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  • Writer's pictureMatt Reilly

WINTER FISHING RECAP--SPRING IS IN THE AIR

While the official end of winter and beginning of spring is yet another three weeks out, an angler's year is dictated less by the calendar and more by the life histories of the fish they pursue. And early March marks a big shift in warmwater fish behavior in Southwest Virginia, causing us to shift our focus, putting winter fishing to bed and looking forward to spring and the bounty that it brings.



The major focus for me, from mid-October to March, is musky, and we've had a great season.


The first few months of the season, as is generally expected, were characterized by low, clear water, which brings with it its own array of challenges and advantages. This kind of water condition allows you to see everything. With the warmer water of the early season, the fish move around quite a bit as well, following flies out of curiosity and sometimes providing a lot of interactions in a day, which can make for some fun fishing. Different tactics need to be employed at times to get fish to eat in this kind of condition, but the fish do still eat, and we had some incredibly visual eats, both boat-side and away from the boat.


More rain and increased streamflows came as the winter wore on, and that condition stayed with us for the remainder of the season. About a month of frozen river and muddy water came in January, which put us on the sidelines, but cold weather is certainly to be expected in January. However, in some very recent years, we've enjoyed some of the best musky fishing of the season in January, with unseasonably warm weather and water.


The New River, our primary haunt, continues to produce good numbers of musky. The strong recruitment (number of juvenile musky that successfully mature into the population after spawning) that we've seen in recent years has put a lot of 27 - 33" musky in the river. That's been the case for a few years now, and those fish are growing up. Our average fish caught was certainly a few inches bigger during the 2023/24 winter season compared to the previous season, which is a result of both growing fish, and our dialing into pieces of river that currently hold bigger fish, when that's the correct move.



One of the beautiful benefits of having good numbers of smaller musky, is the ability to use those areas that are dense with such fish to provide a new musky angler with consistent shots at their first fish, or in giving them some experience interacting with fish early in their career. Areas with fewer but bigger fish can be utilized as that angler grows and gains experience with the sport. Watching anglers work to put their first musky in the net, and watching them gain experience, mature, and grow more and more addicted to the sport is one of my greatest joys, and I am thankful to have been able to soak up a lot of that, this season.


Early in the season, I got to watch a vicious boatside eat from a 40-inch fish in gin clear water that friend and client, Geoff fought perfectly and put in the net as his first musky. There were countless other first and second musky moments, and big fish caught and lost. As the season began to close, I also got to watch two local folks, Jerry and Chris, put their first muskies in the net, after chasing them for 12 years without more than a single sighting. These are the moments that make my world go round.


Our winter smallmouth fishing produced some impressive days when we were on that program. In six days, we put 38 fish over 18" in the boat on flies. Mostly, we used this fishery as a backup option to musky fishing, but makes for a fantastic day, regardless, and sometimes a much-needed respite from the musky grind. The addition of our 16.5-foot Hog Island jet skiff makes taking advantage of this fishery incredibly easy.



As I write this, our water temps on the freestone, natural rivers are hovering around the mid-40s, and we have warm weather and rain in the forecast. We're on the cusp of some of the best smallmouth fishing of our year in terms of large fish, and we're excited to switch gears. While it's always a little bittersweet putting the musky program to bed for the spring, a change of pace is always welcome.


We have VERY little availability for the year to come. So if you'd like on the calendar, give us a shout sooner rather than later.


See you on the water!

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