Angie Gautier shows off a citation-sized smallmouth recently caught in the New River.
High school sporting events aren’t places you’d usually expect to pick up hot fishing tips, but over the years this is exactly where we’ve found ourselves pointed in very profitable directions.
As it turns out, lots of coaches, athletes and even a few sports writing colleagues are avid anglers. Like most fishermen, they love talking about their exploits. They all seem to know that, even if I didn’t write about it, it’s the kind of stuff I enjoy hearing.
The recent VHSL Group A state track and field championships in Radford this past weekend is a good example. I ran into numerous folks around the track (even a few in the infield) who were excited about the smallmouth bass fishing on the New River.
Lee High track coach Eric Satterfield was positively pumped. Having arrived at Radford on Friday, Satterfield was able to go fishing the day before the big meet.
The action at Peppers Ferry was fantastic in the pools below shoals, he said. They were “killing” them.
The Lee County anglers didn’t bring boats: they waded the river wearing life jackets so they could safely drift downstream from shoal to shoal. He said they caught at least 50 smallmouth bass, including some very nice ones. A white split-tail grub was one of the most productive lures they threw. Pools downstream of shoals have been packed with hungry fish, he said.
As it turned out, Pepper’s Ferry hasn’t been the only hot spot for bronzebacks on the New. While I can’t attest to the status of the fishing upstream of Claytor Lake, the smallmouth fishing downstream of Claytor Dam has been outstanding all the way to the West Virginia line. If you aren’t scared of “The Boogerman” getting you, it’s probably an excellent float on down to Bluestone Lake.
Giles County angler Richard Gautier explained that the smallmouth bite between Claytor and Bluestone usually fires up between the first week in May and the first week of June as the bass start feeding up after the spawn. That seems to be running about two weeks late. Water temperatures have been around 64 degrees. When it gets to 70 things should start slowing down.
In the meantime, Gautier and his wife, Angie, have enjoyed some of the best river smallmouth action they’ve seen in years, both in terms of numbers and quality fish. They’ve caught multiple citation-sized specimens.
Soft plastics have been the baits of choice. Gary Yamamoto twin-tailed grubs in green pumpkin and brown cinnamon are good crawfish mimics for the river. Soft jerkbaits, including Zoom Flukes and Berkley GULP! Minnows, have been the best minnow lures. But Gautier’s hands-down favorite bait has been a shaky head jig rigged with a four-inch Berkley Power Worms. These rigs not only imitate minnows for quick-striking smallies, but can also pass for hellgrammites (the larval stage of the dobsonfly).
“The best way to fish them is just to throw them out and let them wash down to where the fish are. You need to keep tension on the line and might need to twitch it ever so often just to keep it moving. But usually the current carrying it over the rocks gives it all the action you need,” Gautier said. “I went through a whole pack of green (Power Worms) the other day because fish were hitting them so hard, they were tearing them in half.”
The best fish they’ve caught haven’t been in the open river, he said, but up against the banks. As good as the fishing has been, it hasn’t been as easy as falling out of the boat. On some of the same days Mr. & Mrs. Gautier had their most epic catches, they encountered guided parties who were singing the blues. It didn’t appear to be disinformation. They really weren’t getting into the same fish.
Ray Cox, a sports writer with the Roanoke Times and an avid fly fisher, said he’d recently fished the James River prior to an assignment that took him to Buchanan and caught some nice smallmouth on top water. He was resolved to visit the New and try some of the same tactics.
They can be strikingly different rivers, but what is good for the James is sometimes good for the New. While poppers, Wiggle Minnows and other top water flies will undoubtedly get Cox into some action (and keep him out of time-robbing hang-ups) a dark, general streamer pattern that a smallmouth might mistake for a minnow, hellgrammite or crawfish might stand a better chance of putting a fly fisher in touch with a citation-sized fish.
Either way, it’s all good.
George Thwaites is a sports and outdoors writer for the Kingsport Times-News. Have any trophy fish you want to brag about? Email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter he is @KTNSptsThwaites.