Fishing the Fifty
My Quest to Fish All 50 States
These fish are my best citations from each species for which I have a citation. (Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries calls trophy fish “citations.”) Unfortunately, I did not hear about this program until March 2011, and I do not count any trophy fish caught before then, even though Virginia allows late submission. My reasoning is that, if I caught a citation-sized fish before March 2011, I should presumably be able to catch a citation-sized fish of that species again.
In Virginia, catching citations in five different species earns you a Master Angler I award, catching citations in 10 different species earns you a Master Angler II award, etc. Rather than attempting to break my personal best in a given species, I have been focusing on achieving successive levels of Master Angler. This means that once I have caught a citation in a given species, I will generally not try to target another citation in that species again. I do this primarily to broaden my horizons as an angler.
After discovering Mike Puffenbarger (mapletreeoutdoors.com) in 2008, I have headed to beautiful and pristine Lake Moomaw at least once a year, usually in the spring, although “spring” 3,000 feet up in the Blue Ridge Mountains often feels a lot like winter back in the part of Virginia where I’m from. Mike is an extremely accomplished angler and hunter, and my trips with him are always incredible. On our trip together on a 32-degree morning at the end of March 2011, I caught a 14.5-inch yellow perch, my biggest yellow perch ever. Mike was overjoyed for me and referred to the fish as a citation. I asked what he meant, and he explained the program to me, and I have been targeting different trophy species throughout Virginia ever since.
On the same Lake Moomaw trip that produced my first official citation ever (my 14.5-inch yellow perch), I caught a 24.25-inch chain pickerel, my second official citation ever. Unfortunately, Mike was filming my catch when I thought he was taking pictures, so I unknowingly released this fish without having gotten a picture of me with it. Luckily for me, I caught another citation chain pickerel (this one 24 inches) on my next trip with Mike, and I was sure to get a proper picture.
Before beginning my Master Angler quest in March 2011, much of the fishing I did on my own was for largemouth bass. Virginia offers prime bass fishing, hosting annual FLW tournaments and occasionally Bassmaster Tournament events. There are largemouth bass in most rivers, lakes, and farm ponds throughout the state. I headed to one such farm pond on a beautiful 78-degree day in early June 2011, looking for a citation in my third different species. I had fished the pond once before and knew that big bass were in there, and I was very happy to find a trophy largemouth hungry for a soft plastic worm. The fish measured 22 inches, good enough for my coveted third different species citation.
While technically invasive to Virginia, blue catfish are one of the best fish in Virginia to target. The current world record of 143 pounds comes out of Virginia, and the number of trophy blue catfish (30 pounds or greater) in the James River in particular draws thousands of fishermen to the state each year. I had caught several citations (blue catfish was my fourth species), but a 50+ pounder had eluded me, so I turned to the man who held a state record and recently put a client on another state record: Josh Fitchett (rivercatn.com).
We fished a typically warm and humid summer night on the Potomac and Josh put me on some spectacular fish. I caught 11 blue catfish, with four being over 30 pounds. The biggest, and still my personal best, was a 61-pounder. This fish earned me Angler of the Month honors in Virginia.
My annual spring trip to Lake Moomaw with Mike Puffenbarger in April 2012 produced trophies in yet another species: smallmouth bass. The fishing was very slow, but two of the four smallmouth bass that I caught were trophies, one measuring 20.25 inches and the other measuring 20 inches. These two females each had smaller males with them and were probably only days away from beginning the spawn.
This was the fifth different species of which I caught a citation, giving me my Master Angler I.