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OUTDOORS: It’s cold, but...

OUTDOORS: It’s cold, but...

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Sure it’s cold out there, but there is still a little hunting left in the season and some fish are still biting. So, let’s bundle up and head for the great outdoors. 

Deer season is over, and it looks like Virginia hunters did about the same as last year—some 200,000-plus animals, which is not a bad result. The deer harvest is now fairly stable and that’s a good thing. But now it’s time for hunters to look up—for ducks and geese.

Duck season extends through Jan. 31 and the colder it gets, the better the hunting. When things freeze up to our north, ducks head south and when and if our lakes and ponds start freezing over, ducks will go on the move. The limit is six birds daily, but know your ducks before you go as each species has its own limits.

Quail and pheasant season is also until Jan. 31, though quail is closed on all public lands west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The limit is six quail per day, but there is no daily or seasonal bag limit for pheasant.

Geese are another story. In our area, hunters can take five of the big birds daily all the way through Feb. 24. The geese in our fields and waterways now are all resident birds, not migratory geese, and their numbers need to be thinned. Make sure to use non-toxic shot for both geese and ducks.

Squirrel, rabbit and grouse seasons are also still in, so some hunting opportunities definitely remain. Rabbit—with a limit of six per day—is open season until Feb. 28. There are fall and spring seasons for squirrel. Fall season ends Feb. 28 for gray and red squirrels and fox squirrel season ends Jan. 31 but is only allowed in the counties west of the Blue Ridge and in Albemarle, Bedford, Culpeper, Fauquier, Franklin, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange, Patrick, Prince William and Rappahannock counties on the east. Spring season runs June 5-19 for gray and red squirrels statewide and in numerous public areas, such as the local Rapidan Wildlife Management Area. Bag limit is six squirrels per day of any kind. Grouse season runs until Feb. 13 with a bag limit of three per day. Visit https://dwr.virginia.gov/hunting/regulations/ for the full list.

Fishing opportunities also await Virginia sportsmen who might cast a line in cold weather. An angler working a jig or a grub across the gravel bottoms of the Shenandoah, New or James rivers may only get a half-dozen bites in a day, but the quality of the fish at the business end of the rod can be substantial. Now is one of the best times of the year to hook up with a 5-pounder, or maybe even larger. Big, female smallmouth do not stop feeding because the water temperature drops. Rather, they feed steadily throughout the winter to nurture their developing egg sacs.

There are also largemouth bass to be caught in cold weather, and like smallmouth the ones you catch during the winter months will be quality fish. The two top choices for cold weather largemouth are Lake Anna and the Chickahominy Lake. Anna is a choice spot because of the warm water generated by the nuclear power plant. Some of the biggest bass of the year are weighed through February. The Chick also delivers the goods in winter and the prime bait is a jumbo shiner. While bass fishing, anglers may also encounter big blue cats, stripers and pickerel on the scenic Chickahominy Lake.

Walleye is another cold water fish that bites throughout the winter. Some nice walleye have been showing up in the Shenandoah River recently. According to the wildlife division, walleye can be caught from Warren Dam in Front Royal downstream beyond the Virginia/West Virginia state line. Although they are not as numerous in the Shenandoah as they are in other rivers, they seem to be increasing in numbers and can reach lengths exceeding 25 inches. The main source of the population prior to the annual stocking program came from stocking 285,000 fry in 2007. The Rivanna River in Albemarle County is another walleye hotspot. A friend of mine took two walleye over 7 pounds in the Rivanna last January on successive casts. Lake Orange offers another possibility for walleye, one of the best-tasting fish in fresh water.

Whether fishing or hunting, dress warmly, stay dry and you may find some of the best outdoor opportunities that Virginia has to offer during the coldest months of the year.

—Contact Jim Brewer at j44brewer@gmail.com

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