The Rock Stars Of The River

By Rooster Tail |
Posted on September 16, 2016

Fishing can be considered a sport, hobby or recreational activity. However you describe it, fishing in the Franklin Southampton County area can be second to none. I have spent my entire life trolling, drifting and sometimes even wading the rivers in this area. The abundance of fish species inhabiting these three local rivers is phenomenal. Don’t get me wrong, can you catch a much larger bass in Florida or Texas? Yes. Can you catch more and larger smallmouth and yellow perch in Wisconsin? Most definitely! But what you will find here in Franklin Southampton is a fishing experience, which I believe, few places on Earth can rival.

Before we continue, I must warn that my classification of fish using local lingo versus that of a freshwater fish biologist’s taxonomy may differ. For the purpose of fish identification, for the general public, I grabbed my copy of “Peterson Field Guides: Freshwater Fishes,” as an aid.

I have been on these waters for years and I have seen, upwards of, a dozen fish species in the same cooler or live well, on many occasions. Would I enjoy writing about each and every species, yes I would, but for the reader’s sake, I will digress and only elaborate on the more glamorous fish.

Red throats; my iPhone doesn’t know that word and you may not either. “Petersons” referrers to them, as Redbreast Sunfish, and they are, in my opinion, the rock stars of our local rivers. Most are hand size occasionally exceeding 3/4lb and if they were any larger, you would never land one. These fish group up to spawn during May and June and can wear an angler out by lunchtime. When the bite is on, they are aggressive at the strike and can work over an ultralight reel’s bearings in a single season. Red throats are very similar in size, shape and habitat to a common sunfish or bream and can be easily identified by a bright red breast (only males have this feature), and neon blue lines on their faces.

Also in the sunfish family is, my absolute favorite, the shellcracker. Their nickname comes from what they consume, a variety of freshwater mussels that live on the river bottom. Scientific classification calls this species a redear sunfish, rouge ear sunfish, sun perch, and improved bream, the latter being my favorite. Shellcrackers are large and in charge, up to 4 lbs. in some places down south but can certainly exceed 2 lbs. here. I had the luxury of landing a behemoth this spring that tipped the scale at 30 oz. Shellcrakers will school up during spawn in still water that is adjacent to a current to make beds in the course river sand. This is the one fish that you can follow your nose to. When traveling, especially the Blackwater River, you can actually smell these fish when they are bedding. Live bait or artificial, when you find them, you are in for a treat!

I branded the red throat as the rock star of the river earlier, only because of the enjoyment factor of the fight and their vast numbers. The true Van Halen of the river is what I call a Redeye! Scientific classification revers to them as a rock bass and Virginia game laws include them in bass limits (5 per person, per day for all bass). These guys are amazing; find a log or some structure close to moving water and they will be near. These fish are extremely aggressive feeders and when one bites you will know it. They are also greedy fish and will try to inhale anything half their size or smaller. Hook onto a redeye over a pound and just watch your drag peel off. Oversized mouth and demonic, large red eyes give this species away in an instant.

A bass is a bass, is a bass, unless it’s a river bass. Largemouth bass are thick in our local waters. Are they all 5lbs, absolutely not, but there is something about bass fishing in current that intensifies the challenge and reward. General lake and pond baits don’t have the same effect on these Wile E. Coyote type river creatures. They inhabit a vast range of structure and depth changes. I have seen these largemouths wear out a particular stick bait or soft plastic, one day and not touch it the next. Though a Virginia citation (8lbs or 20 inches) is possible, you’re much more likely to load up on 12” to 15” fish with an occasional “grab the net” experience. Smallmouth bass are much more scattered. You can find a few and fewer of respectable size but when you do land one, take a picture because their color is that, of perfection. Mother Nature discarded the paint after she colored the smallmouth.

I mentioned and wrote about my particularly favorite fish species, but there is, literally a plethora of others that can be caught. The following is what I refer to them as… but I can’t promise you Wikipedia would call them the same names: bream, warmouth, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, white perch, crappie, chain pickerel, long nose gar, bowfin, carp and all the catfish and that’s just during hot weather.

There are so many fishing opportunities in our local rivers that I could write for days about personal experiences, buddies fishing tales, and local lore. I encourage anyone who appreciates nature and the water to wet a line in each of our local rivers and I can promise you, that you will return home with some type of fishing story.

In closing I would also like to add that we are all stewards of the land and water. Just because you can catch a limit of fish doesn’t mean you have to keep them all. I recently read an article, stating that it takes 8 years for any of the panfish species to reach citation size. This shocked me and has made it much easier for me to release anything that exceeds a meal or two. Just some food for thought.

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Fins & Grins,

RoosterTail