Bassin' At Sandy River

Bassin' At Sandy River

Obscured by the fame of Briery Creek, Sandy River Reservoir has standing timber, cover and some nice bass. Here are some expert tips for fishing this Spring hotspot. (April 2006)

Always a bridesmaid and never a bride: That's the story of Sandy River Reservoir, located slightly southeast of Farmville. Sandy River constantly plays second fiddle to well-known Briery Creek Lake. Whereas Briery Creek has national notoriety, folks outside Virginia haven't heard of 740-acre Sandy River Reservoir; in fact, many residents of the Commonwealth are unaware of this exceptional fishery.

Sandy River opened to the public in 1996. Small creeks and rivers of the southern Piedmont including Sandy River, Little Sandy Creek and Marrowbone Creek feed Sandy River Reservoir.

Dan Michaelson, a fisheries biologist with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) in the Farmville field office, has exceptional things to say about this underrated fishery.

"Sandy is under my care and has become one of our favorites (lakes)," he said. "The reservoir belongs to Prince Edward County and we manage the fishery and enforcement through a cooperative agreement with the county."

After you read the lowdown on Sandy, you'll wonder how could it be possible that this jewel of a reservoir sneaks underneath the radar screen of freshwater anglers Nestled in a tranquil setting, Sandy River beckons anglers to come cast their lines in its clean, fertile waters.

"We've spent a lot of time at Sandy River Reservoir the last two years and it's becoming one of the best bass lakes in Southside for numbers and size of fish," Michaelson added. "The bass and channel catfish fisheries are excellent for this part of the state."

SANDY'S CENSUS

"Largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegills, redear sunfish, black crappie, chain pickerel and a few walleyes make up the assortment of fish species," he said.

Michaelson said growth of largemouth bass is good, with bass reaching 12 inches by age 3, and 15 inches by age 5. He added that bass have been topping out at about 22 inches, or 7 to 8 pounds. Anglers, of course, can catch larger individuals from time to time, but these are the normal upper limits found by biologists.

"Anecdotally, fishermen report catching 30 to 40 bass on many days," Michaelson said. "The largemouth bass abundance is incredible. During 2003, VDGIF sampled intensively and catch rates were 180.7 fish per hour of electrofishing. About 100 fish per hour is average across the state."

Interestingly, Michaelson and his colleagues didn't find an unproductive area when they sampled Sandy. The keen eye of an astute angler can aid in eliminating unproductive water simply by understanding fish habitat and environment. A lack of cover, structure or contour doesn't always mean fishless areas, but spots that harbor structure are usually more productive.

"All areas of this lake are good for bass fishing," the biologist said. "Standing timber in the upper Marrowbone Creek arm and the upper Sandy River arm hold big fish. Quantity can be found on any structure in the lake."

WHAT'S FOR SUPPER?

There are plenty of snacks for Sandy's bass to consume. Gizzard shad are widely available, ranging in size from 8 to 11 inches, although many 3- to 5-inch shad were schooled up this past fall in the upper lake, according to the Farmville biologist. Fat largemouths also have the dining options of sunfish and small crappie. Michaelson said golden shiners are common as well.

"Predators rely heavily on sunfish, since gizzard shad grow so fast and the bigger shad can't be used by any predator, except for large bass (because of the enormous size of the gape of a big bass' mouth)," he said. "Gizzard shad are abundant for the size of this reservoir."

He said largemouth recruitment in this lake is tremendous. Fall samples and age and growth surveys indicate one strong year-class after another entering the Sandy fishery. The outlook for this reservoir is excellent.

"VDGIF changed the size limit for largemouth bass from a 14-inch minimum to a 14- to 20-inch limit (the creel limit for bass is five fish with only two of the five over 20 inches) to let more 'trophy' bass grow and survive to reach the citation size range," Michaelson said. "The bass population is very dense and thus we allow harvesting of smaller fish."

A PRO'S POINTERS

John Crews, a Jetersville native and pro bass angler, is very familiar with Sandy River. Although the 27-year-old Yamaha pro relocated to Salem, he still fine-tunes his techniques at the Southside honeyhole.

"In late March at Sandy, I mainly look for fish to move shallow -- if they aren't already up shallow -- especially on sunny or warm days," the young pro said. "If that's the case, white spinnerbaits are an excellent choice when fished around shoreline cover in the middle to backs of main-lake or creek pockets. That's a great pre-spawn tactic at Sandy."

This Ranger pro likes to chunk jerkbaits at points and in the first portion of a pocket, and then pick up the spinnerbait for the remainder of the pocket. He likes to use both lures in this scenario, but only if a little wind is present.

"A flat, slick surface is better suited to throwing a light (1/4- or 3/8-ounce) Carolina-rigged lizard on main-lake and secondary points," he added. "As long as there isn't an extreme cold front in early April, a Gambler Ace or floating worm can be really good when fish are looking to spawn. Floating worms can be effective from early April through mid-May."

Crews advised that on sunny days, a more natural color (watermelon, green pumpkin and black) is more effective for floating worms, but on cloudy days, he opts for a white or yellow floater. As for the Gambler Ace, he always sticks with natural colors because he works it much slower and fish have more time to inspect the bait.

"I fish the Ace with a wide-gap, 'Tex-posed' hook and regular offset shank worm hook for the floater," he explained. "I throw the floating worm on a spinning rod with 10-pound-test line. I like to use 15-pound Triple Fish fluorocarbon line on a baitcaster for the Ace. The fluorocarbon helps because I can detect the subtlest of bites because of the sensitivity of the line."

Crews said if the water temperature is 60, expect good fishing. Once it reaches 65, bass will hammer the bank and drop eggs. He cautions anglers to use a "base" temperature as a guide more than the back of a pocket getting beat on by the sun.

Bass anglers in the know usual

ly target the full moon in late April or early May for the major spawn, and doing so at Sandy River is no exception.

"For a trophy hunter, this can be a great time to spot them," he said. "I've caught some big fish on beds in the middle of April, but it depends on the moon and water temperature."

The water clarity is decent at Sandy River, although in the two river arms there can be a stain. The lower half of the lake has good clarity.

In late March, Crews targets the 2- to 10-foot depth range. The closer to the spawn, obviously, the shallower the majority of the largemouths will be. From mid-April to mid-May, there are going to be a bunch of shallow fish. Anglers can still catch good fish from the banks on offshore structure, but this time of year is when the biggest fish move shallow.

"I've caught bass all over this lake," Crews said. "The two areas where standing timber is still present are very good in the spring. The only problem with these two spots is that they get more pressure than other areas."

"This reservoir is just reaching its full potential now," Michaelson said.

Come check out what the charming Farmville area has to offer in its varied angling opportunities, and its "other" lake.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

To reach Sandy River Reservoir from Route 460, take SR 640 South and turn left onto the reservoir access road. For fisheries questions regarding Sandy River, contact the VDGIF district office in Farmville at (434) 392-9645 or visit www.dgif.virginia.gov. A lake brochure and contour map are available from Prince Edward County at (434) 392-8837 or through the VDGIF district office in Farmville at (434) 392-9645.

Sandy River is open 24 hours per day, year 'round. A 10-horsepower maximum limitation is in effect for outboard motors. For anglers who don't have an outboard, it can drain a trolling-motor battery in a day's outing, so it's best to bring a spare.

Sandy River has a nice, two-lane concrete boat ramp and courtesy pier, with plenty of parking. It is also equipped with a handicapped-accessible fishing pier stretching 150 feet (with fish attractors alongside the pier to enhance the fisheries habitat) and restrooms. To learn more about the career of John Crews, visit www.johncrews.com.

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