Imagine fishing a tidal river with acres of lily pads, duck blinds at the mouth of every creek and plenty of submerged aquatic vegetation… The Chickahominy River probably comes to mind, right? That’s what most folks envision when it comes to tidal bass fisheries. The next most cited destination would be the tidal Potomac and then the Rappahannock.
There is another option, though, that is quietly entertaining a number of local anglers and a long-standing weekly tournament circuit you might want to consider visiting.
The tidal Pamunkey River is the best little known bass fishery in Virginia, and this article will shed some light on what you’ll find there if you visit.
Each year I spend one of my son’s last days before school starts fishing with him. He’s 17 now and a senior. He’s taller than I am and starting to assert himself, mostly respectfully! I still remember the last time he held my hand, but those days are long in the past.
This year we chose the Pamunkey River after a tip from Donnie Bell at James River Tackle Co. in Hopewell.
“That river is hot, man! I can tell you right where to find a bunch of fish,” Bell excitedly told me via phone in early August.
It had been nearly 10 years since I last fished the Pamunkey and I was intrigued to return. My son and I made plans to visit on a Sunday (a rare church skip) and were up and rolling by 6:30 a.m. with the Anna’s Marine Center TRACKER Grizzly 2072 in tow.
The ramp is located not too far from Mechanicsville; about 20 miles, and I’ll warn you, the roads get narrower and narrower near the final turn. On arrival I noted not much had changed with the launch point; you still have to drive down a dusty, wash-boarded road to Williams Landing and put $5 in an envelope and drop it into a metal repository at the ramp.
We arrived as the sun was breaking over the trees, in my mind about a half hour late, but nevertheless we had made it, and the Grizzly slipped off the trailer into the stained river holding at dead low tide.
As we idled away from the dock, I heard splash and watched as a bass chased a baitfish onto the shore next to the ramp. A good sign, yes, but we were headed downriver about six miles to the creek Donnie had told us to try.
The Pamunkey is part of the York River basin. It gains flow out of Louisa, Spotsylvania counties as the North Anna and South Anna Rivers and is created at their junction not far from the King’s Dominion amusement park, east of I95.
From there it flows another meandering 90+ miles to West Point where it joins with the Mattaponi to form the York.
The tidal section flows mostly through agricultural land with some creeks and marshland. There are few cypress trees but plenty of shoreline wood, lily pads and extensive hydrilla beds, especially as you approach the lower section of the river.
Tidal flow is vigorous, and the river level varies up to two-and-a-half on strong tides. At times the river is just 200 yards wide as it is near Williams Landing. Other places further down river it stretches over a mile wide.
Running at 35 mph down river it took about 10 minutes to reach a low railroad bridge that we carefully maneuvered under noting we’d better be careful when the tide came back in.
Our destination was Big Creek and after over-shooting the entrance, I checked Google Earth and found the creek mouth, guarded by hydrilla-choked flats now nearly out of the water.
We ran back a mile or so in the creek looking for any discernable wood but only found duck blinds and a lily pad-lined marsh creek. In outside bends where the lilies found the hydrilla, there were open pockets of water and minnows with something chasing them from time to time as the tide began to run in.
I was using an old-fashioned Pop-R with some lip modification to make it spit rather than bloop. My son was using a Dave’s Tournament Tackle River Special spinnerbait.
He caught yellow perch, and I caught three bass with several others smacking the popper out of the water. We moved around much of that creek fishing the marsh edges, a bunch of stumps near the mouth and a duck blind or two, but we never really found that motherlode Donnie was touting, and the tide was really rolling in, so I figured it was time to get back under the railroad bridge.
The Grizzly is a 99” wide, 21’ long center console with the typical grab rail around the windshield. That worried me it might impede us at the bridge. I had good reason to worry as we cleared the I-beams by two inches!
We fished our way back up the river, not really knowing what we were doing, and Mitchell caught a couple more fish up in Jack’s Creek on his spinnerbait where the shade was wonderful on the right bank and the bass were on laydowns.
As the morning began to slip away and the predicted 90+ degree day heated up, we fished closer to Williams Landing and began to find more bass.
Here and there at the mouths of creeks the bass were chasing baitfish, and we could catch them on spinnerbaits and small crankbaits. I also went old school and used a vintage purple/powder blue tail ringworm (Pulsator) from Mud Puppy Baits on a shakey head to catch three more bass.
None of what we caught was over two pounds, but they were fairly plentiful even for someone who hadn’t fish the river in many years.
I think that this little river is a good option in the summer when the Chick and James are getting hammered by tournament anglers. We only saw one other boat fishing that Sunday morning and a couple pleasure boaters. Two bass boats were launching as we put the Grizzly on the trailer and fired up the AC in the Pohanka NISSAN Frontier.
While it may not be considered one of Virginia’s premier tidal river bass fisheries, the Pamunkey River is certainly a destination you’ll want to try this fall.
Mitchell and I drove home with him napping and me marveling at the young man next to me and trying to remember how many years we’d observed this special tradition. I said a silent prayer that we’d keep it alive next year just before he starts college.