When it comes to bass fishing in the Old Dominion there are many standout waters. Each year we feature these regular standouts but we also try to add in a few other gems that are worth a day on the water.
One change that has occurred over the past year and is still evolving is the transition at the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) management from five geographic regions of responsibility to four regions of responsibility. Typically we covered two waters from each of the five regions for a total of at least ten waters. Our goal is still to cover at least ten waters from all around the state. Also, we plan to include more “out of the way places” or lesser known places that offer quality bass fishing.
The Tidewater Region has a number of waters that are productive for bass fishing. One of the best is Western Branch Reservoir. This impoundment has over 1,200 surface acres. It is one of the water supply lakes for Norfolk, but is located in Suffolk County.
Chad Boyce, VDGIF fisheries biologist responsible for managing the lakes in the region, stated that of the five water supply lakes he would choose Western Branch for his bass fishing foray. Western Branch is at the bottom end of the chain of impoundments used to provide drinking water, making it more likely to have consistent water levels.
“Water levels that are consistent are key to being able to find fish,” he explained.
Boyce went on to report that the largemouth bass fishery at Western Branch is in great shape. There is plenty of herring and shad forage for bass and stripers, and habitat for spawning is very good too. Boyce mentioned that during recent sampling they collected strong numbers of 4-pound bass, and some fish that weighed more than that. Each year biologists sampling the lake collect bass that are citation-class by both weight and length.
Bass here exhibit spawning behavior as early as mid-March and those behaviors continue through the full moon in April, when the peak usually occurs. Finding bass making beds in March is common.
Boyce noted that their sampling has shown bass to be tight to the shoreline much of the time and near woody structure (and there is a good deal of wood cover at this lake). Focusing on this habitat and also looking for forage in the same area will serve bass anglers well. Shad-colored baits are a given but using plastics around the woody structure is also productive.
Because of its proximity to Virginia Beach, Norfolk and the general metro area, the impoundment can be busy on the weekends. The bass fishing is typically best on weekdays. Anglers should remember that they will need a boat permit to launch and fish at Western Branch.
According to VDGIF, the permits can be purchased at Lake Whitehurst fishing station on Shore Drive in Norfolk or at the Granby Municipal Building on Grandby Street in Norfolk. Permits by the day or year are good on all five water supply lakes. Private retailers also sell the permits. These include Dashiel’s Half-Round Showroom in Suffolk and Ocean’s East in Virginia Beach.
The impoundment has several access points. Boyce recommended the VDGIF ramp on Girl Scout Road. The reservoir is open year around, but only allows electric motors or gas motors not exceeding 9.9 horsepower.
Scott Herrmann handles the northern part of the region and he thought that Waller Mill Reservoir would be a good fit for this article. The 360-acre reservoir is owned by Williamsburg as its water supply impoundment. Herrmann and I discussed what makes Waller Mill a good bass fishing destination for the year.
“Waller Mill has good numbers of bass in the 2- to 4-pound range and even some 5- to 6-pound fish. When we recently surveyed the reservoir we had a preferred catch rate of 37 largemouth bass per hour. That figure was quite good!”
While anglers are not necessarily going to catch high numbers of fish at Waller Mill, they will catch fish that are healthy and chunky. The reservoir has been one of the most consistent producers of largemouth bass in the region for years.
Anglers who have never fished Waller Mill should understand that the impoundment’s bed is steep in many places but does have some points where more gradual drop offs occur. Fishing tight to the bank under overhanging trees with shad-colored crankbaits is by far the most effective technique. Suspending cranks such as RatLTraps will help anglers keep baits in the strike zone longer. However, any crank that is fished with a close eye on the fish finder to determine precisely where the fish are holding will work well. There are plenty of coves to fish too.
Herrmann reports that bass fishing pressure is relatively low on the lake so this may be just the place for bassaholics to cast and flip their favorite baits.