Upper James River Fish of a Lifetime

by Aaron Ball

So, if you are reading this article then you are probably already aware that Sam Scott is one of the best musky fisherman in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While Sam runs Blue Ridge Musky and spends most of his time putting his clients on giant Virginia musky, he is also an accomplished smallmouth fisherman. Just last spring he landed a smallmouth out of the James River that weighed in over seven pounds! So naturally when he reached out to me to see if I wanted to tag along for a day of chasing big smallmouths I said yes!

I tossed a few of my JB Custom Rods in my truck, and headed down interstate 81 towards the upper reaches of the mighty James River.  During the drive, I kept glancing at the temperature gauge and even though this was the middle of April the gauge was reading 22-23 degrees. Just my luck I was thinking to myself! I met Sam and we dropped my truck off at the take out spot and drove back up to our launch spot. During the drive we talked about the game plan for the day and even though the water was higher than normal, and it was freezing, we felt optimistic.

We dropped the drift boat into the water and started our float down the river. We started throwing a mixture of jerkbaits and spinnerbaits hoping to connect on a reaction bait in the higher water. Freezing baitcasters and numb fingers were not helping the situation at all. We fished through some promising looking holes but the fish were not cooperating. Sam positioned the drift boat into a little eddy out of the current, and he was flipping a tube into the slack water when his line came tight!  Sam fought the fish to the edge of the boat and we could see that it was a good fish when the hook popped out. We were a little dismayed that we didn’t put the fish in the boat but getting our first bite encouraged us to stay focused.  Shortly after that bite, I decided I needed try the Ned rig. I was working the Ned rig over a tree in some slack water when I felt “thump”. I leaned back into the fish and felt the weight of the fish and it pulled off.  So 0-2 now on the bites.

We continued fishing down the river and the sun was finally making an appearance and warming it up to a more enjoyable level. I said something to Sam that maybe the sun would finally get the fish going and picked up my Spinnerbait again. A few casts later, a nice James River smallmouth came up and smoked my Megabass Sv-3 spinnerbait. We got the fish to the net and it was an almost four- pounder! Needless to say I was already pleased with the day.

We dropped anchor in another deep eddy and worked the area thoroughly with a variety of baits. One of those baits was a Senko on a wacky jig head when a 40- inch musky decided that the offering was too good to pass up. After an interesting fight on a spinning rod and 15-pound test we had our second fish of the trip into the boat!  We pulled up anchor, and a short time later Sam was throwing a Googan square bill and he hooked up on a huge smallmouth. Sam got the fish to the boat, and we put it on the scale and it was just under 5 pounds. I think I said something to Sam about upstaging me with the big fish of the day, but I think we were both happy at this point of the day. Just a few minutes later Sam was throwing the square bill again and another musky decided to bite. Sam put the pressure on the fish because we right at the head of rapids, and if the fish had gotten into the current, there would have been no chance of landing the fish. Sam worked the fish to the boat like a pro, and I slid the net under the fish and just like that, Musky #2 was in the boat. 

We continued floating down the river and Sam kept saying that he felt like we were going to get one more big fish before the day was over.  I was content with how the day had unfolded, but I kept firing my baits out there looking for some last minute heroics. As the drift boat floated down the last set of rapids about 200 yards before the ramp, we hit some slack water and I fired my spinnerbait out into about six inches of water and stared my retrieve. About three cranks of the handle in, she came out of nowhere and smashed the spinnerbait. I instantly told Sam to get the net and that I had a good one on. I fought the fish through the current and Sam slid the net under her. When the fish was in the net I was just dumb founded at the size of her. Sam put her on her on the scales and she went 5 pounds 7 ounces! We got some measurements on her in case I decide to get a replica mount done on her. She was 21 inches and a 15 ½ inch girth.  What a fish!

If you are interested in getting out to chase some giant smallmouth or musky on the James River you can get in touch with Sam on his social media accounts @Blueridgemusky. If you have any suggestions for me on where to get a smallmouth replica done I’d love to them @Psuaaron on IG. 

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