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December 23, 2010.  9am - 11:30am.  Water temp: 35 degrees.  Air Temp: Mid 30's.  Wind: 5-15 from the NW

Today was another amazing day on the James River.  Based on the bald eagle activity over the last couple of weeks, I knew two things were happening.  First, there have been a high number of migratory bald eagles in the region.  And second, the resident bald eagles have been acting differently in their relations with other eagles.

Normally, the resident eagles are very territorial, but lately they have been tolerant of their migratory neighbors from the North.  On the main channel, between the 295 Bridge (Varina-Enon) and the Jones Neck cut through, two pair of resident bald eagles live in their modest territories ... Varina & Enon and Virginia & James.  Lately there have been about 30 eagles hanging out in their territories.  It's hard to tell the difference between the residents and the migratory eagles.  I believe we saw Varina & Enon today, but not certain.  Two mature eagles gave us a pretty close fly by, but then drifted back into the mix of birds.  We did see residents Bandit & Smokey.  It was early and they were alone.  On the way back to the Richmond Yacht Basin there were about ten bald eagles in their territory.

What amazed me today was the sheer number of bald eagles.  Conservatively, we agreed there were 50 bald eagles on three miles of river.  At any one time, we could see ten or more bald eagles.  They were perched in trees and gliding in the air.  A couple of times, we looked downriver and saw six or more eagles sitting in a tree.  There were also a plethora of eagles in the sky, riding the cold NW wind.  I've always felt bald eagles enjoy a NW wind best.  A north wind is usually cooler and an eagle would have to 'head' into the wind, keeping the sun, for the most part, at their backs and out of their eyes.

Mostly we saw immature bald eagles today.  They have modeled brown and white feathers throughout their body.  I am always in awe at the beauty of their markings.  It's no wonder so many Inuits were inspired by them.  There were also plenty of mature bald eagles around today too.  Mature eagles have a white head and tail, and dark brown body.  The most captivating sight of the day was watching three pair of eagles flying around twisting and darting while staying in a close formation.  They'd turn towards each other, close in talon to talon and reach out towards one another.  They never did lock talons, but would act as if they were.  It was if they were truly dancing, like the NW wind was some type of symphony playing only for them.  My next trip out is this Tuesday and again later in the week. Until next time ... stay warm and whenever possible ... enjoy the James River.      -- Capt. Mike

The photo's story?  This is an immature migratory bald eagle.   The image was taken by local pro Bob Schammerhorn who took a number of shots of this particular bird and can be viewed on his website by Bob Schammerhorn


Discover The James Blog - Entry #1, December 19, 2010

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Mon, 12/20/2010 - 16:01

There is something magical about the James River.  With all the diverse interests that people have today, the James has something for everyone.  For me it's a combination of fishing, nature, history and all the wonderful people who love it.  My new dream is to keep a continuous journal of the James to share with anyone interested in what is happening out on our River ... year round.

As stated in the headline, this is my first official blog entry.  Today it's about bald eagles.  On a recent eagle tour I noticed something interesting in the behavior of the resident bald eagles.  Resident bald eagles are territorial, and will defend their territory with very aggressive flight patterns.  But ...

The extreme cold weather we've been having has pushed a high number of migratory eagles onto the tidal James River area.  This winter population of migratory eagles fly south in the winter months, coming in from as far north as northern Canada.  With the influx of migratory eagles, the resident eagles have seemed to back off a bit on the defense of their territory.  Perhaps temporarily accepting the fact that there are a high number of birds and are backing off on defending their territory.  It is very interesting to see this happening.  I will keep posting on this. 

On another note, the River's water temperature has dropped dramatically, and ice has formed in many areas of the river.  The last few days has offered a good bit of sunlight so much of the ice is breaking up.  Lots of ice chunks in the river now in some areas.  -- Capt. Mike 12/19/10

The photo's story?  My wife and photographer extraordinaire, Lynda Richardson, took this photo.  It is the newest image added to my website. You can see it on the Custom Tours page.  I believe it's an image of Baba or Pops, who live high in a pine tree on a nest just downriver of Deep Bottom Boat Landing.  Baba & Pops are resident birds and were the first ones to be named from the Discovery Barge II-- Photo by Lynda Richardson

Uncontrollable Laughter

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Fri, 09/10/2010 - 14:01

On a beautiful September morning, a group of three women fished the James River with me for sunfish, bass and flathead catfish.  The day was great, and was highlighted by the first fish ever caught by one of the ladies.  It was a 4" redbreasted sunfish, and it truly was her first fish ever.  After catching numerous redbreasted sunfish, bluegill and smallmouth bass we paddled into the catfish waters.  Once we began fishing for flathead catfish the day got a even better, and Sheron, the lady who caught her first fish started to wear out catfish.  She caught the four of the first five cats and after that she was really hooked.  Sheron was talking to her sister, Susanne, stating she was ready to tackle the saltwater and go after marlin!

