Cruising slowly towards the dam on Virginia’s Moomaw Lake, we could see trout swirling on the surface chasing alewives. Then suddenly a rod bowed deep in its holder. My partner grabbed it and minutes later deftly slipped the net under a 3-pound brown trout.
While he was occupied with unhooking that fish, another rod began throbbing in its holder and I quickly snatched it. This fish was even heavier and stripped line from the reel several times before I could work the 22-incher into the boat, a plump 5-pounder.
We had been fishing for just 20 minutes and already had two hefty trout in the boat with a combined weight just shy of eight pounds. Western and Great Lakes anglers may not be overly impressed with that catch, but for the Mid-Atlantic, this was quite a brace of trout!
The catch confirmed to me again that Moomaw is by far the best lake in Virginia, and perhaps the entire Mid-Atlantic region for catching jumbo trout. Not only that, the lake also offers high-quality smallmouth, largemouth, crappie, and bluegill fishing as a bonus.
Located in the west-central part of the state, Moomaw Lake reached full pool stage in 1981, covering 2,600 acres. Besides offering great fishing itself, it has also improved the angling in the Jackson River where it flows out of the dam downstream by offering stable year-round feeding conditions.
Lake Moomaw was somewhat controversial when it was built because it flooded some prime public hunting land. But most sportsmen now embrace it for the quality fishing it offers.
Moomaw is cold, clear and deep—perfect habitat for both rainbows and browns. The rainbows are of the Nebraska McConaughy strain, known for their hard-fighting ability. Moomaw regular Ira Ginger says, “You don’t catch as many of them trolling as you do browns. But when you hook one, you know it immediately because they rocket out of the water like a launched missile. Sometimes before you can even grab the rod they’re up in the air jumping.”
Larry Andrews, who guides on the lake says brown trout are their bread-and-butter catch, but the rainbows are an exciting bonus. Fishing starts heating up in April and is consistent right through fall. “From May through July is especially good,” he says.
The forage base is superb in the lake and the trout put on weight fast. The most recent Department of Game and Inland Fisheries surveys showed lots of 12-13 inch yearling fish and an abundance of 20-inch plus 3-year-old brutes.
Andrews uses a variety of lures to sample what the trout want on any given day. He’ll employ flat lines, downriggers, planers such as the Pink Lady, and lead-core lines to cover as many presentation angles as possible on a given day.
Some of his top lures include spoons such as the Hus, Renosky, Luhr-Jensen Alpena Diamond, and thin-minnow plugs like the Rapala and Cordell Redfin. The real key to success most of the year is getting these lures down into the thermocline. “That’s usually at around 40-45 feet,” says Andrews. “The temperature there is about 55 degrees.”
The lower part of the lake is the most productive for trolling. This is where regulars cruise in lazy-S and wide circular patterns until the draw strikes, also searching for fish on their depth finders. Andrews likes light 4-6 pound line because the fish can be quite skittish.
Lake Moomaw’s trout can also be caught in other ways, though, if you don’t like trolling. Live bait fishing at night with shiners is extremely productive. Anglers drift over fish located on the depth finder and use lanterns hung over the side of the boat to draw in baitfish.
Yet another approach for Moomaw’s trout is to sight cast for fish you spot near the surface or just ahead of rises they make sipping in insects or small baitfish. I’ve used this tactic many times on Moomaw and it’s very exciting. You basically watch for a dimple or slurp of a fish on top and try to see which direction it is heading.
Once you determine that, you can cast a small streamer or a dry fly such as an Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, or Royal Coachman ahead of the cruising trout. Strip the streamer back in short spurts. Twitch the dry flies gently to make sure the trout sees them.
If you don’t fly fish, very small thin-minnow plugs cast ahead of the fish and inched back slowly can also produce jarring strikes from Moomaw’s fat browns and sassy rainbows. This fishing is particularly good in the fall and can hold up right into November or December in mild years. Once again, light 4-6 pound test line is best for the wary trout.
Information on current fishing conditions and guided trips can be obtained from The Bait Place on Rt 666, 540-965-0633. For boating and camping information on U.S. Forest Service land, contact the Bolar Area at 540-279-4144 or the Morris Hill Area on the south end of the lake at 877-444-6777. Motel accommodations are available in nearby Covington.