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DESTINATION FILE: Chickahominy Lake - By Tom Scanlan - Nov. 2004

After a quarter of a century I had forgotten the uniqueness of Chickahominy. It is quite a lot like the renown bass lakes of eastern and central Florida. When you see the Cypress bowls and knees, the weedy shorelines, floating islands, and the overall shallow structure of the lake, you could easily picture yourself 1,000 miles away on one of those famous "live shiner" lakes in the "sunshine state".

My long overdue return to the lake was to fish with Conway's River Rat Guide Service. Captain Art Conway has been fishing Chickahominy long before guiding.

As planned, we met at Ed Allen's at dawn early on a pleasant October Saturday. Ed Allen's is a long established outfit on the lake with a new boat ramp, boat rentals, fishing pier, restaurant and motel.

The first thing after introductions was to examine Captain Conway's rig. He has a well equipped, heavy duty 17 foot Roughneck aluminum boat powered by an 80 h. p. Evinrude jet motor. The jet feature is a necessity for his guided trips on the James and Chickahominy Rivers and the occasional floating log in Chickahominy Lake.

As we readied our gear for the day, I spoke to Art about his guide service and profession. It seems that during the week it is Dr. Art, as he is a Professor of Biology and Director of the Honors Program at Randolph-Macon College in nearby Ashland, and on the weekends and during the summer he is Capt. Art on the Chick, James and Lake Anna.

Art has a lifetime of experience on the water. He was brought up on the Bay, his father being a commercial fisherman, and Art following in his footsteps. Our conversation turned to the day's fishing. Art said the bass fishing, following hurricanes "Charlie" and Jeanne", had been somewhat slow with the lake being high and discolored. Art took a test trip on the lake the Thursday prior to my arrival and found the bass and panfish activity getting back to normal. Success with bass had been with soft baits; primarily Zoom Flukes and Culprit six inch worms, so we rigged accordingly.

Not engaging the jet motor, we glided away from the dock under power of the electric trolling motor, the target area being weeds and floating islands nearby on the north side of the lake. We were both experiencing bites on the soft baits, but no aggressive takes. Either the bass or panfish were grabbing the tails without inhaling the baits. Finally something grabbed my fluke with a vengeance and just as quickly cut off my lure. Art smiled and said it was one of the Chick's famous chain pickerel, and suggested that if that continued we switch to a very light wire leader that he rigged himself.

Looking at the shoreline with small creeks receding into the grass I kept thinking of how satisfying it is to have a largemouth smash a surface lure, and that this looked like the ideal area. I rigged one rod up with a Pop-R and later with a Tiny Torpedo and would alternate fishing with the fluke and worm to the top water baits. That morning and throughout the day, not the slightest swirl indicated an interest in the surface baits. Concentrating on the fluke and worm,

Art and I each took a nice bass by mid-morning. Just before coming in for lunch my second bass fell to a Culprit six inch purple worm.

We broke up the day with a leisurely lunch at Ed Allen's Lakeside Restaurant. Refreshed we returned to the serious business of stalking bass. This time Art engaged the jet motor and we fished the opposite side of the lake, still concentrating on the soft baits. Cruising along the floating islands which were moved back considerably by hurricane Isabelle in 2003, we saw a bald eagle take off from a tall pine, and commented on the great recovery these magnificent birds have made along the James, Chickahominy and the Chesapeake Bay. Wildlife abounds along the Chick and is a bonus to a day's fishing, and of particular interest to a biologist such as Art.

After taking a couple more bass on the fluke and Art on a white fluke-like bait, I again had a smashing hit and felt the strong surge of a respectable fish before that heart stopping feel of a parting line. Again, a Chickahominy chain pickerel took the lure deep enough to cut the line. Art talked me into using one of his rigged fine wire leaders. It was Art using this rig and his white soft bait that finally landed a pickerel.

As I stubbornly continued to use the fluke and worm alternately, Art changed to a small 1 1/2 inch long minnow-like soft bait on an ultra light spinning rig. As I recall, the bait was a Stanley Flaptail. Art is a specialist in taking panfish with a light spinning rig and fly rod. The Flaptail produced and Art brought in one after another brightly colored bluegill of eight to ten inches in length.

I kept thinking of the double digit bigmouth that the Chickahominy is noted for, and while I was tempted to switch to light tackle and something to entice the panfish, I kept tossing my baits around the cypress bowls. When Art started taking some nice shell crackers my thoughts returned to boyhood days in Alabama when shell crackers were a much prized catch. No artificials, then as our number one bait in the spring were the Catalpa Worms. These juicy critters were cut in half and turned inside-out on the hook for a more enticing shell cracker meal.

Putting my ego and intent to catch "Mr. Big" aside, I borrowed one of Art's U. L.'s and began using the flap tail. We got into a stand of Cypress in about four feet of water and took one after another of bigger-than-your-hand bluegill and an occasional "cracker". Art working around a cypress bowl hooked something on his ultra light much bigger than any panfish in the lake. The bass of the day had taken that minute flaptail and was testing the frail U. L. rod by bending it in a perfect "U". I had the net ready and wanted that bass for a picture, but it was not to be. A surge under the boat gave the bass his freedom.

The weather forecast the previous evening was for thunderstorms developing late in the day. While fishing for the panfish we were aware of the distant rumbling. Art, from his days on the water, knew the cloud build-up to the west meant that we would be heading for the dock sometime soon. The storm got to us more quickly than expected and we headed in to put the boat on the trailer just as the storm broke.

That October Saturday took me back in time, not only to family camping and fishing on the lake a quarter of a century before, but to my days as an aspiring angler on the deep south lakes and ponds of Alabama. Art with his well equipped outfit, knowledge of the lake and how to fish it, and quiet pleasant personality made it a day to remember.

Art tells me the fall fishing is great on the Chickahominy and he will be guiding all year. After you put that deer in the freezer or have the hunting bug put to rest for the season, check out the ad in the Chickahominy section of this magazine for Conway's River Rat Guide Service, and book a trip with Art on the Chick, James, or Lake Anna. You'll have the kind of trip memories are made of.

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