I really do feel sorry for the people who volunteer to fish with me. Over the last several months, I have drug Lon all over Virginia in search of new water. Last week was no exception as we drove down to see what the upper reaches of the Pamunkey River had to offer.
I had heard about this river in two places. The first was the listing on the Virginia VDGIF website and Hart mentions it in his book (Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia) as well. While Hart acknowledges that there are smallies in the river, both he and the VDGIF site focus primarily on the tidal portion as the area to fish. I was not interested in driving that far so when I discovered that there was a canoe launch near the 301 bridge above the tidal area, I decided to investigate there.
Last Friday, Lon and I rolled into the launch a little bit after 8 AM and were surprised to see one other truck parked here that early on a workday. Perhaps this individual was a canoeist because we did not see anyone until later in the day when two other guys showed up to fish under the 301 bridge. We parked our truck and walked down to survey the scene. What lay before us was a first class canoe launch with a wooden canoe ramp leading from the parking lot down to the sandy beach that borders the river. Looking up and downstream, the water was moving very, very slow; not much current. We could see plenty of trees forming structure in and around the water in either direction. For no particular reason, we decided to head upstream.
Lon and I have a team rhythm at this point. I fish quickly and do not spend a lot of time in any particular location. Therefore, I usually move out first, skipping the first 50 yards or so, and Lon follows. Falling into this routine, he began fishing right under the bridge. I moved a short distance upstream to fish the fallen trees pictured below. Within a few casts, I heard a whoop and holler from Lon as he tied into a real monster. We were both amazed when he pulled in an 18 inch smallie right next to the bridge on a bitch creek nymph. After a few quick pictures, he released the beast back into the water and we were hopeful that this catch would set a pattern of excellence for the day. Sadly, that was to be our only excitement on this stretch of river.
As I worked my way upstream, I noted that the bottom was uniformly sandy and muddy. There are few rocks or pebbles
anywhere to provide typical smallmouth structure. Instead, what structure there was is provided by fallen trees and stumps. The river is fairly narrow here, being about 20 – 30 feet wide in most places with murky water. It’s very easy to wade as the typical depth is about 2 feet except in the bends where there are deeper holes. I found that if I stuck to the center of the river I had no problem moving anywhere.
Given this environment, I tied on poppers and terrestrial patterns and worked the structure that was in the river and as well as the likely looking spots provided by overhanging trees. While I picked up bluegills and the solitary crappie shown below, I was totally skunked when it came to smallies. I didn’t see any, they ignored me, they hid from me and generally paid me no mind – but, based on Lon’s monster, I know they are there – which, of course, makes it even more frustrating!
I fished upstream for over a mile and the character of the river did not change. Given that, I walked back to Lon and suggested that we hit the road and go someplace else. He had experienced the same lack of action as I did and so he readily agreed.
When we got back to the start point, two other guys had shown up and were getting ready to spend the afternoon fishing right under the bridge. I asked them if they fished this location often and they answered yes. They could not provide any intelligence on the river beyond the bridge because that’s the only place they had ever fished. They rolled out lawn chairs and deployed four rods into spikes on the sandy soil to wait for anything to hit. They could not understand why we released the monster, but were happy that we had as that gave them the opportunity to catch him. By the time we left, they had one 10 incher in their bucket which was caught on worms (legal here – no problems with that).
Bottom line: The 18 inch monster Lon caught proves that there are smallies in this section of the river. I’m content to write this one off to bad luck. The proof is in the pictures below and so it may be worthwhile to come back and try again later. However, to err on the safe side, I need to give the upstream section an overall rating of red.
Getting There: Take exit 98 from I95 onto Route 30 east. Follow it until it intersects with Route 301. Turn right (south) and follow it until you cross the Pamunkey River. The canoe area is on the south side of the bridge and is large enough where you cannot miss it.
Google Local Coordinates: 37.788930, -77.369890
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the Virginia VDGIF and the Flyfisher’s Guide to Virginia
Upstream from canoe launch
Looking downstream back to the canoe launch
Lon with the 18″ bridge monster
All I got was a stinkin’ crappie and some ‘gills
Note the lack of smallie structure – no rocks
This stretch had nothing but sand on the bottom
Calm, boring water
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore