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Bass Species Identification

Largemouth Bass

Aliases: Black bass, bigmouth.

Physical Traits: Dark greenish upper body fading to a whitish belly; dark blotches forming a horizontal band along midline to tail; notable large mouth extending beyond eye; deeply notched dorsal fin; average weight 2-4 lbs.

Ideal Fishing Spots: Lakes like Anna, Gaston, Buggs Island, and rivers such as Chickahominy and James (below the fall line).

Fishing Techniques: Suitable for fly, medium spincasting, spinning, or baitcasting rods; various lures like plastic worms, crankbaits, spinner baits, and live baits such as minnows and nightcrawlers.

Smallmouth Bass

Aliases: Bronzeback.

Physical Traits: Coppery-brown with greenish-brown sides and darker vertical bars; three dark bars radiating from eye; dorsal fin less deeply notched than largemouth; upper jaw extends back only in line with middle of the eye.

Prime Fishing Spots: Lakes like Claytor, Smith Mountain, Philpott, and rivers such as James (above the fall line) and New.

Fishing Techniques: Suitable for fly, spinning, and baitcasting rods with live crayfish, minnows, and artificial baits like jigs and small crankbaits.

Spotted Bass

Alias: Kentucky bass.

Physical Traits: Resembles largemouth and smallmouth but with dark, blotchy lateral band; upper jaw aligns with middle rear of eye; named for black spots on belly scales.

Top Fishing Locations: Lakes like Claytor, Hungry Mother, and rivers such as Appomattox and New.

Fishing Techniques: Light to medium spin-casting and spinning outfits with smaller baits similar to those used for largemouth bass.

Crappie

Aliases: Papermouth, Calico bass, specks.

Identification: Two species - black and white; black has irregular blotches, white has vertical bars; protruding lower jaws.

Prime Fishing Spots: Lakes and rivers such as Buggs Island, Chickahominy, and tidal James.

Fishing Techniques: Light spinning rods with tiny jigs, streamers, and small crankbaits; live baits like small to medium minnows.

Bluegill

Aliases: Bream, sun perch.

Physical Traits: Variable colors; typically under 1lb; distinct ear-like flap on gill cover and black blotch at base of spiny dorsal fin.

Ideal Fishing Spots: Lakes like Western Branch, Prince, and rivers such as South Fork Shenandoah.

Fishing Techniques: Ultralight spinning or spincast rods with small hooks baited with crickets, worms, or artificial baits like nymphs and wet flies.

Redear Sunfish

Alias: Shellcracker.

Physical Traits: Yellow-green or olive with faint vertical bars; margin of male's gill cover turns bright red during spawning; rounded body with relatively small mouth.

Top Fishing Locations: Lakes like Cohoon, Meade, and rivers such as Nottoway.

Fishing Techniques: Live nymphs, red wigglers, or artificial jigs and grubs fished slowly near the bottom.

Redbreast Sunfish

Aliases: Yellowbreast sunfish, redbelly.

Physical Traits: Olive to brownish gray with blue and golden cast; irregular bluish stripes on cheek; reaches about 8 inches.

Best Fishing: Rivers like South Fork Shenandoah, Rapidan, and Maury.

Fishing Techniques: Small spinner baits, grubs, and tiny crankbaits are effective.

Pumpkinseed

Aliases: Pond perch, sunny.

Physical Traits: Dark olive-green with mottled sides; base color yellowish with spots of orange, red, and blue; bluish-black gill cover flaps edged with white.

Ideal Fishing Spots: Lakes, ponds, and rivers; especially active in spring and early summer.

Fishing Techniques: Small garden worms, red wigglers, or various grubs and crickets; ultralight spinning or spincast outfit.

Green Sunfish

Alias: Blue sunfish.

Physical Traits: Bluish green with alternating stripes; olive-colored head with pale blue spots; large mouth.

Prime Fishing Locations: Small lakes, ponds, or quiet coves on large reservoirs.

Fishing Techniques: Responsive to small crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and live baits like nymphs and worms.

Rock Bass

Aliases: Redeye, goggle eye.

Physical Traits: Short, robust body; olive-green back with tarnished gold sides; large spots forming striped appearance.

Top Fishing Spots: Lakes such as Smith Mountain, Moomaw, and rivers like Roanoke and James.

