Jeff Crow reports the following from Lake Country in southern Virginia: The Kerr Reservoir water level rose dramatically this week to nearly 310 feet before beginning to taper off. The massive amount of water brought into the lake by torrential rains and flooded rivers carried with it not only muddy conditions but also large amounts of floating and submerged debris. Boaters should take great precaution when in virtually any part of the lake as the debris is widespread.
The mud line made its way quickly down Kerr Reservoir and was as far as the Graveyard, which is across the lake from Eastland Creek, earlier in the week. Prior to this rise, the lake was below 300 feet, and a roughly 10-foot rise across 50,000 acres or more is an incredible amount of water. As a result of these substantial changes in water, the fishing has suffered. With much of this water going through the dam, even Lake Gaston has been up and down, at times exceeding the relatively more stable pool level of 200 feet. During the past week, levels have been a half foot or more above the normal level. Water temperatures have been in the low- to mid-60s in many areas of the lakes.
Even with the difficulties of the water conditions right now, it is a great time of year to get out and look for largemouth bass. The key this time of year is locating baitfish, which are migrating shallow and feeding in the backs of creeks and main lake pockets. As we progress into winter, chasing these baitfish will actually get easier as the birds will get into the action. That being said, we are a month or two away from bird activity taking center stage in terms of locating fish. Hopefully by the time December rolls around, the lakes will have settled down from the recent rains, and the birds will be working schools of bait, and excellent fall/winter fishing will return to Kerr Reservoir and Lake Gaston.
Another key pattern now and into December is a crawfish-colored crankbait in shallow water, particularly around rock. A range of these lures in a variety of orange, brown and red can be used, and the specific color that is effective may vary depending on water color and stage the local crawfish are in. Many anglers understand the importance of crawfish in the spring, but the same is true in the fall as well. After feeding on baitfish for months, the bass transition to the crawfish until the water temperature drops into the 40s. This pattern remains strong often into January, but it is usually a mid- to late-November bite and into mid-December. Other lures mimic crawfish and sometimes slow moving options such as jigs and creature baits do well. Topwater lures are quickly fading into the past but if we get warm days, they could still be productive for another week or two, until water temperatures drop consistently into the 50s or even lower.
Catfish are less susceptible to the stained water and even though they are scattered right now, they still represent a viable fishing option. The catfish bite will only get better as fall and winter progress. In another couple of months, the well known Icebowl will be held on Kerr Reservoir, a tournament which pits North Carolina versus Virginia anglers in search of giant cats. Recently, anglers were catching the catfish anywhere from 10-50 feet of water and by drifting in the range of 0.4 mph. Dragging bait in the main channel of the lake or in the main stem of major creeks is key right now as there is more current there with the water flowing through the lake.
Crappie still are moving shallow and following bait, but larger fish are typically deeper. Some anglers are reporting success in 15 feet of water, on brush. Anglers continue to report that the crappie have been smaller this year than in past years, and this is very unusual for Kerr Reservoir, as it is generally known for its big crappie. It seems that right now, there are plenty of fish in the 10-12 inch range, but catching those quality 13-16 inch or bigger fish is a real challenge. That being said, anglers can often still catch one of these trophy-sized crappie on most outings. Many anglers predict as the water temperature continues to cool, these larger crappie will show up again on the typical cover such as brush-piles.
Capt. Art Conway of Conway’s River Rat Guide Service out of Ed Allen’s Boats and Bait reported that Chickahominy Lake midday water temperatures were in the low-50s in the central lower lake on Wednesday. The lake level was about seven inches above the top of the dam, and the water was medium brown and clear in the central lake, with much more murky water near windy shorelines.
Most blue cats and bullheads were along drop-offs and in channels in the main lake. When active, cats were hitting live minnows and cut bait. Most crappie were on deeper main lake flats or on channel edges, frequently near brush-piles, and some schools were moderately active. Active crappie hit live minnows, Wright Bait Co. and Southern Pro curly tail jigs, small tubes, Kalin crappie scrubs and small swim baits.
White and yellow perch were scattered or in loose aggregates on deep flats and channel edges in the main lake and when active were hitting small live minnows, swim baits and jigs. Larger bluegill and shellcracker were in 5-12 feet of water on channel edges, frequently on wood cover, and were mostly inactive. When they have been active, bluegill and shellcracker were hitting live worms, Nikko nymphs and small swimbaits.
