Virginia- Rainbows, Brooks & Browns
Envision a brisk springtime day complimented with sporadic swirls of wind rippling across the slick lake top. Reclined in a lawn chair, you squint against the brilliant sunlight, straining to see a graceful eagle swoop above the tree line. As your eyes move downward to inspect your fishing line swaying in the breeze, you see the last of the slack disappear as your rod tip confirms your suspicions with a violent twitch-trout on!
Although winter and early spring may induce some anglers into fishing with-drawl, wetting a hook in a tranquil setting, awaiting the gymnastic display of an energetic trout, is certainly a worthwhile fix. Anglers are finding this attainable indulgence within reach, as they discover more about Virginia’s well-managed trout stocking programs; with stocked trout habitats within only a few hours drive.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries provides respectably sized rainbow, brook and brown trout to over 2,800 miles of streams, as well as over 600 miles of ponds, lakes and reservoirs. Numerous catchable trout waters are nearby, offering the serenity of the great outdoors combined with red-hot trout action, which obviously peaks during the stocking months from October through May. These trout are raised in hatcheries and transported to their new habitats weekly, providing a ready supply of hungry trout eager for a meal. Most of these trout settings are peaceful nature getaways, ideal for young children and picnics. Virginia’s trout stocking schedule and locations can be found on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries web site at dgif.state.va.us.
In addition to the state’s program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army have joined efforts to cooperatively manage a trout-stocking program on the beautiful Fort A.P. Hill compound. This 76,000-acre Army installation is open to the public for fishing and hunting by permit, and is located in Caroline County, Virginia, approximately 20 miles southeast of Fredericksburg. These fresh water impoundments are stocked weekly with over three hundred catchable trout from Jan through the end of April. Many of these hatched trout are released already measuring to a hefty trophy size of 16 to 22 inches! As a result of A.P. Hill’s effort to enhance its fresh water habitats, you will find an abundance of clean accessible shoreline for bank fishing, as well as boat ramp facilities adequate for small boats with electric motors. Because the rainbow trout stocking program has been so successful in the past, this year three different species of fish will compete for your bait; the stunning rainbow trout, spunky brookies, and the aggressive brown trout. All three trout species exhibit a gorgeous array of multicolored spots, with the brook trout representing the most colorful of the trio. All three varieties of trout are shimmery wonders, packing a punch on light tackle. Hours of operation and directions to A.P. Hill can be obtained from their Website at www.aphill.army.mil.
Regardless of which program you choose, similar guidelines apply; anglers are entitled to a creel limit of six fish per person per day, while utilizing one rod. A Virginia fresh water-fishing license is a must, and depending on the program, either a state or an A.P. Hill trout stamp and permit is required, usually setting you back about twenty bucks.
Tackle and Equipment:
By far, the most prevalent mistake made by anglers targeting these inland beauties for the first time is going too heavy on the tackle, so pack light! Overpowering equipment will not only desensitize your experience, but will also tend to lessen the appeal of your offering to potential takers. To prepare for your trip, load up a few ultra-light spinning reels or bait casters with matching light-action rods strung with 6 to 8-pound test monofilament line. Prepare a typical fish-finder style rig by sitting a ¼-ounce egg sinker atop a very small barrel or snap swivel. Tie on about 18 inches of 6-pound monofilament leader material coupled with a number 6 gold hook. Although the size of the hook may seem deficient at first glance, trout have relatively small, soft mouths, and this petite size tends to double my successful hookups.
Have another rod in stand-by mode with a small lure for casting, just in case the trout debut on the surface, which is always a pleasant surprise.
Bait and Technique:
The most popular baits for bottom fishing for land-locked trout include night crawlers, mealworms, and natural or artificial trout eggs, and nuggets. All of these baits are easily found at local tackle shops. Some anglers also seem to have some success with canned corn or even minnows. Earlier in the year, when the water is still very cool, or even ice-covered, the natural worms carefully threaded onto the hook in their entirety, have a tendency to outperform the artificial baits hands-down. Later in the spring, the colorful artificial and natural trout eggs and nuggets pull into the lead as the preferred choice of trout cuisine. The trick with the artificial baits in non-moving water such as a pond or lake is to completely bury the little hook into the bait, ensuring that none of the shiny gold of the hook shows under the water. Once sufficiently baited, simply toss your offering anywhere from 5 to 20 feet into the trout zone, pulling off several winds of mono so that a foot or two of slack exists in the line. This trick is crucial since all trout have a bad habit of picking up and dropping bait as a rule. Some people opt to float their bait on a bobber, but I have found this technique leaves the whereabouts of the bait to chance, inviting small bluegills to nibble, often hooking themselves, cutting into your quality trout presentation time. Once satisfied with your setup, engage the reel, and adjust to a light to medium drag. Place your rod in a holder, or set it in a y-shaped, roughing-it style twig propped in the bank, then kick back in a comfy chair and enjoy the day while you wait. As you watch your line, the first thing you will notice when trout are inspecting your rig, is the slack in the line begin to pull taught. Resist the urge to grab the rod, and be patient until the rod tip begins to move, verifying that the trout is hooked. Gently set the hook true, and prepare for an aerobatic demonstration of jumps, and even tailing as these little bundles of energy protest their compromising position.
Casting for trout is always a good choice any time of the year, and many fly-anglers also benefit from the spectacular tout fisheries in the area. The best lures for trout are small spinners, spoons, and any small lures used for shad fishing. Most crappie jigs also provoke these hunters with relative consistency. When the water is cold, a very slow, even retrieve is necessary to earn a trout’s attention, while later in the season, most any speed of regain will suffice.
When landing these fish, most can be successfully pulled up onto the shoreline. To be on the safe side, a trout net can prove handy, especially for those occasional 22-inchers!
I consider freshwater trout fishing to be the simplest and the most relaxing of all my yearly angling endeavors. These spotted beauties are truly gorgeous, very tasty, and will certainly disrupt a long, cool spring with a little excitement and a road trip to boot.