By Chase Brown
With winter upon us, many anglers may have put away their fishing gear until spring. But the freezing temperatures can offer some phenomenal trout fishing if you know where to go and what to use.
Trout is the common name for fish belonging to the genera Oncorhynchus, Salmo, Salvelinus, as well as the subfamily Salmoninae of the family Salmonidae. The most popular species that you can find in Virginia are the rainbow trout, brown trout or the brook trout.
Out of these three species, the only species native to Virginia is the brook trout, which inhabits areas in the Shenandoah and throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains. What makes this fish unique is its ability to flourish in extremely cold-water temperatures in which most other fish would not be able to survive. Trout have been known to easily withstand water temperatures below 40 degrees, but their ideal temperature is between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The population of brook trout in the area, however, is not what it was in the past. It has suffered drastically because of pollution and overfishing. Progress has been made to protect the species, and the recovery effort seems to be showing signs of success in recent years.
Rainbow trout are native to rivers and streams west of the Rocky Mountains but were introduced into Virginia in 1943, after they became popular fish to catch among anglers.
In many streams in creeks in the mountainous areas of Virginia, you can find self-sufficient populations of rainbow trout, but there are many lakes and ponds around the state that bring in stocked fish from farms around the country.
The brown trout is native to Germany but was brought to North America around 1884 and arrived in Virginia around the 1960s. Similar to the northern snakehead, brown trout are actually considered invasive species because research has shown that they consume too many smaller species of native fish. However, there are many ponds and lakes in Virginia that stock both brown trout and rainbow trout.
You can check the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ website to find the closest body of water to you that holds stocked trout, as well as the last day they were stocked.
In my opinion, trout fishing is one of most difficult but rewarding experiences you can have as an angler. They are some of the most nitpicky fish that you can imagine, and as an angler you must really be on your game and know what they want if you have any chance of success out there.
Here are a few tips for both standard anglers and fly-fishing anglers:
Know where your trout is coming from.
What I mean by this is you must know whether the fish is a stocked fish or a fish that is native to that specific area. Stocked trout generally will go for wackier-colored flies and lures, such as a bright orange or pink colors resembling fish eggs, or the food they got on the fish farm.
Wild trout favor more natural flies and lures that resemble bugs or larvae that are common to that area. If the trout you are fishing for are native to that area, then before you choose a fly/lure, you should try to match it with any insects or larvae you find around the creek or stream to give you the best chance of success.
Invest in fluorocarbon.
Fluorocarbon is considered the holy grail of fishing line and can be the difference between you catching one trout or a hundred trout. Twenty-five yards of 8-test-pound fluorocarbon will run anywhere from $8 to $12, which seems like a little for a lot, but you will thank me later. Fluorocarbon is a high-strength fishing line that is practically invisible when it hits the water, making your lure or bait presentation much more believable for this fish. I typically tie a 2-foot leader of 8 test pounds fluorocarbon to the end of my line and will cut it off and re-tie when it gets down to about a foot.
Scented and colorful trout dough is your best friend when it comes to stocked trout.
If there is one bait that I could recommend that you should always have on you when you are fishing for trout, it would be a jar of trout dough. I have been fishing for trout for more than 10 years now, and I have not seen any bait produce as much fish as this one has over the years. There are many different colors and scents to choose from but this year the rainbow and salmon egg colors seem to be working the best.
Some other lures and baits I would recommend are small spinnerbaits (In my experience, I have found that a gold spinner along with whatever colors you think would work best for the trout in that area seems to always do the trick), super small soft plastics resembling small larvae swimming through the rocks, or small earthworms.
Find the deep pools.
Trout are typically found in fast-moving waters, such as streams and creeks, and their feeding strategy is essentially to lie in wait until an insect or larvae comes across their line of vision. Trout gather in the deeper spots of the stream or creek and behind rocks, where they can get a break from the rapid-flowing water and pick off easy prey.
When fishing for trout, you want to first be cautious approaching the stream or creek because the water is typically going to be shallow enough that you may be able to see the fish in the water. If you can see the fish, just know the fish can probably see you too, so you want to be slow and steady when approaching your fishing spot. When you find your deep pool, do not cast directly into it but rather cast a little upstream, and let your lure or bait be carried in by the current, so you do not scare the fish away.
Location, location, location.
There are many different creeks and streams in Virginia that hold trout. Passage Creek is an hour or two outside of Fairfax County but offers some amazing trout fishing, as well as some beautiful scenery. The Rapidan River is an 88-mile-long tributary of the Rappahannock and is another excellent place for trout fishing in Virginia, as well as one of the few places in the state that is still known to hold brook trout.
Wherever you decide to go, keep my tips in mind and be sure to follow Virginia state laws on recreational angling when you are out there. Good Luck!