EAGLE ROCK, Va. (WFXR) — A lot of people might think that they have to travel to the Great Lakes region to catch one of the most sought-after gamefish on the planet.
They do not.
All they need to do to catch that fish is to visit Virginia.
The fish we are talking about is the muskellunge or musky as it is commonly referred to. And, one of the places to go to in Virginia to hook up with a musky is the James River. The stretch from the Head of the James to Lynchburg holds good numbers of muskies, especially the upper portions.
Musky experts rate the James as one of the top musky waters on the east coast, and one of the best in the United States. Muskies can be difficult to catch, but in the James, they are concentrated, and that will improve chances of hooking up with one, especially in the fall.
“They go into quite a feeding frenzy,” said guide and owner of Appalachian Bronzeback Adventures Rob England. “The colder the water gets, the colder the weather gets, the hungrier these fish will get.”
The reason for the fall feed is that muskies will fatten up for the winter. They will also put on extra weight to carry them through to the spring spawn.
Muskies are opportunistic feeders and will take fish, ducks, rodents, or insects, though they generally favor larger forage fish like suckers or carp. Because that is what they are targeting, it is best to use larger crankbaits, swimbaits, or spinners to go after muskies.
“These are eight-inch baits,” England said while holding up a large minnow imitation, a Perko Lures Prime Suspect. “It’s still a big bait, but we throw all the way up to 12 and 16-inch baits.”
Because muskies feed on large forage, they are known to eat infrequently with a large forage meal lasting them a long time.
But, just because a musky has eaten recently does not mean it can not be lured into hitting a bait.
“They are opportunistic,” said Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Fisheries Biologist Jason Hallacher. “If an easy meal presents itself, they will eat.”
Muskies are not native to the James. They were stocked years ago to provide a trophy sport fishery and to enhance angling opportunities. While they are native, the river provides great cover, ample forage, and a climate that encourages growth.
While the fishery is great for anglers, it is also an economic driver. Because the James has become a destination location for musky anglers from around the country, the fishery has boosted restaurant, lodging, and guide services near the upper stretch of the river.