KTR’s Guide to the Outdoors: Keepin’ it REEL

January 31, 2018

Let me start off by saying I’m breaking two cardinal-fishing-sins by writing this article–the first of which is truthfulness. Fish are weird. Sometimes you catch them like they’re going out of style, and sometimes you couldn’t get one to bite if you sat it down, looked it in the eye, and had a conversation with it. With that said, great fisherman never comes home “empty-handed.” This doesn’t mean they don’t catch fish but it does mean they are stellar storytellers and know how to stretch the truth. So, I’m telling you these places because I know there are fish in there somewhere. Whether or not you will catch them is up to the fish gods…and I guess why people call it fishing and not catching.

Along those same lines, the second sin I’m breaking is telling you where the fish are. For future reference, if you find a good spot, keep it secret. If you catch the biggest fish of your life and someone asks you how big it was, you reply “minnow sized” and if someone asks how many fish you caught you respond “not a single thing” even if you wore out your arm reeling one after another into the net. You need to keep your spots a secret except for your closest allies. If not, well, you and the 30 other people that heard you caught fish last time can fight over them this time.

Lastly, if you’re over 16 you need a Virginia State Freshwater Fishing License. They last a year long and are $20 from any tackle shop, Dicks Sporting Goods, or online at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. If you want to fish for trout in stocked areas you will also need to buy a trout permit.


With a clear conscious, here is where to go in search of a taught fishing lines.

The Rivanna River
Smallmouth Bass is the target species of the Rivanna. They hide by structure like rocks and love fast moving water as it is the “conveyor belt” of food. Smallmouth fight hard and because they live in such a strong flowing river that acts as a treadmill they are extremely strong. Expect drag-peeling bursts and plenty of heart drops.

Of course, you will find various species of sunfish, bluegill, and the thrill-seeking sight-fishers can hunt a prehistoric Longnose Gar.
Smallmouth Bass are predatory fish. They feed largely on crawfish and small minnows. Silver/black and red/black color combinations work extremely well: soft plastic crawfish imitations through fast-moving water, small minnow colored crankbaits, and
Darden Towe: Remember your 4th-grade field trip to the Lewis and Clark exhibition? There are several trails down to the river and ample parking near the exhibit.

Riverside: We’ve all had a burger from Riverside. Cross the street and you’re at the river. If you’re traffic shy, go to Riverview Park and park at the playground. There are biking trails you can walk along that stretch 5 miles down the Rivanna. Climb down the bank at any of these locations and look for quick moving water in rocks.
Smallmouth action is best in the warmer months. The lower and clearer the water becomes (this happens with less rain) makes smallmouth increasingly active, especially on the surface. Additionally, it is a bit easier to sight cast for these fish.

Ragged Mountain Reservoir
Largemouth Bass are the target species for this lake, and believe me there are some wide shouldered tanks in this lake. Nonetheless, you won’t find a freshwater body of water in Virginia without some type of hungry panfish. If you are a new fisherman or you are bringing along a young child, tie on a worm and bobber and cast 25 feet from the shore. You’ll usually have a hungry customer within minutes.
Look. For. Structure.

This a 170-acre lake which means there are infinite places for fish to hide. If you’re fishing from the bank, look for fallen trees and fish the rock wall near the parking lot with a Senko (soft plastic imitation of a worm) or soft plastic creature bait (like Berkeley’s BrushHog).

If you’re casting in open water, which you will certainly end up doing, use a fast moving bait that will cover a lot of water in little time. Try any crankbait, jerkbait, spinnerbait, or swimbait.
Get out your GPS for this one. Ragged Mountain Reservoir is minutes away from the heart of Charlottesville and still few know about it. There are ample parking lots that give you access to 170-acre lake. However, make sure you get there after sunrise and leave before sunset or you’ll run the risk of you and your car being locked behind a gate.
Warmer months are best for these fish. Start fishing in March-April, fish hardest in July-August, and look for trout instead in September-December.

Mint Springs
Bass, Bluegill, and (my personal favorite) trout.
This is the BEST lake to take someone who is new to fishing. Nothing is as tried and true as a nightcrawler, a split shot weight, and a red and white bobber.
There are two small lakes at Mint Springs. One if for fishing only and the other is certainly open for fishing but is also open to swimmers during the warmer months. Each lake has a pier and could not be easier to access from the parking lots.
Spring and fall. This way, you avoid the swimming traffic and commission but also catch the beginning and end of great pond-fishing-times. There is even a “kids-fishing-only” day every spring.

Sugar Hollow
Rainbow Trout are the star of the show at Sugar Hollow. There are 3 places to fish (see Access Points). In the reservoir, you will also find bass, bluegill, and sunfish. Also, in the North Fork Moormans, you will find native brook trout (wild brook trout that live in Virginia naturally a.k.a. were not stocked or put there by someone)
For bass, see above. Follow to=he same guidelines as Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

Fly Fishing: some great starter flies are the salmon egg, a Blue Winged Olive dry fly, and a Wooly Bugger. If these 3 flies won’t get any hits, then you’re probably already out of luck. If you don’t tie your own flies, check out Albemarle Angler and those guys will tell you exactly what to buy and how to fish it.

Spincasting in the reservoir for trout: Small spoons and spinners work best. Anything that is relatively small, moving rather quickly, and has some sort of flash should work.
There are 3 places to catch fish at Sugar Hollow. The North Fork Moormans is where to go in search of a native brookie–a prized fish in Virginia. Follow the road past the reservoir and park at the gravel parking lot at the very end of the long gravel driveway. There are two trails, you want to take the one towards “snake hole” or the trail that you do NOT have to immediately pass a stream to follow. This will lead you to some small streams that are fly-fishing only. If you are new to fly fishing, don’t let small shallow streams deceive you! There are fish in there, I promise. If you bring a good pair of polarized sunglasses you will be able to see them, too.

If you’re looking for some easier spin casting, hit the Sugar Hollow Reservoir–it’s impossible to miss. The Reservoir is a great place to put in a kayak or just cast from the bank. Park wherever you want, literally. And if you can’t find this massive reservoir by putting “Sugar Hollow” into Apple Maps, then you probably won’t be able to find any fish even if you did get there.

The last place you can go is the stream below the reservoir dam. But be wary, this section of stream is owned by the Thomas Jefferson Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Not only do you need your Virginia Freshwater Fishing License and a Trout Permit, but you also need their special “pass” to fish there. You can buy one for $50 at Albemarle Angler. Yes, it’s expensive and it only lasts 1 year long. But, hey, if you’re catching fish it makes it worth it. Plus, the money goes to a great place like helping keep waters clean and contributing to a foundation that helps women with breast cancer learn how to fish. There are places to park all along the stream–pull off on the side of the road and walk 5 yards to the stream.
Trout are the opposite of Bass. They barely bite in the warmest month of the year. The best times to fish for trout are the fall and springtime. Then is usually when there are a lot of insect hatches (which makes the fish active and in the mood to feed) and the water levels/temperatures are at a nice medium.