for walleye and smallies in the winter is that they won’t just grab the minnow and haul off running with it.
You have to cast into an eddy or pool with some depth to it and preferably a swirling current and then watch your line very closely. Keep it as tight as you can but don’t use weight if you can help it. A few split shot or a half-ounce of weight on a long leader is best. Sometimes your line will just begin moving in a very “determined” manner in a direction that is against the current.  Other times you may feel the bite as a “tap tap”. Give the fish a few seconds and then set the hook firmly. Paying attention is required to score on these fish!

The upper Potomac reportedly has a good population of walleye and smallies. Some walleye are caught in Lake Anna and Lake Orange, but not many.  I heard Motts Run has some. (Don’t forget the tournament out there this coming weekend and the weekend in March, too. Anyone can go fish on these days and not be in the tournament.) Minnows are the way to go but a jig with a large minnow or huge nightcrawler will work, too.

Don’t overlook the Rappahannock along gravel banks with structure just below Fredericksburg either. Some very nice smallmouth have been caught there in recent years.

Striper
Lake Anna is heating up the fishing now with striper and crappie coming on. Striper are feeding on schools of herring and shad. Most are deep but on some days the bait breaks on top. Use your fish finder to locate the suspended fish. The warm water discharge near the power plant is another place to check. Freelining minnows on side planers is popular in the late winter or early spring over there. Toothache spoons are also quite good for jigging up some fresh fish!

Catfish
Well, if you just want to catch a trophy fish and enjoy a good tussle, I would recommend heading to the James River to do battle with a cat, a water cat, that is of the slick skinned kind. There are some really big blue cats in the James River and previous state record fish have been caught from the James.

 Mike Ostrander is an excellent guide with not only extensive fishing knowledge but historical knowledge too. He knows a lot about the James, old wrecks, Civil War history and the river history. He can show you and tell you about old wing dams on the river and where Jimmy Dean has a house and so on. Meanwhile you get to catch some nice fish! You can find him at: Capt. Mike Discover the James — (804) 938-2350, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., www.DiscoverTheJames.com
It won’t be long and we will readily be catching fish pretty much anywhere. I plan on wetting a line as soon as I get caught up on some chores. Right now I have to get some firewood in, get the garden prepped and do some yard clean up. One night soon I will be re-spooling my reels and working on the boat before heading out to get a fresh meal. Meanwhile I will look for some pictures of you readers with some fish. See you on the water!

You may reach Mark Fike at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mark Fike

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