The best fishing you may have not known was in your own backyard, and how to catch them now!

Outdoors Bound

(WFXR) — Sunny days.

Warmer temperatures.

Blue skies.

Frustration.

That last one is for a lot of anglers in our region. While we are on the edge of spring, many of the fish we target are still in winter mode. That’s because water temperatures are slower to warm than air temperatures, and that leaves fish in a sort of in-between area.

Bass haven’t really turned on. Stripers haven’t really started running. Panfish and catfish remain in deep water winter haunts. 

But don’t worry. There is still one species that will cooperate, the walleye. A lot of people hear “walleye” and their thoughts immediately turn to the Great Lakes or the Canadian Shield, but unknown to a lot of people in our region, we have an excellent walleye fishery right here in Virginia, and this is one of the top times of the year to target them.

There are quality walleye fisheries on the New River and the Staunton River, as well as Claytor Lake and Philpott Lake in our region. 

A quality Virginia walleye/Courtesy VDWR

When water temperatures hit the 40s, those fish go on the move.

“They start staging for their spawning runs,” said Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Conservation Officer and avid fisherman Wes Billings. “The males usually get active first and they move near spawning areas.”

So, where do you look for those walleyes?

They prefer rocky or sandy bottoms with current, so stretches of the New and the Staunton are prime walleye areas. Also, look in the upper ends or in creek arms in places like Philpott or Claytor.

“We will use jigs and minnows or jerkbaits for them this time of year,” Billing said as he reeled in a chunky walleye. 

On most Virginia waters you can keep five walleye a day as long as they meet the 18-inch minimum, but there is a new regulation this year on the New River. The New River is home to a unique strain of walleye native only to Virginia. VDWR fisheries managers want to protect that vital population.

These are the new regulations this year on the New River:

  • There is a slot, any fish 19 inches to 28 inches long must be returned to the water
  • Anglers may keep two walleye a day
  • They can be either under 19 inches or over 28 inches

Billings says it makes sense for the species because those 19- to 28-inch fish are the primary spawners. “We feel like that protects our brood to have a better natural reproduction. That’s what we’re shooting for.

The VDWR has a special section on walleye fishing in the Commonwealth. It includes fishing forecasts, biologists’ reports, locations, and regulations.

In addition, walleye make great table fare. They are prized as a food fish for their white, mild, flaky meat that’s been compared to cod. Here’s a simple recipe:

  • 2 Walleye Filets
  • 3/4 cup Corn Meal
  • 1/4 Cup Flour
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Hot Sauce
  • 1 Cup Vegetable Oil

Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Combine corn meal, flour, salt, and pepper in a large zip lock bag. Beat egg and add hot sauce. Dip filets in egg mixture, then drop into bag containing corn meal mixture. Shake until filets are coated. Remove from bag and place fish in frying pan. Fry until golden brown. Remove carefully

A tasty fried walleye sandwich

So, if you’re looking to catch fish when nothing seems to be biting, and you want to put a tasty meal on the table, now is the time to take advantage of Virginia’s fantastic walleye fishery.

For more great outdoors coverage go to our special Outdoors Bound page.

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