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Success on Free Fishing Days is a key to recruiting new fishermen.
A fisherman at sunset.
Rebel Wee Craw
Saturday, June 1, 2013
Some less-than-scrupulous businesses employ a sales technique known as the bait-and-switch.
They get you in the door to check out an incredible deal. Unfortunately that product is no longer available, but conveniently, there's an even better one still in stock.
It just costs more.
This coming weekend the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will employ an annual offering that dangles bait, but doesn't switch.
The agency's Free Fishing Days, which runs Friday through Sunday, is more of a bait-and-hook proposition.
The promotion offers Virginians 16 and older the chance to fish without a license for three days in the hopes some of those folks will have so much fun they'll decide to pony up a few bucks for the privilege of fishing for the next 12 months. (Fishing is already free for kids 15 and under.)
In this case there's no need to pull the switcheroo with products.
Virginia's fishing offerings are vast and varied.
Even though Free Fishing Days don't apply to designated stocked trout waters, there are thousands of lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks and coastal waters that are open to public fishing.
If there is one little catch, it's that it is up to the anglers to make the most of their time on the water.
While fishing can be complicated, it doesn't have to be. By following some basic tips, aspiring anglers can greatly increase their chances of having the kind of productive outing this weekend that will have them eager to get back on the water sooner than 2014's Free Fishing Days.
We've already established that the free fishing promotion does not apply to designated stocked trout waters. Those waters, which include rivers, small creeks and small ponds, are all clearly marked along the shore with signs.
Just because part of a river is stocked with trout, that doesn't mean the entire river is. For example, while several miles of the Roanoke River are stocked with trout, much of the river flowing through the valley is not stocked.
An easy way to find public waters is to navigate to the "Where to Fish" section on the DGIF's website (www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/).
Listings of public lakes and streams include information such as special regulations, access points and even biologists' reports on the fish populations.
If steady fishing action is the goal - and, for most Free Fishing Days participants it will be - it can be smart to think small, both in terms of the size of the water and the size of the targets.
With their vast and varied habitat, big lakes and rivers often grow the biggest fish. But they can be intimidating to fish.
Smaller streams and ponds can be less daunting, and many offer good access for shore-bound or wading fishermen.
As for target species, it's tough to top sunfish, which are abundant and usually quite gullible.
Bluegills are the most ubiquitous sunfish species. They can be found in just about every public land and pond in Virginia, and in some slower-moving streams.
The similar redbreast sunfish is more of a river dweller.
Rivers also hold rock bass, which are sometimes called redeyes, and smallmouth bass.
Both are aggressive strikers. It's not unusual for a day of smallmouth fishing on a productive stream such as the New, James or Maury rivers to produce 50 smallmouths and a couple dozen rock bass.
Don't rule out catfish as a potential target, especially on the region's larger lakes.
Tried and true tactics
Fishing can be a gear-intensive activity, but it doesn't have to be.
There's a reason all sporting goods stores still sell simple cane pole rigs: They work.
Especially when it comes to fishing for sunfish in ponds or lakes, a 10-foot-long cane pole rigged with 10 feet of mono, a hook and a bobber, is a simple and deadly effective tool.
A cane pole set-up costs about $10.
A simple-to-use spinfishing rig will cost just a few bucks more and is more versatile.
Bluegills love live bait, including nightcrawlers, red worms, wax worms and crickets.
Friday's new moon should trigger a peak in sunfish spawning activity, so the fish will move into the shallows and sweep out easy-to-spot, saucer-shaped spawning beds.
When sunfish are on their spawning beds they will usually hit just about anything thrown their way, including the above-mentioned baits or little spinners, jigs and plugs.
If the weekend finds you in a quiet cove at Claytor or Smith Mountain lakes targeting sunfish with little pieces of bait under a bobber or small artificial lures, soaking a gob of nightcrawlers on the bottom with an extra rod and reel can produce a bonus channel catfish.
Bait works well for river smallmouths and redbreast sunfish, but often isn't necessary.
Smallmouth bass will smack in-line spinners, small spinnerbaits such as the iconic Beetle Spin, hard minnow plugs such as Rapalas and Rebels, and all types of jigs. Those offerings in the smallest sizes also will work great for redbreasts.
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