Fishing Techniques: Spinners, jigs, and live baits like minnows and crayfish are effective.

Roanoke Bass

Aliases: Redeye, rock bass.

Physical Traits: Dark olive-green to olive-brown back fading to grayish sides; smaller scale spots than rock bass; small whitish or yellowish spots on upper body.

Ideal Fishing Locations: Lakes like Leesville, Smith Mountain, and rivers such as Nottoway.

Fishing Techniques: Small to medium spinner baits and live baits like minnows and crayfish.

Saugeye

Identification: Hybrid between walleye and sauger; dark blotchy saddle markings; scales on cheek; sometimes slight orange coloration on fins.

Best Fishing Spots: Lakes like Chesdin and Little Creek Reservoir.

Fishing Techniques: Light spinning or bait casting tackle with spinners, spoons, or live bait like minnows or nightcrawlers.

Warmouth

Aliases: Indian fish.

Physical Traits: Large-mouthed with mottled sides and wavy lines on cheek; dark brownish above with mottled or spotted fins.

Top Fishing Spots: Small lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers and streams.

Fishing Techniques: Often caught incidentally to other fishing activities; various small artificials or live baits like worms and minnows are effective.

Striped Bass

Identification: Recognizable by its elongated body with dark olive above, silver sides, and white belly. Prominent unbroken black stripes extend from behind the head to the tail.

Best Fishing Spots: Ideal locations include lakes such as Smith Mountain and Buggs Island, as well as rivers like the Staunton/Roanoke and Dan.

Fishing Techniques: Opt for heavy baitcasting or spinning outfits with 15 to 25 pound test line. Live bait like large minnows or shad, as well as feathered or plastic jig combinations, are effective. Trolling, drift fishing, jump fishing, or deep jigging are common methods.

Hybrid Striped Bass

Identification: A crossbreed of striped bass and white bass, displaying a body shape between the two species. Silvery-white with dark broken stripes, typically weighing less than 10 lbs.

Best Fishing Spots: Claytor and Flannagan lakes are prime locations.

Fishing Techniques: Similar to striped bass techniques but often with slightly lighter tackle. Shiners along with spoons, crankbaits, and jigs are favored baits.

White Perch

Identification: Silver gray above, fading to silvery-white below, with no longitudinal lines. Typically smaller in size, averaging 8 to 10 inches.

Best Fishing Spots: Lakes like Western Branch and Gaston, as well as tidal rivers such as the James and Potomac.

Fishing Techniques: Use live bait like minnows, grass shrimp, or blood worms, along with small spinner baits and jigs. Target structures like old wharves or pilings, especially during a falling tide.

Yellow Perch

Identification: Olive-green above, fading to green or yellow-green on the sides, with eight vertical dusky bars. Ventral and anal fins are yellow to orange.

Best Fishing Spots: Brackish-water tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, and lakes like Western Branch and Moomaw.

Fishing Techniques: Locate schools of fish through drift fishing or deep jigging. Best bait options include small minnows, mummichogs, or worms, along with various artificial lures.

Walleye

Identification: Brassy-olive sides with obscure markings, distinct dark blotch at the rear base of the front dorsal fin, and a milky cornea in the eye.

Best Fishing Spots: Lakes such as Flannagan and South Holston, and rivers like the New and Clinch.

Fishing Techniques: Use jigs with plastic grubs or live bait, three- to five-inch minnow plugs, or trolling with nightcrawler harnesses. Live baits such as minnows, shad, or nightcrawlers are also effective.

Sauger

Identification: Resembles walleye but with spotted spiny dorsal, dusky-brown to yellowish-olive body, and a white underside. Slimmer build compared to walleye.

Best Fishing Spots: Clinch and Powell rivers are popular locations.

Fishing Techniques: Minnows are the preferred bait, especially when fished near the bottom. Effective methods include spoons, jigs, or spinners, particularly when tipped with a minnow.

Northern Pike

Identification: Long, lean body with olive or dark green above and light yellowish bean-shaped spots along the sides. Strongly toothed jaws and fully scaled cheeks.

Best Fishing Spots: Lakes like Hidden Valley and Motts Run.

Fishing Techniques: Still-fishing with large minnows or casting/trolling with large spoons, spinner-bucktails, or crankbaits.

Chain Pickerel

Identification: Named for its chain-like markings on the sides, with a black vertical mark under the eye. Averages 1.5 to 3 lbs.

Best Fishing Spots: Lakes such as Chickahominy and Gaston, and rivers like the Nottoway and Dragon Run.

Fishing Techniques: Most active from October through March. Use spinners, spoons, jigs, or pork rind baits, and fish near weed beds or sunken brush.

Muskellunge

Identification: Largest member of the pike family, usually olive to dark gray with faint vertical bars or blotches on the sides.

Best Fishing Spots: Lakes like Rural Retreat and Burke, as well as rivers such as the James and Clinch.

Fishing Techniques: Use heavy bait casting rods with large hooks and live bait like suckers or shad. Trolling with large crankbaits or trolling across shallow points can also be effective.

Brook Trout

Identification: Known for its colorful appearance, with dark olive-green back, yellowish spots, red spots with a blue halo, and bright orange fins.

Best Fishing Spots: Numerous streams and ponds in Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.

Fishing Techniques: Use dry flies, wet flies, streamers, or nymphs for purists. Live bait options include garden worms, caddis, or minnows, particularly in deep pools.

Rainbow Trout

Identification: Rainbow trout, known simply as Rainbows, flaunt a spectrum of colors, from olive-green backs to silvery-white bellies. Their cheeks shimmer with pink or light rosy red bands, while their bodies are adorned with black spots, varying in size from large splotches to tiny specks. Some may even lack markings altogether, adding to their diverse appearance.

Prime Fishing Spots: These prized catches thrive in southwestern Virginia streams and numerous mountain waterways across western Virginia. Notable haunts include Moomaw Lake and a plethora of rivers and streams, such as the Smith River, Elk Creek, and Dan River.

Fishing Techniques: Rainbows are versatile in their palate, striking dry flies, wet flies, streamers, nymphs, and small spinners. They're also enticed by bait like worms, live nymphs, and salmon eggs, with hatchery trout showing a penchant for kernel corn and colored marshmallows. Anglers often turn to Berkeley Power Baits for their scent and moldable nature, providing ample opportunities for successful angling.

Brown Trout

Identification: Brown trout exhibit a diverse color palette, with wild specimens boasting olive-brown backs, yellow-gold undersides, and a sprinkling of black or dark brown spots. Hatchery-reared browns, on the other hand, tend towards a silvery hue with lighter spots.

Prime Fishing Spots: Like rainbows, brown trout flourish in Moomaw Lake and various rivers and streams flanking the Blue Ridge. Favorites include the Little River, Mossy Creek, and Potts Creek.

Fishing Techniques: These larger "meat eaters" are enticed by a range of offerings, from dry flies to live baits like worms and minnows. They're particularly drawn to larger live baits and are known to strike spinners, crankbaits, and spoons with gusto. Anglers typically employ downstream presentations for live baits and wet flies, while dry flies are favored upstream.

Tiger Trout

Identification: Tiger trout, a hybrid of female brown trout and male brook trout, sport a distinctive brown/gray body with vermiculation patterns and orange/yellow undersides. Their fins are adorned with vibrant orange hues, lending them a striking appearance.

Prime Fishing Spots: Anglers seek out tiger trout in renowned Virginia rivers like the Jackson River, Bullpasture River, and South River, as well as other prime locations in Bath, Highland, Rockbridge, and Rockingham counties.

Fishing Techniques: These voracious feeders present an exciting challenge for anglers. Both spin and fly fishing approaches yield success, with inline spinners and bait imitating forage fish being particularly effective. Fly anglers can experiment with dry flies, nymphs, and streamers, tailoring their choice to mimic natural prey in each waterway.

Flathead Catfish

Identification: Flathead catfish feature a distinctively flattened head and a cream-colored body adorned with mottling. Their lower jaw protrudes beyond the upper, and younger specimens boast darker, bolder markings.

Prime Fishing Spots: Lakes such as Occoquan and Claytor, along with rivers like the James and New, provide fertile grounds for flathead catfish. Tailraces below dams are also productive locales.

Fishing Techniques: Live bait reigns supreme when targeting flatheads, with options like chicken entrails, nightcrawlers, and minnows proving effective. Anglers typically target deep pools or tailraces, where these bottom-dwelling behemoths lie in wait.

