With the country in an economic downswing, itÕs difficult to find anyone who hasnÕt had to make sacrifices. To many, this means not buying and outfitting a $50,000 new bass boat but a $15,000 aluminum rig or kayak. To others it means saving for gas money just to drive to the local lake. With just a little innovative backtracking and simplifying, the sportsman on a budget can enjoy first-rate experiences in the outdoors without breaking the bank. Here are a few to ponder.
Fish a Blue Line
Truly a low-budget endeavor, Òblue-liningÓ can be done close to home and with little gear. Blue-lining refers to fishing small tributaries to larger rivers which are represented by a thin blue line on a topographic map (download free at: usgs.gov). Once youÕve located a small stream with a map, scout it for fish-holding potential, gain access, and fish. The species you will be fishing for correspond to the river the stream feeds; so do your research. The sunfish spawn peaks around the second week of the month, and will make up most of your fishing. As for tackle, I usually carry a small daypack loaded with the essentials; a small tackle box filled with spinners, small spoons, and jigs; and an ultra-light rod spooled with four-pound line.
If you havenÕt yet fished the Chickahominy River you owe it to yourself to make the trip. Miles of interconnected, cypress-lined creeks and marshes provide hours of exploratory paddling, good fishing for a multitude of species, and abundant wildlife and scenery to enjoy and photograph. One of the most fun and rewarding ways to fish and explore this unique waterway is with a canoe or kayak. Launch at the Chickahominy WMA to explore the lower river, or at EagleÕs Landing on Chickahominy Lake to witness the smaller beginnings of the rich river. Make sure to have a good map—and bug spray!
Looking to escape the encroaching heat and enjoy some unusual fishing opportunities? Woodstock Reservoir in Shenandoah County is a small, little-known impoundment on Little Stony Creek. Little Stony Creek, a trout fishery, flows through the George Washington National Forest and offers good brook trout fishing throughout most of the spring, summer, and fall. A well-maintained trail begins where the Forest Service Route 92 crosses the creek and extends two miles to the reservoir. Packing in a float tube or kick boat will put you in a position to cast to hidden fish along the wooded shoreline or to cruising brookies.
The James River is one of the most accessible rivers in Virginia, and offers some of the best smallmouth fishing too. For a two day float-fishing/camping trip, put in at Scottsville, float 5.8 miles to the Hardware River WMA, take out, and spend the night. This stretch has good smallmouth and redbreast sunfish fishing. On the second leg of the trip, shove off and float 6.9 miles through the heavily-braided channel to the takeout at New Canton. This stretch is one of the most productive of the river and is known for its exceptional smallmouth fishing. Fishing on the river takes off in May, and opportunities exist to catch five-plus-pound smallies.
The stretch of the South River between Grand Caverns and Grottoes offers a change in scenery. ItÕs a challenging float and features some class II rapids. The river boasts of its trout and smallmouth fishery, but the aforementioned stretch is known for producing quality largemouth and carp. The latter species grows to large sizes in the river and doesnÕt see much fishing pressure. Carp can be caught using cat-fishing tactics, or can be spot-and-stalked; as tailing fish readily take minnow or crayfish lures and flies. Pursue carp for something new; but donÕt overlook the riverÕs largemouth bass and trout fishery.
Poor ManÕs Musky
Known as a ÒroughÓ species, there is an overlooked fish that presents the same ferocity, is just as selective, and is more prominent in VirginiaÕs waters than musky—gar. The longnose gar is the only gar species found in Virginia, and makes its home in the waters of many of the stateÕs freshwater rivers—a detail bowfishermen are beginning to take advantage of. For anyone who has fished for gar before, the challenge is readily realized. Gar are large (some up to 25 pounds), selective, and ancient fish. The gar family has existed on earth for over 245 million years; and they cruise the waters with an attitude that reflects that. They become active when the water temperatures hit 75, but can be caught earlier. Stalk and throw a baitfish imitation to a feeding fish and you are in for a fight you will not forget.
Several things make the New River unique. Foremost, the rich river supports populations of more fish species than can be effectively listed here—this does not sacrifice quality. At the turn of the century, the river was credited with four state records (musky, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and walleye). Perhaps this fertility can be linked to the Mississippi River which it feeds. The New is also believed to be the second oldest river in the world. With over 20 landings, this river is very accessible, offers plenty of fishing opportunity, and is easily wadeable.
If you find yourself rationing both money and time, this option might be the most frugal for you. The commonwealth is speckled with thousands of small farm ponds, usually on private property; but a kind landowner is usually permissive to the courteous fisherman. Farm ponds are known for producing large bass, sunfish, and crappie. This kind of fishing is readily available, affordable, a great way to introduce a youth to fishing, and, overall, a great adventure. You never know whatÕs lurking in the depths of an uncharted body of water.
The featured adventures are just samples; but hopefully youÕve realized that being frugal doesnÕt have to impact your days afield. Take time to enjoy nature and look in the right places; and youÕre sure to create some of your greatest memories yet.