Virginia Bass Fishing Spots

Catching Big Smallmouth Bass on the New River

New River beautiful smallmouth bass caught by Cody Leonard

In this Dock Talk 365 interview, we catch up with Cody Leonard. Cody hasn’t been New River bass fishing for too many years but he has already demonstrated the ability to catch big smallmouth bass from its waters. Cody gives us an overview on how he catches big New River smallies.

How long have you been fishing the New River?

May 8th, 2016 was the first day I ever fished out of a kayak. My buddy Eric Hawks invited me to go on a float trip with him on the New River. Little did I know that the trip would be the start of a passion for kayak bass fishing. To be honest, I had no idea what I was really doing but somehow I lucked into landing several nice smallmouth including a citation by length at 20 inches.

First Day on the New River for Cody Leonard
New River Citation Smallmouth Bass

Beginner’s luck I suppose…haha. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’ve gained a vast amount of knowledge about river fishing since then. I thank Eric Hawks for that.

I love fishing this river for many reasons. The main reason is that it is one of the best smallmouth rivers in the country, and it is right out the backdoor. I’m very fortunate to live so close to such a beautiful and great fishery.

What sections of the river do you fish? 

I fish the upper New section of the river. From Fields Dam in Mouth of Wilson down to Claytor Lake. I fish this section mainly because it’s closer to home. I am looking forward to fishing the section below Claytor lake and into Giles County in the near future as I’m currently a student at Virginia Tech and living  near Blacksburg.

What kayak are you fishing out of for the New River? 

Right now I’m fishing out of a Feelfree 11.5 Lure kayak. For the price, I think it is a great kayak for the river. This boat has a comfortable, adjustable seat from a low position to a high position. It is also very stable. I do a majority of my casting from standing on the large open deck.

My only major complaint about this boat is that it doesn’t track very well. It tends to turn sideways while floating down the river. This could be easily fixed by mounting a rudder on the back but that is going to cost you some extra cash.

Overall, I think it’s a nice boat for the river, especially for someone who is just starting out.

How are the areas of the river that you fish for navigation?

The sections I fish of the river vary. Some places are very easy to navigate through and then some sections can be challenging, especially if you are new to kayaking. Kayakers should always go down shoals straight and not sideways which makes you more likely to flip your boat.

Anglers always need to be aware of the river gauges. Personally, I stay off of the river around home if it is running more than 3000 cfs. The river can be hard to navigate through safely when the water is running this fast.

In February, you posted a pic of your personal best smallie. What is the fish story on that one? 

February 18, 2018 will be a day I will never forget. It was the first day I decided to take my kayak out for the year. It had been cold for awhile but there was a few days in a row where the temperatures climbed up into the 70’s, so I decided to head to the river to try my luck.

When I got to the river, I noticed the visibility was only around a foot but with the sun shining bright I knew the conditions was right to catch some solid fish.

30 minutes into the day, I caught a 19.50 inch bronzeback. I went on to catch 6 more bass including a 18.75, and two 17.75’s.  As my great day of February fishing was coming to an end, I noticed a small portion of a rainbow in the sky reflecting on the water surface. I laughed and thought to myself, “where’s the gold under this rainbow?”

As I cast directly into the rainbow reflecting on the river. The steady retrieve of my Abu Garcia reel  came to a sudden halt about 20 feet away from the boat as my rod immediately started to bend. At first I thought I reeled right into a log but my mind quickly changed as my reel started peeling drag. I quickly tossed my anchor to hold my position as my kayak was starting to be towed down river.

15 seconds into the fight I held my breath, as the biggest smallmouth I had ever seen in person, came soaring out of the water into the air throwing massive head-shakes. After diving back down in the water, she swam right towards my kayak. I grabbed my net and tilted my rod tip towards the sky as my net was suddenly filled with New River Gold!

23 Inch Giant New River Smallmouth Bass
Giant 23 Inch New River Smallmouth Bass

I immediately thanked the Lord for helping me land this fish. I knew this  was my new personal best but I had no idea that when I placed the fish on my hawg trough, that the tip of the  tail would hit the 23 inch mark. Not only was this my new PB, but landing this fish made February 18th my best day of fishing ever. My 5 fish totaled 96.25 inches.

What do you consider your favorite time of the year to fish the New River? 

My favorite time to fish the New River is from late Spring up to early Fall. The fish are really active this time of year and you can catch a good quantity of smallmouth every day you go. You can catch them on about anything you wanna tie on during this time. The temperatures also make it comfortable to enjoy being on the river and appreciate the outdoors.

What are your favorite baits and presentations for fishing the New River? 

My favorite way to fish is powerfishing.  Topwater lures, crankbaits, and spinnerbaits are my favorite things to tie on depending on the conditions. Finding structure and hitting it from all sides and angles is how I have my most success. 

Certain times of the year, these tactics are not the best way to catch fish though. Sometimes you have to slow it down and really take your time. When the bite gets tough, you have to break out the finesse tactics. And I’ll be the first to tell you, this is not one of my strengths. You really have to focus and be patient until you can figure out a producing pattern. 

Monster New River Smallmouth Bass
Monster New River Smallmouth Bass

Overall, what are 5 pieces of advice you have for kayak anglers on the New River? 

My 5 pieces of advice are:

  1. Safety first. Kayaking on the New River is serious business. Always have a PFD. Be aware of your surroundings while on the water, and keep an eye on the weather forecast and river gauges.
  2. Invest in an anchor and a net. Being able to anchor down in one place so you can fish an area throughout will result in more success rather than floating through it and only being able to make a couple cast. Having a net to help land your fish makes a tremendous difference. I can’t tell you how many fish I lost right at the kayak trying to lip them or scoop them under the belly while trying to avoid getting a hook in my hand. Trust me, having a net makes everything easier.
  3. Invest in a small mountable action camera. A small camera such as a GoPro comes in handy, especially when you are fishing by yourself. Being able to get a good picture or video of your memorable catch is always nice! 
  4. Target structure. Anything that sticks out in the water. A rock.  A current break. A Eddie-pocket.  All of these are places where you can usually find fish.
  5. Best way to become a better fisherman is to simply…go fishing. I learn something new every time I get on the water. Try new things. Figure out what works best for you in different conditions. There’s no such thing as a wasted day of fishing. You can learn something new and useful each and every trip. 

What are your future plans for your YouTube channel? 

My friends and I have a YouTube channel @Fanaticsoutdoors. We are all in college now so we don’t have as much free time as we would like but when we get a chance, we film our hunts. Eventually, we would like to get some fishing videos uploaded but right now there’s just a few hunting videos. Feel free to check them out!

Thanks Cody. Keep catching those big New River smallies. Will be following on Instagram @codyhunter13.

Check out more fishing interviews on New River bass fishing.