FOSTER FALLS, Va. (WFXR) — The spawn is on! Thousands of walleyes are congregating at dams and choke points above Claytor Lake on the New River. Once they reproduce they immediately go looking for something to eat, and that makes them prime targets for anglers looking for early-season action, as well as tasty table fare.
One location that sees a lot of fish is Foster Falls. The New River Trail State Park Access there provides a boat launch and wading opportunities.
A variety of techniques can be used. Jigging, casting, or trolling stick-baits, crankbaits, swimbaits, or floating live bait are all popular methods.
Another method to try is one perfected on walleye runs on the Great Lakes. It involves fishing a Carolina-rigged floating jighead tipped with a twister tail or small swimbait like the Missile Shockwave. A trolling sinker is tied to the main line and then a two-foot to a six-foot-long length of fluorocarbon is tied to the sinker. The jighead is then attached to the fluorocarbon leader. Throw the rig upstream and allow it to swing with the current while ticking the bottom.
One thing is common with walleyes at this time of year, sensing a bite comes down to a matter of feel.
“The bite is really subtle,” said guide Chase Bowman of New River Charters. “You’re going to pick up that rod, and I tell people it’s like kind of a wet boot feeling. If you pick up and feel that heaviness, that’s a fish.”
Bowman also fishes the New for smallmouth bass and musky, but at this time of year, walleyes are his primary target.
“A lot of these fish are coming up from Claytor Lake,” said Bowman. “They just stack up below these falls,
New River walleyes are a unique genetic strain. The strain has the propensity to grow large. According to historical records maintained by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resource (DWR), walleyes in excess of 20 pounds have been taken from the New.
Because this unique strain is only found in the New River they are protected by special regulations.
Anglers may only harvest two walleyes per day, and any walleye measuring 19 to 28 inches must be released. The slot is in place to protect the breeding population to maintain a good population for the future.
Anglers who fish the New River for walleyes are aware of the special resource and say it is something to be proud of.
Terry McCormack of Hillsville is one of those anglers: “This genetic strain of walleye is very rare. That’s why they (DWR) do what they have to do to conserve and make sure it’s here for the future.”