Blue Catfish

Identification: Characterized by their humpbacked appearance and bluish-gray bodies, blue catfish boast a wide head and a deeply forked tail. Distinguishing features include a straight margin on the anal fin and a higher ray count compared to channel catfish.

Prime Fishing Spots: Buggs Island Lake and various rivers including the James, Mattaponi, and Pamunkey serve as hotspots for blue catfish enthusiasts across Virginia.

Fishing Techniques: Heavy tackle is recommended when pursuing these formidable predators, with cut bait and peeler crabs proving irresistible. Nighttime or low-light conditions are ideal for targeting these nocturnal hunters.

Channel Catfish

Identification: Channel catfish are recognized by their deeply forked tails and longer upper jaws. While young specimens sport spots, these markings fade with age, distinguishing them from their blue catfish counterparts.

Prime Fishing Spots: Lakes such as Buggs Island and Gaston, along with rivers like the Appomattox and Chickahominy, offer prime habitat for channel catfish. They're also found in abundance in small public lakes and reservoirs.

Fishing Techniques: Rod and reel anglers have success with a variety of baits, including clam snouts, peeler crabs, and large minnows. Nightcrawlers and chicken livers are also effective, while artificial baits like crankbaits and jigs provide additional options for anglers seeking these prized catches.

White Catfish

Identification: White catfish boast a moderately forked tail, with a stocky frame and an upper jaw extending just beyond the lower. Their coloration typically ranges from blue-gray above to gray on the sides, with a striking white underside. Occasionally, light gray mottling adorns their sides, adding to their distinct appearance.

Prime Fishing Spots: Tidal rivers such as the Potomac, Rappahannock, James, and York, along with numerous lakes in southeast and central Virginia, provide fruitful grounds for white catfish enthusiasts.

Fishing Techniques: Similar to other catfish species, white catfish are enticed by a variety of baits, including worms, minnows, and scented baits. Anglers typically target them near the bottom, employing methods that capitalize on their feeding habits.

American Shad

Identification: The American shad, also known as white shad or roe shad, ranks as the largest member of the river herring family. With an average weight of around 3 lbs., these shimmering fish boast silver sides and a distinctive greenish-blue back. Dark spots adorn their sides, and they feature equally proportioned upper and lower jaws when closed.

Prime Fishing Spots: Rivers like the James, Mattaponi, Pamunkey, Meherrin, and Nottoway serve as prime territories for American shad enthusiasts.

Fishing Techniques: Timing is crucial, with mid-March to early May marking the prime window for fishing in fall line areas of tidal rivers as adults return to spawn. Light spincasting gear armed with brightly colored lures or flies proves effective, with anglers exercising caution to avoid damaging the delicate mouths of these prized catches.

Hickory Shad

Identification: Belonging to the river herring family, hickory shad typically weigh around 1 lb., with a maximum of 2 lbs. Their silver-sided bodies feature a grayish-green back and a prominent dark spot, followed by a row of lighter spots. Their distinctive wedge-shaped profile and protruding lower jaw set them apart.

Prime Fishing Spots: Rivers such as the Rappahannock and James, along with the Appomattox, Chickahominy, and Pamunkey rivers, offer fertile grounds for hickory shad enthusiasts.

Fishing Techniques: Anglers capitalize on the spring spawning run from mid-March into May, employing light spin casting gear and small, brightly colored lures or flies. Hickory shad often inhabit the upper water column, providing exciting surface action for those seeking these acrobatic fighters.

Longnose Gar

Identification: Longnose gar, often referred to as billy gar or garpike, are living relics with origins dating back 245 million years. Their unmistakable features include a long, beak-like jaw filled with sharp teeth, a cylindrical body, and a large rounded tail fin. Brownish-olive backs transition to yellowish or olive-green undersides, with a length ranging from 2 to 3 feet.

Prime Fishing Spots: Both lakes like Western Branch and rivers such as the Chickahominy and Pamunkey harbor populations of longnose gar.

Fishing Techniques: Targeting these ancient predators requires patience and skill, with large minnows proving effective on medium to heavy casting and spinning tackle. Anglers should be prepared for a challenge, as longnose gar are adept at stripping bait and putting up a spirited fight.

Blueback Herring & Alewife

Identification: Blueback herring and alewife, collectively known as river herring, share a similar appearance, with subtle internal differences distinguishing the two. Blueback herring exhibit a bluish hue along the back with a silvery head, while alewives feature a grayish-blue back and a bronze head.

Conservation Note: Due to depleted stocks, a ban on the possession of river herring has been enacted in certain waters flowing into North Carolina and Virginia. This conservation measure aims to address the decline in river herring populations over the past four decades.

Common Carp

Identification: Common carp, also known as German carp or mud bass, are the largest members of the minnow family. Their thick-bodied frame features a brassy sheen, humped back, and large scales, with distinctive barbels extending from their lips.

Prime Fishing Spots: Lakes such as Western Branch and Claytor, along with rivers like the Rappahannock and Shenandoah, provide fertile grounds for common carp enthusiasts.

Fishing Techniques: Carp are known for their acute senses and skittish behavior, presenting a challenge for anglers. Various baits, including bread dough balls and canned corn, are employed, with anglers utilizing spinning or casting rods paired with heavy tackle for optimal success.

Bowfin

Identification: Bowfin, also known as grindle or grinnel, boast a distinctive appearance reminiscent of prehistoric times. They feature a long, soft-rayed dorsal fin that arches over much of their body, along with a rounded tail adorned with a distinct black spot rimmed with orange in males.

Prime Fishing Spots: Lakes like Chickahominy and rivers such as the Mattaponi and Pamunkey provide habitats for bowfin populations.

Fishing Techniques: Bowfin are renowned for their strength and tenacity, striking at live bait and various artificials with gusto. Anglers should exercise caution when handling these muscular fighters, employing stout tackle and steel leaders to secure their catch.

Freshwater Drum

Identification: Freshwater drum, also known as drum or sheepshead, are characterized by their humped back, stout body, and large scales. Their silvery brown fins and body distinguish them from other species, with a rounded or almost triangular trailing edge on the caudal fin.

Prime Fishing Spots: Rivers such as the Clinch and Powell, along with Buggs Island Lake, offer opportunities for freshwater drum enthusiasts.

Fishing Techniques: Live bait like crayfish and small minnows are popular choices among anglers targeting freshwater drum. Light or medium tackle is recommended, with anglers targeting deeper pools or drop-offs for optimal success.

Flier

Identification: Fliers, also known as round sunfish or millpond fliers, belong to the sunfish family and boast a deep-bodied, almost circular shape. They feature numerous spines on both the dorsal and anal fins, with a distinctive coloration ranging from yellow-green to brassy-olive or brownish-gold. Each scale bears a dark brown to black spot, often appearing in rows. A vertical streak extends downward from the eye to the lower edge of the cheek, while their large, rounded fins resemble those of a crappie.

Prime Fishing Spots: Lakes such as Drummond, Airfield, and Harrison, along with rivers like the Dismal Swamp Canal and Nottoway, provide ideal habitats for fliers. They are often found around stumps, sunken brush, cypress trunks, and bridges.

Fishing Techniques: Although commonly caught incidentally by anglers targeting crappies in early spring, fliers are receptive to various techniques. They will strike dry and wet flies, as well as small minnows and worms using typical small panfish rigs. Anglers should focus their efforts around structures and cover where fliers congregate.

Fallfish

Identification: Fallfish, also known as Shenandoah tarpon or James River bonefish, hold the title of the largest native minnow in the eastern United States. Their silvery sides and torpedo-shaped body distinguish them, often accompanied by a bronze tint and a darker gray to brown back with a light white underside. During spawning season, males develop tubercles on their snouts and sport a light pink tone along their gill plates and sides. Juveniles display a dark stripe from the gill plate to the tailfin.

Prime Fishing Spots: Abundant in warmwater rivers and streams across the Piedmont, fallfish are commonly found in the lower reaches of habitable trout waters. They thrive in river systems such as the James, York, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, and Potomac drainages.

Fishing Techniques: Fallfish are known for their resilience and tenacity, putting up a spirited fight when hooked. Anglers can employ a variety of techniques, from bait fishing to artificials, to entice these formidable opponents. Whether using live bait or artificial lures, anglers are sure to be impressed by the strength and vigor of fallfish.

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