Pickerel and bass were located along a few shorelines, around cypress trees, on flats and on channel edges, especially near the mouths of creeks. When active, bass and pickerel were hitting live minnows, spinnerbaits, swim baits, stick worms, crank baits, jerk baits, topwaters and jigs.
Fishing with Capt. Conway: Grant Odell had 16 crappie, eight white perch, one pickerel and one largemouth bass. Tom Porter had 19 crappie, one flier, one white perch, one pickerel and one largemouth bass.
Water level was slightly high with clear water temperatures in the low- to mid-50s. Fishing was good for bass, pickerel, bowfin, catfish and crappie.
Bass and pickerel are hitting in 4-8 feet of water. Best success has been with extra large minnows, spinner baits, chatter baits, jerk baits and jigs. Several bags of over 15 pounds were reported last week.
Catfish and bowfin also are biting well on extra large minnows. Crappie have schooled up on brush-piles in 8-12 foot of water. Several limits have been reported with minnows and jigs 14 inches or better.
GREEN TOP REPORT
Saltwater: Folks are doing well with keeper rockfish inside the Rappahannock River. Multiple presentations are working now. Trolling stretch baits, umbrella rigs rigged with 4-6 inch baits, lipless crankbaits and jigging bucktails all seem to be working. The Whitestone Bridge area has been good, as have areas for several miles upriver. Anglers fishing the Hampton area of the James River report good catches of keeper rockfish with the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and the James River Bridge being good. Nice keepers also have been coming from the Elizabeth River.
The Hampton area has been good for the speckled trout and some puppy drum. Lynnhaven Inlet has been especially good for the pups. Good speck fishing has been taking place in many areas close to the Rappahannock and inside the Rapp. Most of the tributaries and inlets south of the Rapp are holding good speckled trout. Good choices of baits are the four inch sea shad, various Mirr-o-lures and suspending jerkbaits. The colder the water temperature gets the better the suspending jerkbait and Mirr-o-lure bite gets.
The tautog bite should not be overlooked at this time as they also bite through the cold weather and are excellent table fare. Fresh cut crab is a preferred bait for the togs, as are live fiddler crabs. The CBBT structures are an excellent place to target the tog.
Some sizable puppy drum are being caught from the Eastern Shore surf at this time. There also is an excellent bite for the black sea bass on offshore structures at this time. The same structures that are holding the sea bass are holding some quality founder and sometimes triggerfish.
The offshore charters are doing well with the yellowfin and blackfin tuna right now. Catches of wahoo are being made from time to time too. There’s great action for the king mackerel out of Hatteras right now, especially for those using live bait.
The inshore boats are enjoying good catches of speckled trout, puppy drum and rockfish. Nags Head pier anglers are reeling in specks, sea mullet, black drum and bluefish for the most part. The surf temps still are around 65 degrees. The Buxton surf anglers are reporting a lot of sharks at the point.
Freshwater: The tidal James River experienced levels above flood stage in the last week. So reports have been few. The Chickahominy River is the place to go to escape the flood waters of the James as the Chick seldom gets muddy. However, dealing with the high water can be challenging. Conditions were tough, as 12 pounds was the winning weight on the Chick during the weekend. The upper James was way too high for fishing last weekend. This coming weekend, anglers should be greeted with much better conditions to search for the smallmouth. During this time of year, crawfish imitations can be strong — particularly the crankbait. Shallow to mid-depth zones are usually all that is needed as the bass will move shallow to feed.
The largemouth also are moving shallow to feed. Many still are in the upper portions of our local lakes and ponds. Grass lines and rocks, especially together, can be dynamite areas. Lipless crankbaits, flukes, square billed crankbaits and spinnerbaits are what many choose with which to search. Skipping docks also can be good, particularly at Lake Gaston where dock patterns almost always produce.
This time of year when the baitfish are roaming constantly, the Alabama rig can be hard to beat for both bass and stripers. The stripers are on the move in the upper sections of Lake Anna. So the more consistent fishing usually occurs above the bridges in both arms. Topwater walking baits and four inch swim baits are excellent search baits to use at this time.
Look for the crappie to be grouped up along the bridges and submerged brush. They also will gang up under docks, especially in the mid-to-upper sections of the lakes. Side-imaging sonar can eliminate a lot of guesswork when it comes to finding crappie and other species as well.
— Compiled by Lily Betts