Fishing the Fifty
My Quest to Fish All 50 States
While crappie are not exactly scarce in the areas I fish, the widespread popularity of crappie fishing for food and Virginia’s generous 25-fish-per-day creel limit (without a minimum length) has led to a noticeable decrease in the average size of fish caught. From 2006 to 2013, Virginia had an average of 422 crappie citations per year. However, every year since 2010 has seen fewer than that registered, with 2013 having the fewest registered in the eight-year period (337).
Lake Anna exemplifies that trend, having accounted for 9.2% of Virginia’s crappie citations between 2006 and 2009, but only 4.5% between 2010 and 2013. In overall terms, the number of crappie citations on Lake Anna fell over 60% from 2006 – 2009 to 2010 – 2013.
Against this rather ominous backdrop, I enlisted the help of Lake Anna’s foremost guide, Chris McCotter (mccotterslakeanna.com). Chris specializes in light tackle fishing for Lake Anna’s more popular game fish (largemouth bass and striped bass), but he is also a superb crappie fisherman with an invaluable knowledge of the lake’s many areas of submerged structure. Chris is an excellent teacher and a joy to fish with, and, after several attempts, he put me on a 15-inch citation crappie. (I will say that, if the minimum for a citation were 14 inches instead of 15 inches, Chris would have put me on many citations.)
Virginia has superb rainbow trout fisheries and rainbow trout are one of its most sought-after game fish. Rainbow trout citations numbered 2,495 over the past six years, an average of 415.8 per year, far exceeding the totals for almost every other species. Cripple Creek leads the state in rainbow citations and I headed to Cedar Springs Trout Farm (cedarspringstrout.com) in the dog days of summer in search of my 12th species. The fish were even bigger than I had dreamed, but unfortunately also much smarter, which required me to use every technique I knew. Luckily, I had a few takers, landing four trophy rainbows, with the biggest being 23 inches and 4.65 pounds, making rainbow trout my 12th different species with at least one citation.
Sunrise over Cripple Creek
My 19-inch, 4.39-pound citation rainbow, the first of four rainbow citations
My 23-inch, 4.65-pound citation rainbow, the biggest of my four citations
The brook trout is the Virginia state fish. Its brilliant coloration more than makes up for its lack of size. Whereas Cripple Creek is easily the best place for trophy rainbow trout, it is just one of several good places for trophy brook trout. I had only seen and caught rainbow trout over the course of the morning. In fact, I was so sure that I was reeling in an undersized rainbow that I hardly paid attention to the first part of my fight with what ended up being my first and only brook trout of the trip, a gorgeous 16-inch citation. This beauty marked my 13th different species with a citation.
16-inch citation brook trout
I caught this citation just in time because, shortly after releasing it, some locals got in the fishing hole to cool off
Many years ago and long before I learned of Virginia's Angler Recognition Program, I caught this 12-inch rock bass on the Cowpasture River in Bath County while fishing for trout and smallmouth bass. I had forgotten about it until I was studying the remaining species for my Master Angler Quest and remembered that I had already caught a trophy rock bass. Fortunately, Virginia allows belated submissions, so this rock bass became the 14th species for which I have at least one citation.
I have done a lot less fishing since the birth of my son, but I still try to get out once in a while to target trophy fish and to continue my quest for successive levels of Master Angler in Virginia.
In search of my 15th different species, I headed to the James River to chase big flathead with Mike Ostrander (discoverthejames.com), who has put clients on many citations of different species over the years. Mike knew the best spots and I was fortunate enough to catch two monster citation flathead with him. The first was 38 inches and 27 pounds and the second was 39 inches and 26 pounds.
These two trophies meant that I have caught at least one citation in 15 different species, which made me a Level III Master Angler in Virginia.