Your Guide To Virginia'™s Best Bream Fishing

Fishing for bream gets hot this month as panfish head for the shallows to spawn. We have the latest data on where the fishing is best. (May 2007)

Photo by Tom Evans

Bream anglers make up a quiet but large segment of Virginia's anglers. Not surprisingly, many of those who pursue bream are not just kids with cane poles. Adults seem to be easily hooked on enticing a cove full of scrappy redears or bluegills, too. Bream fishing can be as simple or as serious as you want it to be. Regardless of your approach, the opportunities for good bream fishing in Virginia are numerous.

TIDEWATER REGION

As a resident of the Tidewater, I get plenty of use out of my small duck boat and canoe, exploring the impoundments and tricky backwaters of tidal tributaries. One of my favorite fish to pursue is the bream. Just to be sure I was not being biased in my writing about the bream fishing in the region, I posed the following question to VDGIF fisheries biologist Scott Herrmann.

"If you had to choose two impoundments to go bream fishing in, what would they be?"

His answer was Gardy's Mill and Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir.

I have fished Gardy's quite a bit and know that the fishing is quite good in this small, out-of-the-way impoundment. While it is relatively shallow, it offers the gamut of opportunities for a variety of species. It has been my experience that when all other fish are slow to hit, the redears and bluegills at Gardy's seem to be a consistent bite I can count on.

Herrmann said that the pond was drawn down during the fall of 2005 for repairs to the dam, but the bluegill and redear populations did fine over the five months of low water.

His first electrofishing of 2006 at the pond was on April 18 when he collected 182 bluegills, which equates to a catch rate of 156 bluegills an hour. Most exceeded 5 inches in length and fish up to 8 inches were not uncommon. Keep in mind that mid-April is not exactly the time you will find a number of bream close to the bank and readily accessible for sampling. The sampling turned up 64 redear sunfish, which totals out to 55 redears an hour. Most of these fish measured in the 5- to 9-inch range. Some were nearly 10 inches in length.

During two later trips to the pond on April 28 and May 4, when the biologist was surveying largemouth bass, he found the bream tight to the bank. The fish were guarding nests.

Herrmann suggests using live bait. Night crawlers and red wigglers are local favorites but crickets and hoppers should definitely be considered. Small spinnerbaits and grubs are also hot for redears and larger bluegills.

It is the opinion of Herrmann that the best spawning habitat at Gardy's is the northern arm of the water. I would have to concur, which is why my boat always can be found in this section of the pond. Try fishing around structure in coves or near the beds. Later in May, once the spawn is finished, the fish have a tendency to bite best in the early morning, late afternoon and evening or on overcast days. Small poppers, spinnerbaits and small floating worms will trigger startling hits near lily pads and other vegetation.

Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir is Herrmann's second choice for bream angling. Most fishermen know Beaverdam Swamp for its good crappie angling and consistent bass-fishing opportunities. These two predators keep the bream population in check -- but that can be good for a bream fishery, because a check on the bream population allows the remaining fish to grow to reasonable size.

A trap net survey last April revealed that redear numbers were in good shape. Herrmann netted 406 redear sunfish over two nights of netting fish with a trap net. This was done while targeting black crappie. Most of the redears were caught on the western shoreline near shallow mitigation areas under construction. Herrmann reported that the fish were preparing for spawning in the shallows when they were caught. Most of the redears were in the 6.5- to 8.5-inch range and in great shape. One of the fish was a whopping 13 inches in length, making it a citation redear.

Redears are definitely the trophy fish of the bream family and they have different needs than their cousins.

"I would recommend that anglers try to find shallow areas with a decent amount of sand or hard-packed clay. Redear sunfish will try to find spawning areas that are not completely choked with silt or detritus."

Herrmann also advised anglers to look for bream to become most active near the end of April and into May in his district. Of course, this depends on the weather. Keep in mind that shallow areas warm up more quickly than deeper areas.

SOUTHERN PIEDMONT REGION

The Southern Piedmont is home to large impoundments, notably Buggs Island, Kerr and Smith Mountain Lake. Largemouth bass, crappie and even striped bass garner much of the attention in the region. However, bream fishing at some of the smaller impoundments is pretty darn good.

