Here’s a look at many of this year’s top waters for Virginia largemouth bass — where they are and how to catch them.
Wherever anglers live in Virginia, they’re not far from some very good largemouth bass fishing. Here’s our annual assessment of some of the top fisheries in each region of the state.
The Chickahominy River is a great largemouth fishery with plenty of 3-pound fish in the river. VDGIF biologist Fritz Hoogakker notes that biologists are seeing an increase in the overall numbers of largemouth bass and the overall size structure seems to be improving. The stocking of F1 Tiger bass (a largemouth strain) appears to be helping the fishery.
During the spring anglers find the lower creeks such as Morris and Gordon, as well as Diascund Creek, to be productive. Don’t overlook the tidal twists and turns in tributaries just below Walker’s Dam, either.
Hoogakker notes that a 12-pound, 2-ounce largemouth was shocked up in that region of the river last year and some 10-pound fish have been sampled in the river too. The entire river is characterized by tidal grasses, Cyprus trees and lily pads. Topwater lures are great, but flukes and other weedless lures work very well too.
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Western Branch (1,579 acres) is the second-ranked largemouth water in the region, with a sampling rate of 46 bass over 15 inches per one hour. Chad Boyce, the fisheries biologist in charge of this impoundment, comments that the reservoir is undeveloped and has a wooded shoreline with some long coves that warm up earlier than some of the rest of the water. However, he also noted that they have found fish spawning in the main lake stem too. So, the entire reservoir is good for bass fishing.
Using a fish finder to locate structure is key to finding fish as there is not a whole lot of obvious structure around the shoreline. To place in tournaments, anglers have had to average four 5-pound bass plus an anchor fish of 7 to 9 pounds.
Another great destination is Lake Prince (777 acres) which ranked 3rd in the region with 36 fish over 15 inches per hour of sampling. Lake Prince does take some additional knowledge to fish because the fish move around due to water from Gaston being pumped into the upper end at times. When the water inflow begins, some of the bass nearer that end of the lake either seek summer-time refuge in the cooler water or they take up station in the Cyprus swamp near cover and ambush prey that is moved by the water.
Southern Piedmont Region
This region likely has the highest number of well-known bass lakes in the state.
Buggs Island, for example, at nearly 49,000 acres, is massive and offers anglers all sorts of scenarios to fish on a given day. Historically Buggs has been a great bass lake and it still is a good lake for largemouth. However, biologists are starting to see a trend where the numbers of really large bass are down somewhat.
It is said that anglers can find 18-inch fish all day long but catching a 20-inch fish takes more work. Some study is going on to figure out what is happening. Meanwhile, fish the creek arms in shallow water, particularly in the early spring, for spawning fish. Plastics rigged with jigs are great baits to use.
Briery Creek Lake (845 acres) is ranked second in the region for largemouth bass with 51 bass over 15 inches sampled per hour. However, the large fish in the 10- to 12-pound range that were regularly caught 10 to 15 years ago are just not common anymore.
However, biologists have begun stocking forage bluegill to boost the prey base for the largemouth and a return on that investment is becoming evident. Dan Goetz, VDGIF fisheries biologist, notes that catch rates of fish upwards of 16 inches is increasing now. Briery is a great place to catch numbers of bass. Use jigs and plastics and fish in early to mid-March for the bigger fish in shallow water.
Sandy River Reservoir (740 acres) is the impoundment to fish for a trophy. Some 10- to 12-pound fish are still being caught here, although biologists are thinking the reservoir may be peaking in its catch rates and size. There are plenty of downed trees and beaver lodges. Don’t overlook the rocky structure off points for some good bass action.
Smith Mountain Lake is much like Buggs Island in that anglers who know the lake are able to catch some nice fish in the 2- to 3-pound range, but much larger fish are tough to catch. The lower end of the lake is less fertile, but possibly better in the early spring as the fish might be easier to locate in the shallows. The water is clearer downlake and boat traffic can be less intrusive due to the shallow coves. There are lots of docks to focus on.
However, once summer arrives the fish move to deeper water and are not commonly found in the shallows. The uplake river arm reportedly has higher densities of largemouth but is harder to fish due to the vertical nature of the bottom and stained water conditions.
Southern Mountain Region
Lovill’s Creek Lake (55 acres) in Carroll County near the North Carolina line, was constructed in 1990 and VDGIF agreed to manage the fisheries for the county.
Lovill’s Creek Lake has provided some good largemouth angling, with plenty of fish over 12 inches long and a number of them over 15 inches long. There is a slot limit here: 12- to 15-inch fish must be returned to the water immediately. The water is typically a bit turbid due to soils with cattle pasture and some standing and downed timber on it. It is also a flood control lake. The upper end of the lake is shallow with all of it less than 15-feet deep; the lower end may reach 30 feet in depth.
