It’s May. This is the month when the Virginia anglers’ eye shifts to salt water. To be sure there are still lots of things going on in freshwater, but the excitement of the spring spawning activity is almost history and many fish are now recovering from the effort. Hunters are still in the woods as the spring gobbler season holds for a couple of more weeks before the guns are hung up for most of the summer until the dove season rolls around.
Croakers are here. In fact, they have been here for almost a month and they are now well distributed throughout the bay and into the tidal rivers. Some will be found far up the tidal rivers.
It is not common knowledge, but anglers casting from the banks of tidal rivers make some pretty nice catches of croakers. They also catch plenty of black drum, but this can and often does get them in trouble with the law. The legal limit on black drum is just one fish over 16 inches and every now and then a skillful angler discovers to his dismay that he is carrying a stringfull of trouble.
Gray trout should be here by now. Early May anglers should find them along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. Flounder should also be available along the Eastern Shore and around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. This is also the time for the arrival of the truly large black drum. Expect them off of CapeCharles, at Kiptopeke, around Buoys 13 and 36A. At the same time husky red drum are probably still in the surf along the Eastern Shore and off Smith and Fishermen’s Islands.
Speckled trout are stalking peeler crabs in MobjackBay and croaker fishermen are likely singing the praises at a spot called “The Lumps” in the York River.
The trophy striped bass season is open in the Bay and it is likely that the larger ones will be caught by trollers out of Reedville in the ship channel west of Buoy 62. Later in the month, when smaller stripers become fair game, look for them on the Northern Neck Reef. You can also expect to find some nice gray trout in the Rappahannock in the vicinity of CurtisCreek and Parrot Rock. Pier anglers, fishing after dark, may expect some action with croakers and gray trout
As we reach the middle of May look for larger gray trout around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Fish over ten pounds are possible. Smaller ones, 3 to 4 pounds are often plentiful about now. Some large trout should be available around the Amoco Pier on the York River about now. They should also be available at The Cell.
Anglers in the RappahannockRiver should also see nice gray trout and expect croakers to be hitting all the way up to Tappahannock. If anything, fishing for big black and red drum should get even better. Check Buoys 13 and 16.
Offshore, this is the time to expect nice bluefin tuna in the vicinity of the 26 Mile Hill where big bluefish are also a possibility. Anglers dragging cedar plugs sometimes connect with both species.
As we move into the final weeks of May black drum will continue to offer action, but will start to fade. Look for some to appear grazing on the mussel beds around the SecondIsland of the Bridge Tunnel. Red drum should be found on the shoals inside the bridge tunnel where, likely as not, they will be sharing bed and board with cobia and a troublesome assortment of sharks and rays.
This is about the time the ever popular spadefish appear. Usually the largest spadefish of the season appear first followed by smaller ones that are available throughout the summer. Look to the Cell to produce the more exciting early fishing.
Offshore look for yellowfin tuna and dolphin to provide most of the action, as anglers mark time waiting for the billfish and other fish of summer to appear.
In most water bass have completed their spawning. Years ago, when Back Bay was among the state’s best bass waters, spawning often lasted into May. There may still be some spawning activity there in May. In the reservoirs where landlocked striped bass reside, stripers that make mostly unsuccessful spawning runs up their respective lakes are now drifting down the lakes to repopulate their usual hangouts. The only successful freshwater striper spawn that takes place in Virginia is in BuggsIslandLake where spawning stripers successfully spawn in the Staunton and Dan Rivers. Rainfall was so low this spring I wonder if the weak stream flow affected this year’s spawn?
Among a certain group of anglers the full moon in May enjoys as certain significance. It is the time when many say bluegills move onto the beds for the heaviest spawning activity of the season. It is also a prime time for catching shellcrackers.
Each spring anglers from South Carolina visit ChickahominyLake to catch bluegills. And do they catch them! They fill limits just about every day for three or four days and then they head home for a heck of a fish fry. In my opinion the bluegill in one of the most beautiful fish that swim, but nowhere are they more colorful than on the Chickahominy.
For shellcrackersLakes Western Branch and Prince in Suffolk are outstanding, but the NottowayRiver has great shellcrackers as does Little Creek Reservoir near Williamsburg.
This is a good time to catch smallmouth bass In recent years the smallmouth fishing hasn’t been that great and I’m afraid that it will take a while for the Shenandoah River system to recover from recent die offs. Hopefully, biologists will get to the root of the problem and hopefully they will get the political support to solve it. However, there is still some excellent action to be had on the New River, the Clinch River, the Rappahannock and the James. If you are new to these rivers I strongly suggest that you hire a guide to get you started. For largemouth bass the ChickahominyLake is hard to beat, but the upper reaches of the tidal rivers are alo excellent bets. If you have occasion to be on these rivers on a low tide with a west wind you have a golden opportunity to locate submerged boats, logs, rocks, piers and other cover that will hold bass when the water is higher.
Last year BrieryCreekLake produced a few truly large bass well into the summer. If you have a yen to tangle with a true trophy fish this lake has lots to offer.
As we get into the later weeks of May the blue catfish bite shuts down as these huge fish concentrate on spawning. Very few blue catfish are caught during their spawning season which extends through June. You may, however, be able to latch on to some big flatheads in the upper reaches of BuggsIslandLake and the lower reaches of the Staunton and Dan River. The James River above the fall line is also an excellent spot for big flatheads.
The spring turkey gobbler season extends two weeks into May, winding up May 13. During this period in May hunters may hunt from a half hour before sunrise until sunset. In April hunters had to be out of the woods by . During the first half of the season, in April, hunters reported seeing quite a few birds. One told me he had thirteen jakes in front of him at one time. Following the closure of the turkey season the woods will not hear the sound of gunfire until crow season comes around in August.