At the western end of the region, Dan Wilson keeps an eye on the waters. Wilson looked over his data and recalled that the Amherst County lakes are the best destinations for bream fishing. The three lakes, Mill Creek (189 acres), Stonehouse (41 acres) and Thrasher (36 acres), are all relatively small as compared with the big three mentioned previously. However, these small, out-of-the-way places offer the best bream angling in the district.

All three have a healthy population of bluegills measuring up to 9 inches. Thrasher is the best, followed by Mill Creek and then Stonehouse. Thrasher is also the best lake for redear fishing. Wilson noted that the best fishing occurs in late May when the fish finally get around to spawning. The water temperatures have to be in the 70s to get the fish actively dusting out nests. Nests and beds are found very close to shore and are most easily seen with a pair of polarized glasses.

At the other end of the region, Vic DiCenzo was the expert we called for the scoop on bream fishing. DiCenzo fingered Sandy River Reservoir and Lake Brunswick as the top bream waters in his district.

When asked why the two lakes made the cut for this article, he summed it up as three good reasons that combined to create an ideal bream fishery.

"Both impoundments are fertile, have a good amount of aquatic vegetation and a strong largemouth bass population to keep their numbers in check. This makes good bream country," our expert said.

During the month of May, anglers will find the bream on

beds, constructing nests and guarding their nests, making this the best time to fish for them. Crickets and grasshoppers, hellgrammites and red wigglers are excellent choices for bait. Use as little weight as needed and cast from a distance to avoid spooking fish. A plain hook with light line will bring in the most strikes. Fly-rodding poppers or ant imitations are also producers.

Anglers can expect to encounter bluegills in the 7- to 8-inch range on a regular basis. Shellcrackers (redear) average out between 9 and 10 inches. A good day of fishing at Sandy River Reservoir is 30 to 50 fish. Lake Brunswick is 150 acres and is located six miles east of Lawrenceville; no gas motors are allowed on Brunswick. Anglers fishing this shallow, stump-filled lake can expect 10 to 30 keeper bream per day on average.

The long-term trend at Sandy River is that the bream fishing, amazingly, continues to get better. At Lake Brunswick, the news is also very good. After a lake drawdown four years ago, the population is on the upswing, according to DiCenzo.

Anglers should keep in mind that Sandy River Reservoir is best fished from a boat because of limited shoreline access. However, Lake Brunswick has a new boat ramp and pier. It also has a unique agreement in place that permits anglers to fish the entire shoreline as long as they stay between the lake and the yellow painted boundary markers. All of this property is DGIF owned despite the numerous houses around the lake.

For more information on these lakes, call (434) 392-9645.

SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION

The Southern Mountain Region can be a tough region to fish for panfish, but there is one reservoir in particular that stands out for a good day of fishing. Located near Pulaski, Gatewood Reservoir, a 162-acre water supply impoundment, is a very quiet lake where only electric motors are permitted.

During the last sampling conducted at Gatewood, biologists turned up a solid population of bluegills over 6 inches and weighing more than one-third of a pound. There are smaller numbers of redear sunfish in the lake, but they are a bit larger, weighing two-thirds of a pound. The sunfish and bluegills are most easily caught during the peak of spawning, which occurs during late May and sometimes into June.

Because the lake is very clear, anglers will find that long casts with light line to nesting areas near woody debris is the way to go. Once the spawn is over, the fish move to deeper water. Fishing on overcast days is better because the fish do not spook as easily.

Biologists recently found that yellow perch are now populating the lake. Anglers interested in a mixed bag may find the perch fishing to be quite good, too. Take home some of these tasty fish to eat.

Gatewood Park offers a concession where boats can be rented or you can bring your own if it can be hand launched. There is no ramp. Bank-fishing is permitted year 'round; boat fishing is permitted from April to October.

To get to the lake, head west from Pulaski and turn right on Magazine Street. Take a left on Mount Olivet Road and follow this to Gatewood Park. For more information about the park, call (540) 980-2561. Information on other fishing opportunities is available by calling VDGIF at (540) 248-9360.

NORTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION

The mountainous regions are not great bream destinations, but they certainly have waters that offer local anglers a decent fishing opportunity. After speaking with Steve Reeser, we determined that there were three waters that bear mentioning.

First on the list is Lake Shenandoah at 36 acres in size. Although small, the lake has fair numbers of sunfish in its shallow waters. Many of the sunfish are 8 to 9 inches in length. A small boat or canoe, polarized glasses and a full cricket tube will put bream anglers in the action fast.

Second is Lake Frederick. At 117 acres, the impoundment offers more variety of habitats for anglers to pursue their next meal of panfish. Reeser saw a number of citation fish while sampling the lake. Higher fishing pressure has not hurt the fishing as one would think. The predator/prey balance is good and that bodes well for sunfish in this beautiful lake. There are both redears and bluegills in Lake Frederick. Call the Minnow Bucket at (540) 869-1104 for the latest fishing report. Most bream spawn in mid- to late May.

Finally, the last destination that anglers might consider is Lake Arrowhead. The 39-acre lake near Luray requires a permit to fish it. Call (540) 743-5511 for information on the permit. Arrowhead is a bowl-shaped lake that is steep and has little structure. This makes the small lake very tough to fish. However, Reeser suggested that bream fishermen look for a shelf near the shoreline in 3 to 5 feet of water. The number of bream in the lake is decent. Anglers are advised to do their homework and use a fish finder to find subtle changes in the bottom, shelves and any structure that may be present. Lake Arrowhead is an electric-motor-only lake. No outboards are permitted.

Any questions on fishing in this region should be directed to VDGIF at (540) 248-9360.

NORTHERN PIEDMONT REGION

The Northern Piedmont Region is home to excellent bream destinations. Steve Owens, VDGIF fisheries biologist, had this to say about the top choice: "Lake Curtis in Stafford County is a DGIF-owned impoundment offering exceptional bream fishing (redear sunfish and bluegills). Redears congregate heavily in the shallow flats along the entrance road to the lake when they bed in the spring. This is the best area to start fishing."

The other notable bream water is Germantown Reservoir in Fauquier County. So, what makes these two waters exceptional bream impoundments? According to Owens, both waters are bass crowded, which helps to promote bream growth by removing surplus numbers of bream, freeing up energy within the system for the remaining fish. Basically, intraspecific competition between bream can stunt some populations, but that's not the case at Curtis or Germantown.

The bream at both lakes feed on insects, plankton, other small fish or minnows, and in the case of redears, crustaceans. Anglers will find bream most active during the month of May when they are staging in shallows to spawn. Large shallow flats are prime areas to begin fishing.

A variety of fish in the 6- to 9-inch range will fill out the stringers of anglers dunking red wigglers or crickets on a small hook. Hooks sized 8 to 10 are preferred.

Curtis Lake has a good amount of structure all around the lake with the best water near the park opposite the boat ramp. Call (540) 899-4169 for more information on fishing these lakes.

Finally, we travel farther south in the region to visit with Dean Fowler, who covers the waters just north of Richmond. He points to Lake Gordonsville and Lake Fluvanna-Ruritan as good bream destinations. Anglers need to probe coves while looking for beds to find the fish this month. Spawning should begin in earnest once the water tempera

tures hit the 70-degree mark.

At Lake Gordonsville, bluegills up to 9 inches are present. There are no redears in the lake. However, the numbers of bluegills make up for this fact. Covering the 75 acres is easy in a day of fishing. Sampling shows that bluegills exceeding 8 inches are not uncommon in this lake. The upper end of the lake is very shallow and the entire shoreline has a healthy population of vegetation present, which offers bream excellent habitat. Dipping red wigglers or crickets in the pockets can be very effective.

At Lake Fluvanna-Ruritan, the 50 acres of water are fertilized each year. This DGIF-owned lake has a strong bluegill population. There are some redears in the lake, but their numbers appear to be limited. Concentrate efforts near vegetation to take a few of these larger specimens home. The upper end of the lake has stumps that attract bluegills. More information on these two lakes is available by calling (804) 367-6796

The prospects for full stringers and empty bait cans looks very bright across Virginia this year. Our hope is that you take advantage of it and have a boatload of fun!

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