Yellow perch were illegally introduced and anglers are heartily encouraged to harvest all the yellow perch they catch as these fish compete with bass and bluegill for forage.
There is a boat ramp and courtesy pier. To get to Lovill’s Creek Lake, take Rt 683 south of Cana. The lake is open year around. Gas motors are prohibited.
Another largemouth destination that is worth a trip in the region is Gatewood Reservoir. The 162-acre water-supply reservoir for Pulaski is forested all the way around with some deadfalls available for cover. The water is extremely clear, requiring longer casts and stealth from anglers. The entire lake produces good fishing.
According to John Copeland, VDGIF fisheries biologist, sampling of largemouth at Gatewood is consistently good. Many of the fish are over 12 inches and like Lovill’s Creek Lake, there are good numbers of fish over 15 inches. Bass must be 12 inches to creel and five fish are permitted per day. Electric motors are permitted and boats may be hand launched from the bank. Boats may only be used from the first weekend in April until the last weekend in November. Anglers may also rent boats during that time. Fishing is allowed 24/7/365 from the bank.
Gatewood Lake can be found by leaving Pulaski on West Main Street and turning right Magazine Street taking a left then on Mount Olivet Road which takes you to the lake. There are picnic facilities, a campground, trails and wilderness camping with the National Forest nearby. A park store is well stocked. More info is available at http://www.pulaskigatewood.com.
In this region, one of the most popular places to fish for bass is Lake Frederick (117 acres), which produced a sampling rate of 39 bass over 15 inches per hour. The lake is very clear and requires some finesse fishing to catch bass. Jerry and Jared Mounts of Jakes Bait and Tackle (540-723-4621) in Winchester say that plastics, Yum Craws, drop shot rigs and Spybaits have been coming on at Frederick.
There are numbers of fish up to 12 inches, but there are some bass up to 10 pounds being caught too. Fish deep and slow to enjoy success. The upper end of the lake has two arms with standing timber. The biggest tip Jared shared was to fish off the shore in 20 feet of water.
Many people try to fish the shallows but unless it is prime time for spawning, the fish are much deeper.
Jerry and Jared both say that Gregory’s Lakeside Bait and Tackle on the lake has the basic items for fishing and live reports on their Facebook page. Hit Jakes Bait and Tackle for a larger selection of the lures you need to catch a good stringer of bass.
Meanwhile, Jason Hallacher of VDGIF says that the underwater habitats they installed will be getting some additions in the next year or two. He dove on the existing ones and saw many schools of bass using them. Most of the fish are 10 to 12 inches but there are larger fish lurking nearby.
The Occoquan Reservoir (2,100 acres in Fairfax) in this region is ranked No. 1 for largemouth, with 60 bass over 15 inches caught in an hour of sampling. VDGIF’s John Odenkirk says that the impoundment has both alewives and gizzard shad, which the bass feed upon heavily.
The large amount of forage has turned this impoundment into a very healthy bass fishery supporting decent numbers of 6- to 7-pound fish and solid numbers of 3- to 5-pound fish. During April and May, anglers will find success fishing the edge of water willow with spinnerbaits and plastics. Don’t overlook the abundant woody structure, though. The cove across from the ramp is a great place to start fishing and an angler could literally spend most of a morning or afternoon there probing structure and catching quality fish.
Another great bass fishery in this region is Germantown Lake (109 acres), which has sampled at a rate of 50 bass over 15 inches an hour. This lake could be considered a sleeper, with lots of big fish sampled in Odenkirk’s last survey. The lower end of the lake and the coves on the right side heading towards the dam are particularly good. Target the mouths of the coves. Use a fish finder and look for sunken trees and brush recently added to the lake. Don’t miss the area along the shoreline directly across from the ramp.
At Lake Anna last year at this time the sampling by biologists was not consistent with previous years. Perhaps it was the weather or water conditions, but this year Odenkirk reports that their most recent sampling have shown things to be where they were expected, with solid numbers of 3- to 4-pound fish and some larger bass available.
The ever-popular spring pattern of fishing the willow grass edges around the Splits or any of the coves in that area with spinnerbaits, jerkbaits or creature baits is productive. Later, as the temperature climbs and fish complete spawning, fish deeper on points and structure.
Last, the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg down to Port Royal is again showing some promising sampling numbers. Biologists reported last fall near record sampling catch rates of 53 largemouth per hour (bass of all sizes, not just 15 inches and larger). Many of these fish were 6 to 15 inches.
However, this bodes well for anglers two years from now when this class of fish makes it to the 3- to 5-pound mark. The young-of-year bass go through a gauntlet of sorts and are very susceptible to being prey. Once they hit 8 to 10 inches, they have a good chance of growing larger.
The waters we highlighted are obviously well ranked and great destinations. For largemouth anglers who want to enjoy great success these waters just might hold the key to a great fishing season.