Where to catch Musky in Virginia?

Many people in Virginia don’t usually think of Musky as one of their target species on their normal fishing trips. Muskellunge are one of the most elusive sportfish in Virginia. They are the largest species in the pike family and can grow up to six feet long. Muskellunge are part of the Esox genus which also includes pike and pickerel. Muskies are not a native species to Virginia, they were first stocked in the New River in 1963. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries now runs an annual stocking program to bolster populations around the state.

Musky are a seriously impressive fish. Source

Musky Habitat

Before I list where to find Musky in Virginia, I wanted to go over what types of habitats they prefer. Musky are a warm water fish species. They prefer cool, clear water with temps in 60-75 degree range. You’ll usually find them near areas of thick submerged aquatic vegetation or underwater structures. In rivers look for them in the slow moving pool areas. Since muskies are native to areas up north, they don’t handle warm water temps very well, despite being a warm water species. They will stop feeding if the water reaches 84 degrees. During the summer months musky retreat to deep pools looking for cooler water. Catching a musky when the water is very warm is dangerous or even fatal for the fish. During the heat of the summer it’s best to avoid targeting muskie for this reason.

Where to fish for Virginia Musky

The two best places in the entire state of Virginia for Muskellunge fishing are the James and New Rivers. The two rivers have high musky populations that will eagerly chase your lure. These rivers are also the best spots for producing citation size musky. That being said, musky are still a very elusive fish species in Virginia. These rivers are your best chance at a trophy fish, but you’ll still probably need to dedicate some serious time towards catching one.

Musky in the James River

The James River flows 444 miles from its source to the mouth where it enters the Chesapeake Bay. Most of the river gets too warm and has too much suspended sediment for good musky habitat. All of the good musky fishing in the James river is found upstream of Lynchburg.

James River Musky
The James River

Musky in the New River

The ironically named New River is actually one of the five oldest rivers in the entire world. The river flows through the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Virginia state record musky was caught in the New River. It weighed 45 lbs! The best stretch of river for musky fishing is anywhere from Claytor dam downstream to the West Virginia border. Target the slow moving pool sections of the river and you’ll have a good shot at a musky.

New River, musky
View of the New River…definitely some muskie lurking in there

Where Else Are Musky in Virginia

Right behind the James and New Rivers is the Shenandoah. The Shenandoah River doesn’t have quite the same amount of Musky, but you’ll still have a pretty good shot at landing one here. Here’s the complete table with all the locations you can catch musky in Virginia.

Body of WaterRelative Muskie Population
James RiverHigh
New RiverHigh
Shenandoah RiverMedium
Clinch RiverLow
Cowpasture RiverLow
Jackson RiverLow
Powell RiverLow
Holston River (South Fork)Low
Burke LakeMedium
Byllesby ReservoirMedium
Claytor LakeLow
Flannagan ReservoirLow
Hungry Mother LakeMedium
Rural Retreat LakeMedium
Shenandoah LakeMedium
Smith Mountain LakeLow
South Holston ReservoirLow

One important thing to note about this table is that a “high” relative population of musky doesn’t actually mean they’re everywhere. It’s relative to other musky populations around the state. So muskie are still a very elusive fish, even in the waters marked as holding a high population.

Musky Stocking in Virginia

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries operates a pretty well run musky stocking program throughout the state. The Department stocks advanced fingerlings that it raises in hatcheries. Advanced fingerling muskies are in the 8-12″ size range. The Department collects brood male and female muskies from the James River around March every year. Once they collect eggs from them the fish are returned to where they were captured in the James. The collected eggs are then transported to Buller Fish Hatchery where they are kept until they hatch. After they hatch the fry are raised in ponds at Buller and Front Royal Fish Hatcheries. The fry will stay in these ponds until fall when they will reach advanced fingerling size. Every fall VDGIF takes these fish and stocks waterways throughout the state according to their stocking plan. Most musky populations in Virginia are supported by this stocking program, however the James and New River populations are self-supporting.

Muskies that were just stocked by the VDGIF. Source

Muskie Interactions With Other Fish

Some people in the local areas around muskie waterways have a negative perception of this fish. They believe that having an apex predator like muskie in the waterway harms the smallmouth bass population. Smallmouth bass is another incredibly popular target species. However, there have been several studies conducted that concluded musky do not have a large effect on the smallmouth fishery. Virginia Tech and the VDGIF have done several studies on musky diets. They concluded that bass make up less than 10% of what a typical musky consumes. Suckerfish were the largest type of musky food source at over 50% of the sampled fish. It’s pretty cool how they actually gathered this data for the study. Musky over 32″ in length were harvested through electrofishing. Electrofishing temporarily stuns the fish but does not do any permanent harm. The biologists then pumped pressurized water into the fish stomachs causing the contents to be expelled. This practice is great because it allows them to study what the musky are feeding on without killing/dissecting the fish.

Sources: The Roanoke Times
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

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