Fish in the river; fish in the box

Published 2:49 pm Monday, December 10, 2018

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Susan and Biff Andrews

The Nansemond River Preservation Association held an experts’ talk on the fish in the James River and Chuckatuck Creek on the eve of Halloween. I don’t know yet how scary it was. We’ll report later on. This report on fish in the river is from people who do their sampling with hook and line — not electroshock equipment.

A fishing buddy of mine lives on the shore of the James River just east of the mouth of the Pagan. He fishes off his dock with some regularity. This is basically his report.

First, some positive signs that don’t deal with fish. He has a pair of river otters who live in his granite bulkhead. And last week he saw a pod of 50 dolphins or so in the James, some only 100 yards offshore. He had dolphin all summer, but this was his biggest pod of the year. So what? you may ask. Both animals will not live or feed in polluted water.

Hence, ergo and therefore — the James must be pretty clean and healthy. The ospreys are gone for the winter, but on my recent visit we saw a mature bald eagle. Another plus. But I digress. Back to fishing.

The river is full of three-inch spot. Any bite of bloodworm — even fishbite bloodworm — will catch you some. Now I agree that a three-inch spot will not feed the family, but those they attract will. Some of the miscellaneous species he has been getting in the past few weeks: two school stripers, just big enough to be legal; two roundheads of eating size, likewise delicious; one croaker, also delicious. The interesting thing about this summer holdover was his size: 15 inches and one pound, nine ounces. I haven’t caught one that big in three years. So these are the odd interlopers. But what are the main species?

In the past two weeks he has caught about 30 speckled trout. Only half were keeper size, but that’s still a lot of meat. And it’s good eating. He’s using a regular hi-lo rig with small hooks with bloodworm, crab fishbites, or spot fillets as bait. Speckled trout have notoriously soft mouths, so they have to be brought in gently; don’t horse them.

Even more plentiful are the blue catfish. They average about 14 inches, but some run five or six pounds. He averages 10 or 15 in an evening. The action is great even if you don’t want the meat. With trout, rock, roundhead, etc., he’s not keeping cats unless he has a request for some. The same rig and baits apply, with spot fillets often the top producer. These fish should be available for most of the winter.

One species noticeably absent is the puppy drum. Generally from now till Christmas we might get a few every evening. So far this year, none. I’ll ask the experts why.

So the overall report: action pretty good, species variety good, with one major exception. But it’s a lovely fall, the stingrays and skates are gone, The pinhead croaker are gone, and there are very few bait-stealing crabs. Go fishing!


SUSAN AND BRADFORD “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at