Early Spring fishing notebook for SW Virginia; what’s biting and where you can catch them

Outdoors Bound

Planer boards running in line on Smith Mountain Lake

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Here is a collection of notes about what we’re hearing is going on at area lakes and streams. This is the first of an ongoing occasional series.


The action is heating up along with the water temperatures.  Getting reports of fair numbers of largemouth coming from Smith Mountain Lake, and the size has been good. Jerkbaits and swimbaits appear to be the key. 

It’s a similar story from Philpott. Jerkbaits, especially in perch and shad patterns have caught fish recently. 

At Claytor it’s a mixed bag of largemouth and smallmouth. Jigging and jerks have been producing. Again, there aren’t reports of great numbers being caught, but the size of the fish have been good. 

A Philpott Lake largemouth taken on a jerkbait

The New River above Allisonia and below Pembroke has been producing some good smallmouth catches. Jigs or jig and minnow combinations have been what’s working there. 

Wes Billings with a nice river smallmouth


At this time of year panfish, like bluegill and sunfish, will hold slightly deeper, but they will seek out warmer water. Most panfish will also start to move toward areas where they will eventually begin to spawn in another month to six week. Target those fish deeper earlier in the day. They may move shallower as the sun gets higher in the sky.  Docks and marinas are good places to look.

We’re hearing about sporadic panfish catches from area lakes. If you can get access to a farm pond, you may increase your chances of scoring decent numbers. Those fish are more confined and easier to target. Always remember to get permission before fishing private waters.

Crappies are beginning to stage near their spawning areas in all area lakes. They will take minnows fished under bobbers, or small jigs. Look for them around downed timber or brush.


Channel cats are starting to move as water temperatures rise. We’re hearing reports of a few being pulled from the Roanoke River and Smith Mountain Lake. Chicken livers, cut bait, and minnows are the “go to” baits.


Good catches are being made on the New River from just above Claytor Lake to Buck Dam. Jigging may be the most effective method, though casting jerks and cranks will produce, too. A jig tipped with a minnow is always a good way to go. Many of these fish are in full on spawning mode.  Remember the slot limit applies to the New River year-round. Any fish between 19 and 28 inches has to go back, and you can only keep two. We were recently on the New River and boated a good number of fish.

On the Staunton River, good catches have been made from below Leesville Reservoir to Brookneal. Jigging twister tails or throwing Jerkbaits is the way to go. Expect to lose some gear. The Staunton is full of cover, but if you’re not getting hung up, you’re probably not where the fish are, either. Another method to try is a Carolina rigged floating jighead tipped with a twister tail. You might also see a striper in the mix on the Staunton.

Striped Bass

The outlook is improved on Smith Mountain Lake. Some decent fish have been taken on live bait and on swimbaits. Target the upper end of the lake from the S Curves all the way up to the dam below Vinton on the Roanoke River. F-18 Rapalas, Bomber Long As, and Thundersticks are also good choices, especially for those fish up in the river. Trolling umbrella rigs in the main stem of the lake has also taken some fish.


The VDWR trout stocking program is in full swing. Many streams in the region have gotten stockings. You can find out more about Virginia’s highly successful program to provide a quality trout fishery to as many as possible at this link

Flyfishing can be effective. If you choose spinning gear small cranks, spinners, or jigs will produce.  So, will Powerbait. Salmon peach, tequila sunrise salt, and cheese have been the colors that have been producing. 

The Roanoke River in Roanoke and in Salem, as well as Tinker and Glade Creeks have recently received stockings. Most of the fish have been rainbows, though some brook trout have been in the mix. We’re also hearing of fantastic catches of browns being made in the Smith River below Philpott and through the town or Bassett.

A stocker rainbow caught at Glade Creek in Roanoke County

There are also many streams that hold native trout populations, especially good populations of brook trout. The VDWR has a details on native streams, and you can find out more about Virginia’s brook trout at this link.


Some huge fish are being caught on the upper James River. Large spinnerbaits have been the producers. The numbers aren’t off the charts, but the size of the fish has been good. Just the opposite on the upper New. Numbers have been steady, but the fish are running smaller. Many of those fish are being caught by walleye fishermen throwing jerkbaits.

Calling All Captains

….And bait shop operators, and tackle dealers, and marina operators, and boat dealers, and livery operators, and hunting guides, and firearms dealers! We need your help developing stories and information to help feed the enormous demand for outdoors activity news in our region. In exchange for info or story help, we’ll give your place a mention. Contact us at gnoleff@wfxrtv.com

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