Annual catch (electrofishing) of adult smallmouth bass from 1991-2015 in the Upper James River shows a fluctuation over time. The low numbers in 2009 and 2010 coincide with a fish kill in the river. The other fluctuations are likely due to young-of-the-year (YOY) survival in previous years, according to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Non-Tidal James River 2016 report. In the Upper James River, smallmouth bass less than 6 inches in the fall are considered YOY, meaning those individuals were born in the spring of that year. YOY survival appears to be best in years with moderate June river flows and worst with high or low flows during June.
Chart by VDGIF

Anglers on the Upper James River could have a great fishing season in 2017— at least for smallmouth bass, according to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries 2017 Annual Virginia Rivers and Smallmouth Bass Fishing Outlook.

The projections mean fishermen “can expect to catch, on average, double what they normally do including lots of 12- to 16-inch fish from Lick Run to Lynchburg.”

That section of river includes the nearly 50 miles of the James River in Botetourt from Lick Run below Iron Gate to just below Alpine downriver from Arcadia in Botetourt.

According to the 2017 Small Bass Fishing Outlook, recruitment for smallmouth bass (SMB) in the James River was below average again in 2016. That was attributed to high flows towards the end of June that likely had a negative impact on the spawn.

However, the report said, the 2014 year class of SMB was highly prolific, especially in upper river sections and they should persist for the next three to five years.

River-wide on the James from Richmond to Lick Run, catch rates of adult SMB nearly doubled from 24 fish per hour in 2015 to 45 fish per hour in 2016.

On the Upper James (above Lynchburg), densities averaged 75 fish per hour in 2016, and that translates to great smallmouth fishing.

The per-hour rate is determined after biologists collect fish with electrofishing equipment.

According to the report, rock bass, or redeye, abundance increased in certain sections of the Upper James, mainly at Big Island and above, while redbreast sunfish densities were low compared to historical levels. Still, they remained common up river.

Muskellunge catch rates continued to increase on the Upper James from Lick Run to Lynchburg. Most fish were in the 36- to 44-inch range.

Biologists have reward-tagged muskies in the James River, so if you catch one with one or two yellow tags, mail them to the address on the tag for a $20-$40 reward.

The electofishing was done at nine locations between Lick Run and Lychburg. Four of those are in Botetourt, at Lick Run, Eagle Rock, Horseshoe Bend (Narrow Passage) and Buchanan.