The state's official travel slogan is Virginia is for Lovers®, but the word is out that Virginia is also the place for those who love to fish. And while there are certainly other states with excellent fishing, Virginia has the complete package - a moderate climate with year-round fishing opportunities, a central East Coast location, a wide variety of fish species and numerous types of fishing locales, from mountain streams to rivers to large reservoir lakes. And now, it's the only place in the country where it's also simple to plan a fishing trip.
The only program in the country that puts fishing trip planning at your fingertips
Fish Virginia First is designed to make it easy for visitors and event planners to find, and then enjoy, fishing in Virginia's many bodies of water. Created by a consortium of counties, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, it features freshwater fishing and encompasses more than half of the counties in the state. The program includes the central, southwest and southern regions of Virginia, places abundant with fishing and tourism infrastructure. It hopes to expand to the rest of the state in the future and include saltwater fishing.
The ease of planning and depth of information that Fish Virginia First offers is centered around its website. This central repository lists many of the state's freshwater fish, waters where these species can be found, fish identification information and other fishing tips. Similarly, the site lists numerous fishing spots, sorted by category including reservoirs, rivers, cold water streams and more. It also has float trip information and provides maps to all the access sites.
But Fish Virginia First's key feature is called "Plan Your Fishing Trip!" The interactive tool enables event planners and anglers to search by species, type of water body, water access preference (large boat, canoe, kayak, wading), time of year and radius around a specific location, letting them search by any number of the four criteria. Whether someone wants to see all the fishing opportunities in June within 50 miles of Roanoke or they want to find all the places to fish for striped bass, the site makes it easy to do so. And then once they determine where they want to fish, the site then links them to the area's accommodations, fishing outfitters, rental and tackle shops, permit information and more.
"The Fish Virginia First program is unique in that it's the only place in the country for someone planning a destination or vacation to have everything they need at their fingertips," said John Crews, a professional bass angler. "In other places, you need to know someone or call multiple people to plan a trip," he said.
Kevin Costello, chairman of Fish Virginia First, agreed, "Before Fish Virginia First, planning a fishing trip could easily take months. To research species, types of watersheds, fishing permits and accommodations, you had to sift through multiple websites, including those by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Department of Conservation and Recreation and various chambers of commerce. Instead, we've created a one-stop shop for someone to do all their planning."
Most states have similar information available, but it's not laid out in a way that is easy to search or even locate.
Outstanding natural resources make the area a top fishing destination
While Fish Virginia First takes the headaches out of planning a fishing trip or tournament, the state can easily back up its claim to outstanding fishing for everyone from novices to weekend anglers to pros. Its abundance of types of fishing locales translates into numerous settings, from pristine mountain streams to urban stretches of river.
"In Virginia, there are many different types of bodies of water. If you want easily accessible, there's a trip for that. If you want secluded, there's a trip for that," said Crews.
Bud LaRoche, region fisheries manager with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries agreed, "We have large reservoirs, small lakes, ponds, rivers, mountain trout fishing - we have everything people could want."
Another aspect of fishing that Virginia has in its favor is its centralized, East Coast location and moderate climate that offers fishing opportunities 12 months a year.
"A big draw for those from outside the state is our mild weather," said Dan Wilson,fisheries biologist at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "For those who live in the north, we offer great fishing opportunities in the winter when they're snowed in. And on the flip side, in the summer, we draw people from the deep South who are looking to fish where the summers are cooler. There aren't too many places where you can easily fish throughout the whole year."
Numerous varieties of fish provide year-round fishing opportunities
As a result of the diverse bodies of water and mild climate where cold water meets warm water, Virginia offers most of the popular species that anglers are interested in, such as largemouth bass, small mouth bass, striped bass, trout, crappie and catfish.
Plus, Virginia offers a wide variety of fish, including those typically not found in the region. Kevin Costello said that Virginia offers several species of fish, such as walleye and muskie (also called muskellunge) that are typically thought of as northern varieties.
"You don't need to drive up to New York or Pennsylvania to fish for walleye, you can do it here in Virginia. Not everyone knows that," said Kevin Costello.
Added LaRoche, "We have trout, which many states don't have, in our mountainous areas. We have some of the best small mouth bass fishing in the nation, on the James River, New River and Shenandoah River. We have a fair number of reservoirs with striped bass populations, which aren't available up north. We're not in hot water and not in cold water but we're in a cooler water transition zone. So, we have a lot of diversity that you don't find in most areas, which makes for a great fishing destination."
Plus, in some areas, anglers can easily fish for more than one species of fish on the same stretch of water, which is a draw for those looking to fish for more than one type.
"In the summer, you can float the New River and catch muskies - that's one of the best muskie rivers on the East Coast," said Crews, the professional angler. "You can also catch small mouth on the same stretch of river."
Fishing tournaments draw big crowds and pros from around the world
The state's supply of large reservoirs more than 1,000 acres in size translates into ample spots to hold fishing tournaments.
Bass Masters Elite series and the FLW Bass Fishing League are two major tournaments who recently held events at Smith Mountain Lake, a 20,600-acre impoundment located near Roanoke.
Tournaments like the Bass Masters Elite draw thousands of spectators to watch 100 professional anglers from as far away as Japan compete for the $100,000 top prize.
Another large tournament, the Oakley Big Bass Tour, will be held on Smith Mountain Lake this October.
"From April through October, there's a tournament every single weekend, from crappie tournaments to bass," said Debra Weir, tourism and special events manager at Franklin County (Virginia) Commerce & Leisure Services. "Plus, groups as diverse as the American Bass Association, the Women's Bass Tournament Trail and Fishers of Men have targeted lakes in the Fish Virginia First area to hold their tournaments."
The area's hospitality is another aspect that entices both event planners and anglers.
"We go out of our way to make people feel special," said Weir. "I can't emphasize the cordialness of our area enough. We have great outfitters with very knowledgeable people who will show you how to fish and help you find the right gear and tackle."
Virginia is for Anglers
"Simply put, Virginia has outstanding fishing, with all the varieties of species. We offer great fishing opportunities, from the elite and pro anglers to those looking for something to do with their families," said Fish Virginia First's Costello.
By taking the hassle out of planning fishing events, coupled with the area's abundant fishing resources, the state has the goods to deliver on its premise that Virginia is for (Fishing) Lovers.