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Ann Graziano is the president of the Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends, an independent nonprofit group of individuals dedicated to supporting the National Wildlife Refuge System and promoting awareness of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge through education and support. Ann has lived along the Rappahannock River on and off for almost 40 years with her husband Frank. They worked as seafood wholesalers out of Carter’s Creek for many years and lived next door to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge since the refuge was established in 1996.
We love the Rappahannock and the Bay. We are out on the Bay a lot. We do a lot of fishing. We have great memories of fishing at the mouth of the Rappahannock and into the bay. We hit the bay the year the cobia came in about three years ago. That was amazing. We got into cobia fishing pretty heavy off of Windmill Point, a place called “The Bar.” That was when nobody knew the cobia were there, so there weren’t many boats and we had the place to ourselves. Now there are many charter boats that fish out there and we decided to go somewhere else, but there is still great fishing there.
We moved back to fishing in the river, which can be just as good. Last year was one of the best years we’ve ever had. We started going out of Belle Isle jigging for rockfish and speckled trout and they weren’t the biggest fish, but we caught a combined total of over 100 fish. We used long metal jigs with a treble hook on the end. They are really heavy and you drop them down to the bottom and you start jigging up. Once they fall back down the fish hit. It is a lot of fun! We have also caught some of the biggest perch I’ve ever seen in among the rockfish and trout. If we kept them on trips we would have a cooler full of fish. It was amazing. I didn’t realize you could catch perch doing that kind of jigging.
We also like to kayak and canoe in the ponds at the Refuge.
The Hutchinson Tract off of Route 17 before you get into Tappahannock. It has got a two-mile trail with a beautiful bridge. It has got a wildflower garden that one of our volunteer put in when we first started and she maintains it every year. It’s called a pollination garden now. There are butterflies all over the place.
There is a canoe and kayak launch on Mount Landing Creek and a fishing pier. It is a really great place to start doing any kind of outdoor activities people might like, whether it is water related or walking and hiking. There are brochures you can take with you when you go kayaking or canoeing and will get you along the creek and tell you what you will see. Mount Landing Creek is cool because it is part of the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail. John Smith was over at Fones Cliffs, which is on the other side of the river, when the Rappahannock Indians fired arrows at his shallop. He then came to Mount Landing Creek for refuge. There is some cool history here.
Also the Wilna Trail out in Warsaw is harder to get to as far as directions, but it’s one of the nicest ones. It is not as well traveled. Hutchinson gets a lot of people. There is usually someone walking the trail. This one has a one-mile trail that goes around a beautiful pond. It’s got an observation desk, a canoe and kayak launch, and a nice fishing pier. There is very good freshwater fishing, so that is largemouth bass, crappie, and brim—things like that.
The Friends group has is working to start a Port Royal Water Trail. A group of organizations recently opened a new fishing pier and soft launch at Port Royal. We developed a water trail that you can take from that launch up the river North for about a mile—it’s called the Novice Trail—to our Styer/Bishop Unit, which is not open to the public, but you can get off rest there. When you head back down you can either call it a day or continue downstream to a number of trails where you can pull in to from the River and get out and hike.
I was raised in Salisbury, Maryland, so for many years when I was a kid we would go on the Wicomico River and go down by Wallops Island and Smith Island. My father worked for Chris-Craft Boats, so we always had a test boat we could use and got to see a lot of that side of the bay.
We would also fish the Magothy River in bluefish tournaments, though fishing there sometimes looks like you could walk across the river on all the boats.
When it comes to other sections of the Chesapeake, my husband and I will charter boats on places like the Potomac to get a feel for the area. It gives you a good feel for the area and supports local businesses.
The one thing that I have always wanted to do but just haven’t gotten around to doing is to go down to the Cell and catch some of those big flounder. It’s a fishing spot they call the Cell. It’s south of Deltaville, Virginia, in the Chesapeake Bay on the other side of the shipping channel. Whenever you read the magazines about this place people are always holding up huge flounder. I think if you go out of Deltaville it is probably a good hour’s boat ride to get where you need to get. But the flounder look gorgeous there.
Established in 1996 to conserve fish and wildlife habitat along this vital tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the refuge focuses primarily on protecting and managing tidal and inland wetlands, and adjacent uplands, to benefit wildlife.