The catfishing was good, then it got better.  Sheron hooked into a fish, a big one.  Turned out to be a 22 pound catfish.  As she was fighting the first 22 pounder, her sister hooked into a fish.  As the two were close to being landed, Lynda, my wife, hooked into a catfish.  After the first one was landed, we had another fish on.  Another fish was boated, and then another one was on another line.  At this point we had two fish in the boat and three fish on lines.  Another fish was boated, and then ... you guessed it ... a sixth fish was hooked.  Over the course of about 10 minutes or so, the three ladies hooked and landed six flathead catfish with the biggest being a citation sized 27 pound fish.

As I started to load up Suzanne with the fish, she just started laughing.  No words, just laughter until it was simply uncontrolled laughter.  Lynda chimed in with a huge smile and helped hold all those fish in place.  Sheron also played a minor roll in the photo, helping hold a few fish in place as well.  This was one of the many shining moments on the river this summer.  I hope you enjoy it!  -- Capt. Mike

DGIF Flathead Worshop

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Thu, 08/12/2010 - 12:01

On a hot August day, a few Department of Game and Inland Fisheries employees, myself and 14 attendees from around the state got together at Pony Pasture for the second FlatOut Catfishing workshop of 2010.  What I love so much about this program is the variety of folks who attend.  Of the fourteen attendees, only three were from the Richmond area.  There were folks from Troy, Barhamsville, Tory and Christiansburg.  I'm always amazed at how far people will travel to fish the uncomparable James River. 

This project, led by Chris Dunnavant, Angling Education Coordinator for VA, is one of my favorite adult programs.  In fact, all of Chris' events are well attended because of the attention to detail he has, and just the overall fun of fishing at his events. 


The Photos Stories?  Top Left:  Francis, one of the students in the workshop, was surprised by the powerful tail kick of the flathead catfish as she released an 18 pound fish back into the James River.

Top Right:  Bill reels in a nice fish.  This was his third or fourth fish of the day.  Bill loves catfishing and is one of my favorite people to fish with on the lower James.  In the spring of 2010, he landed his personal best ... 73 pounder!

Left: This image is a shining example of how well composed the day was.  A nice 16 pound fish proudly being diplayed after a wonderful fight.  Chris Dunnavant, once again, did a masterful job at arranging the day's fishing.  Thanks Chris from all participants!

Right:  Here is the morning instruction with a full class and most of the instructors int he background.  Barbara (lady in the middle under the tent) is a main cog in the way this event rolls.  She is the overseer of all land based actions in this event.  Thank you Barbara for once again holding down the fort while all had a great time in the James River. 

Catfish Programs Yield Big Fish

Submitted by Capt. Mike on Sun, 07/25/2010 - 11:05

Over the last week I had the honor to work with kids from Cat's Cap (a summer program run through St. Catherine's School) and adults through the FlatOut Catfish program offered through DGIF.  Here are a couple of images from the two days of flathead fishing on the James River.

DGIF FlatOut Catfish program images.  Thirteen attendees, myself, Chris Dunnavant (DGIF Angling Ed Coordinator) and about a half dozen DGIF volunteers met at Pony Pasture for a day of instruction and fishing the river for flathead catfish. About 25 fish were landed with the biggest fish of the day being 27 pounds.  All photos on this page were taken by Capt. Mike.

Top Left:  Billy get hit in the face with the tail splash of a flathead cat.  After laughing it off, Billy grabbed that fish in the mouth and landed it for one of the attendees.

Top Right:  Michael, one of the volunteer instructors for the DGIF event, watches as a big catfish swims away after a perfect catch & release.

Right:  A happy FlatOut attendee with a nice flathead catfish.

Left:  Another happy wader from the FlatOut Catfish program sponsored by the DGIF.

Left, below:  Carol is all smiles holding her best fish of the day.  Not exactly sure of the size, but I'm guessing it was close to 20 pounds.  Nice fish Carol!!  Hope to see you out there on August 10, for Round II of FlatOut Catfishing on the James. 









Cat's Cap Summer Program images.  We me met at the Meadow and six at a time, myself and two Cat's Cap instructors worked with the kids attending St. Catherine's long standing summer camp called Cat's Cap.  All the kids had a great time and while not everyone caught one, atleast everyone was able to see, hold and marvel at these wonderful fish.  A number of them even kissed their fish before releasing them back into the river.  Here are a couple of images from the day.

Left:  Smiling girls.  These two were a part of a group of six girls that caught a heck of alot of big flatheads, including three that weighed 20 pounds or bigger.

Right:  A young man practices the art of "Thinking Fish".  This is his rendition of 'Thinking Fish', but in actuality, "Think Fish" means to picture yourself underwater, near your lure or bait and imagining all the activity around it.  The goal is to visualize as much as you can about the underwater surroundings, and when the fish hits your lure or bait, you'll be ready.

 Below, left:  Another happy camper.  This youngster caught her first fish, which happens to weigh 25 pounds.  As she reeled in the great fish with such ease, it was a total surprise to me that this was her first fish ever.  Good stuff.