The New River is such a world famous fishery. I love catching up with anglers who spend a lot of time chasing down smallmouth bass and muskie on the New. So naturally when I saw Ben Morrison with some impressive smallmouth bass on his Instagram, I knew he would have some great insight on fishing the New River. Read on to learn how Ben takes on this amazing fishery.
What makes the New River such a special place to fish?
I have been fishing the New for the vast majority of my life. I grew up where Rich Creek, a tributary of the New, enters the river. It is special because my roots run deep here, and anyone that spends time in the outdoors here will tell you how mystical and mysterious these mountains and river are. Geologically speaking, the New is actually older than the Appalachian mountains that it cuts through. So that in itself makes the valley a fascinating place for me. I’m truly blessed to have grown up in the midst of such an amazing ecosystem.
I see in your photos a few different boats. What are your boats?
I fish out of a 10′ Potomac kayak that my dad bought when I was 13 or so. I am 23 now, so this thing has some miles on it. It allows me to cover a lot of water, especially when flows are down in the summer. I can handle it on my own and keep it strapped to the top of my jeep most all summer. So quick trips to the river before and after work are easy. The boat I am typically in is a Lowe 1648 that is excellent for getting out with a partner and better for musky fishing.
What advice do you have for people who have never floated this river before?
The advice I offer to people coming to float/fish the New is to take time before hand to understand the water you will be navigating, and the weather conditions during the trip. Old rocky rivers like this can have a lot of deceptive terrain and undercurrents that make them particularly dangerous. This river demands a lot of respect, and one should be ready to give it that.
What are your favorite sections to fish?
My time is usually spread throughout the whole stretch from the Claytor Lake dam to the state line, as I live closer to the dam but my dad and I take our boat out further down river. Sections by McCoy and Narrows I am most familiar with, and they continue to produce good smallmouth for me. Parts below Eggleston are the most desolate and scenic, for someone wanting to take in the beauty of my home, that’s where I take them. I see quite a lot of musky throughout the river, although I don’t dedicate a lot of time to fishing for them.
What do you consider an average day for smallies on the New River in terms of numbers and size?
Summer is the time for high numbers of fish but not necessarily big ones. Last summer I was regularly in 15″-17″ fish. Fall and winter are tough as cold fronts begin to affect fall patterns heavily and water temps plummet.
Winter is a game of knowing where they hide at, because they won’t move too far during the colder months, once they hole up. Once you find them you have to fish painfully slow, which is pretty hard for me but it can be really rewarding.
Spring is by far the most exciting time on the New as the big pre/post spawn fish get really aggressive and can add some big fish to your resume.
What are your favorite baits to throw for smallmouth bass on the New River?
Searching patterns are a go to in the summer just because covering water is a must. I tend to gravitate towards craw style baits, but I always have senkos on standby. Swimbaits and spinners are a big player for me, and I’ve recently been trying to unlock the secrets of crankbait fishing. Topwater is always a fun choice when the bite is on, but a lot of things factor into those situations.
Overall, color is pretty big player on this system, subtle color and pattern changes can mean the difference in getting skunked and bringing in a couple bruisers. This is especially true into the fall when the water is ultra low and gin clear.
How often do you run into toothy muskies when fishing the New?
The muskies in this river are quite abundant and healthy. To my knowledge we actually have a breeding population that isn’t maintained by stocking anymore. It isn’t uncommon to see them cruising under the boat or kayak. Occasionally one will steal a jerk bait, or even nail a hooked smallmouth being reeled in, although I’ve never seen that, only heard stories.
I see that you will fly fish for muskie. What are your favorite flies to throw for muskie?
The musky on the fly has been quite a challenge and in almost two years of fishing them I have only had a couple follows, none caught. I mostly throw darker colored streamers, my favorite of which is plain black with some different colored flash. Tying my own big streamers is a blast, although throwing 10wt with 400gt line is a big time work out.
What do you consider the biggest challenges on the New River?
Big challenges for me personally start with water color and how to fish it. It gets some interesting colors and stains at different times of the year that makes it tough. Next to that, water temperature swings in the spring and fall can make fishing impossible some days. The river temp can drop really rapidly into the fall and the bite just completely shuts off. Late summer has a lot of grass and low flows so I makes it hard to fish without getting caught up in the grass, so that makes for frustrating days from time to time.
Time on the water is the key to overcoming challenges, there is no substitute for going out and doing it. If the weather is too bad or the river is too dangerous I will read articles on the internet about smallmouth fishing to gather insight and broaden my understanding of the fish.
The major keys to catching smallmouth is understanding smallmouth lifecycle and yearly cycles as well as forage life cycle and yearly cycles, i.e. spawn times, forage color and size, preferred forage at a given time. If I’m having a really bad day fishing and can’t catch much, I switch my attention to watching what baitfish gravitate towards and what they are doing, or catching crawdads to check colors through the seasons. This has helped me tremendously by keeping my bait size and color consistent with what the fish are eating. As they say, match the hatch.
I also keep a journal of all the things I experience on the river and all the notable fish that are caught to help me pattern them year to year. That in itself is the most valuable part of my tackle.
What has been your biggest bass on the New?
My biggest smallmouth on the New is only 3.5lb and I had no tape on me to measure it. It was the dead middle on the night and pitch black. I was fishing an old train bridge from the bank. I had a glass ghost x-rap 10 on and I was just burning it in fast through different current seams by the bridge pillars. That thing hit like a truck and I had no clue what I had gotten a hold of. It’s a funny story to tell now because we didn’t have any lights ready when it happened and we were all sort of freaking out in the dark to the sound of drag peeling out.
Still looking to break 20″/5lb though, maybe this will be my year.
Thanks Ben! That is great information. Will be following you on Instagram to see that personal best you catch this year.