Musky Fishing on the James River

Musky Fishing on the James River

Jodie Paul March 06, 2023

When devoted anglers speak and seek musky, most want to know their spread across the whole of the United States and Canada.  Though the Northwoods of Wisconsin and the oversized lakes of Canada provide the most abundant opportunity, there are those anglers who want to fish muskies in every nook and cranny of their habitat.  To satisfy that curiosity it’s only natural that we focus our lens on the great state of Virginia and give the James River a bit of praise for its muskellunge management.

The James River begins in the Appalachian Mountains at the upper most edge of Botetourt County.  It starts with the confluence of two more Northern flowages: Cowpasture River and Jackson River.  Both the Jackson and Cowpasture carry a low density of muskies, but when they meet you could say it’s like “lightning in a bottle”, producing the best musky fishery in the state.  The great thing about this river system is its overall length and accessibility.   

The James River flows 348 miles across much of the state of Virginia spilling out directly into the ocean. Though the river runs through the majority of the state, the focus has been on the upper parts throughout the county of Botetourt if you’re looking for elusive musky.  This area has the highest concentration of muskies and you’ll likely find a guide or local to put you on the right spot. 

The waters in some places are narrow and big boats aren’t really the thing on the James River.  Locals like to float, kayak, or john boat the river when fishing for their local monsters.  Those who have never tried a float trip might be intrigued by local guides that use this method for musky.  It is quite relaxing in comparison to 2 or 4 -Stroke pressured waters.  These guides are floating down an appropriate length of river with stops and fishing along the way….no speed goggles needed. 

Muskies are well managed in the James River by the Virginia DWR with thousands of harvested eggs from the same waters being claimed, reared, and relocated to Virginia fisheries regularly.  Virginia DWR has labeled the James a Class A Musky Fishery with a self-sustaining and quite dense population. March and April are spawning months on the James River, so make sure to plan your trip to avoid the spawn so that you get the most aggressive eaters.

If musky is what you are after and traveling to find them is your game, the James River in Virginia is definitely a good thumbtack destination.  Plenty of small towns, campgrounds, and natural things to do are near by as well.  Other fish species are abundant as well if you wish to stray from muskies for a day.  So, take some time and give the James River a look for something different when fishing for our toothy friends.