The quest for new water continues! It has been a few years since I fished the James River and I was desperate to return. Of course, I had to go to a new place. My earlier trip with the Basswife was a canoe float which involved the expense of shuttle providers and renting canoe equipment (I did not have the basscanoe at that time). On this trip, I was interested in places where I could wade fish without the overhead of an all-day trip and the cost of the shuttle provider. I found such a place at the route 614 crossing over the James near Arcadia. This spot is an improved canoe launch that is well marked by the VDGIF. It has a medium sized, exceptionally steep parking area with explicit permission to access the river at the bridge for fishing and boating.
If you are considering using this as a launch or exit point, be aware that you will have to carry your boat about 20 yards to reach the water. You cannot drive directly to the water and drop your boat next to the bank. That was of little concern to me on the day I was here as I intended to wade. I rolled up, parked and was gearing up when a small black cat trotted up to check me out.
Now, I’m not a superstitious person but, on the other hand, why tempt fate? Since this particular black cat had already crossed my current and future paths several times, I told it that I would bring back a fish if it would hold off on any curses. With that, I finished gearing up and walked down to the water with the little black cat trailing behind me. It was as if it wanted to make sure that I would come through with my end of the bargain. As I waded into the water and started to fish my way up river, it sat there and watched me until I was out of sight. Under that intense scrutiny, I knew I had to bring back a bluegill to meet my end of the bargain.
This is a nice, nice spot. The river here features a generally rocky bottom that is easily wadeable. While the current is quick, it’s not so fast that I felt like I was at the risk of toppling over. A little bit upstream of the bridge, there is a riffle break that offers the ability to wade to the other side of the river. The east side (Arcadia) of the river is the deep side and I did not find a path that was easily wadeable along that bank. So, I crossed the river and worked my way up the western bank, fishing as I went. Farther up river, the bottom of the river transitions from mostly rocky to a mix of rock and sand with rocks being the predominant terrain feature. Good smallie water.
I stayed on the shallow ridge running along the western side of the river and flipped streamers and plastic grubs upstream into the current; allowing the force of the water to push the lures downstream. This proved to be a productive tactic and I was rewarded with several nice smallies. I did not catch anything large here – the standard smallie being between 12 and 14 inches. But even a fish of that size is exciting in the rapidly moving current and required care in the landing of the fish to avoid breaking the 5X tippet I was using. Surprisingly, terrestrials and poppers were totally unproductive. I worked the banks on the way up and the way back down with them without a strike even from a bluegill. On the October day I visited, it was clear that the fish were more interested in denser food which could be attained underneath the water instead of on top
A couple hundred yards upstream from the start, I encountered a side channel of calmer water. This “lake”, had good flow coming into it at the head which rejoined the river at the tail. It looked like it was 10 to 15 feet deep – I could not see the bottom even when I took advantage of the good angle of the autumn sun. What the heck? I started to throw to see if anything was moving. I was instantly rewarded by aggressive strikes from bluegills, redeye bass and decent sized smallies. Maybe these guys were taking a break from the current of the main river — not that it mattered to me — I was happy for the action. I worked that area for a least 45 minutes catching a fish every couple minutes or so.
At this point in the day, I had to start back to the truck for the long drive back to Northern Virginia. I now realize I made a critical mistake in leaving the river when I did. Once home with my track plotted on a topo map, I realized that I was only a short distance away from where Jennings Creek joined the James. I wish I had gone the extra couple hundred yards to fish that point because I imagine that it would be extremely productive.
While I would not expect any trout to survive being washed down into the James, the confluence of the cold water from Jennings mixing with warmer water from the James may have sparked additional fish density. I resolved to do a more thorough map recon in the future before I actually get on the water – or at least take a broader view using my Garmin GPS to see any nearby upstream tributaries.
Bottom line: I would come back here in a heartbeat. Even though it was a Sunday, I was the only fisherman at this location. I did run into a couple of other people who were positioning cars for canoe trips but that was it. The James River in this particular location is a short drive from I81 which makes it a good destination for a couple hours of fishing if you are traveling north or south along that key interstate.
In hindsight, I wish that I had tried fishing with various large nymphs in this location. The current moves along fast and the water is shallow enough where this may have been the best approach to catching fish. In effect, the way I fish streamers and the plastic grubs is pretty much identical to dead stick nymphing. I throw it with a quartering casts upstream and keep the line tight as it drifts rapidly down ready for strike at any moment. But I bet a classic nymph pattern like hellgrammite may have been the key to even more success.
According to Harry Slone in his book, Virginia Trout Streams, it is worth the trip into Arcadia to check in at the Arcadia General Store. Slone says that this is a great source of fishing advice in the area and is a must stop location if you are going to spend any time on the James, Jennings Creek, or North Creek. It was closed on the Sunday I was here so I did not have that advantage.
Getting There: Take exit 168 from I81 onto Rt 614 and follow it east towards Arcadia. Immediately after crossing the James, pull into the parking area on the right. Walk to the river from there.
Google Local Coordinates: 37.554444,-79.634657
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a public location that is documented on the Virginia VDGIF and the James is mentioned as a hot fishing destination in Virginia Trout Streams discussion of Jennings Creek
Looking upstream from the entry point
Looking downstream from the entry point
Looking upstream towards Jennings Creek
Side hole that is full of fish – deep section
James River smallie
The black cat chowing down on the bluegill I gave it to avoid any bad luck
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore