Want to find some great Virginia bass waters to start your fishing season?
All the bass patterning and attention to fishing technique in the world will only help you catch as many bass as there are available in the place you are fishing. The better the water, the better the bass fishing. To focus your efforts this spring, try the following top-flight bass fisheries.
RURAL RETREAT LAKE
Rural Retreat Lake is in the southwest corner of the state and a part of Wythe County Parks and Recreation. Fisheries biologist John Copeland makes several points about Rural Retreat’s bass fishing. This 90-acre jewel is unique in several ways. First, the small watershed is in an agricultural area, which the water very productive. However, rain has a significant influence on this watershed, particularly in the springtime when periods of heavy rain can create muddy conditions. Anglers would do very well to call ahead to the lake and inquire about the water conditions, particularly if they are coming from a distance to fish.
Second, there are hybrid striped bass that were stocked four years ago to help manage populations of other fish. The hybrids offer an exciting fishery to anglers. Copeland says that these feisty fish are now reaching the low 20-inch range, which puts them over the minimum 18-inch harvest size. Anglers may creel two per day.
Both the bass and the hybrid striped bass feed on the alewives that are also in the lake. Alewives provide great forage for these species and allow the bass to grow faster — one reason that Rural Retreat is ranked number one in the region for largemouth fishing. Fisheries biologists rank lakes by sampling data. The number of fish that are over 8 inches and also over 15 inches is the RSD-P (preferred size). Rural Retreat had 45 such fish sampled. The CPUE-P is the number of bass sampled that exceeded 15 inches in one hour of time. Rural Retreat gave up 37 of these fish in the 2016 sampling run. Those are strong numbers.
Copeland explained that the bass fishery there is nearly balanced and in great shape. One factor that contributes to Rural Retreat’s quality as a largemouth impoundment is the fact that fisheries managers and biologists have successfully implemented a protective size limit of 1 fish over 18 inches per day from Rural Retreat.
This size limit has allowed the fishery, despite the impoundment being small in size, to thrive even after seasons of poor recruitment. The protective regulation has been in place for a number of years ensuring that there is always a good stock of bass to help the population rebound during tough times.
So, where do bass anglers start searching in April? April in this region of the state is still very much a prespawn period, particularly the early part the month, due to the higher elevation. Bass anglers are more likely to find the fish staging or holding offshore in the mid- to down-lake areas. Copeland observed anglers in the past doing well along the left bank headed down towards the dam but slightly offshore in deeper water.
There is emerging vegetation that the fish will relate to during warm weather. If you find yourself on the water after a string of warm days, you might want to try baits that mimic crappie colors near that vegetation, as the crappie spawn will be in full swing. This tactic would be especially productive if the lake has flooded a bit from spring rains. Otherwise cast shad colored cranks in slightly deeper. Some anglers prefer to use live minnows to entice their bass. Be sure to fish the coves on the left side as you work your way along.
Rural Retreat Lake Info/Reservations: (276) 223 – 4519 (October-April) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
From I-81 or Route 11, take Route 749 through Rural Retreat, go right on Route 677, then left on Route 778
Back Bay was once a bass angler’s paradise. It may be coming back as a top largemouth fishery. This large coastal impoundment has gotten some intensive management for the past decade or more to restore the fishery.
Biologist Chad Boyce’s theory is that the downturn of the fishery years ago was possibly due in part to a drought that reduced input of sediment, runoff and resources to the watershed. However, around 2005 he and his fellow biologists noticed the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), which provides key bass habitat and serves as a sediment filter and water cleaner, began to make a comeback.
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After careful observation for a few years, biologists decided to undertake an experimental stocking of bass. The initial results looked promising, so during 2012, 2013, and 2014, they stocked 125,000 bass each year.
Boyce was careful to stock only what the SAV could support. The bay only had between 30- to 40-percent coverage at that point. Since then the fishery has been on a steady mend. Anglers will find chunky 12- to 15-inch fish with the possibility of encountering 3- to 4-pound fish. Larger fish are certainly possible too. In fact, in the sampling this past fall, Boyce found relatively strong numbers of big fish.
When fishing Back Bay in April there are several things to consider. First is the weather. Because this is a coastal impoundment, the weather is impacted by the ocean and wind. Consult sites such as fishweather.com to get wind predictions. The fish are spawning and water temperatures are where they need to be, but winds can be less than desirable for anglers.
In April, anglers should focus on the northern or southern ends of the bay. There is more habitat there. Fish the cattail edges, grass island lee sides, and any other structure, such as duck blinds, to find fish. White and chartreuse colors are commonly used with success. Plastics and jigs are great “go to” baits. Boyce recommended anglers use the VDGIF ramp at Mill Landing, which is near Nanny’s Creek. Anglers can fish the creek should the winds make things uncomfortable on the main bay.
Lake Connor in Halifax County is way out in the sticks — but very much worth the drive. Anglers need to plan their trip with supplies and fuel stops in mind as there are not many convenience stores nearby. This 110-acre impoundment was ranked third recently behind only Burton and Briery Creek for largemouth.
It is also has the claim of giving up the state record 16-pound 4-ounce bass. Dan Michaelson thinks the lake might get overlooked by many for several reasons. It is in a remote location, it is bowl shaped and does not look much like a dream bass lake, and really never gets much pressure. On a busy day anglers might see a small handful of anglers.
One of the key things helping the bass fishery at Connor is that the gizzard shad only seem to grow to 6-8 inches, which is perfect eating size for the bass. Michaelson also notes that there is a good representation of Florida strain bass in the lake, which helps growth rates. In addition to the plentiful gizzard shad, there are bluegill and redear to round out forage opportunities for bass.
Anglers do need to keep in mind rainfall when planning a trip to Connor. Heavy rains cause runoff from surrounding timber operations and the lake can get muddy and stay muddy for a period of time. However, if the rain is light or not prolonged for days, the water may only become stained, and in that condition is quite fishable.
VDGIF has cut hinge trees on the lake and there is other cover that should be the key focus of April bass hunters. Find the structure in shallow water and you will find fish in spawn mode here. Anglers will regularly encounter fish 15- to 24-inches long (1 to 8 pounds). There is a real potential to catch a quality fish at Lake Connor.
Because the gizzard shad are the primary forage, cast jerkbaits and plastics in a shad color to start with and then spinnerbaits with those color patterns.
Michaelson notes that he has seen some really nice fish on the left bank leaving the ramp and back in the coves. Some tree tops hold several quality fish at a time! The water is also deeper in this section headed towards the dam.
Because this impoundment is so far from stores and other conveniences, take a spare tire for both truck and boat trailer just in case!
Lake Chesdin is a 3,100-acre reservoir on the boundary of Chesterfield and Dinwiddie counties and an impoundment of the Appomattox River. Because it is a river impoundment, there is no lack of shoreline for anglers to probe in search of bass. On the Chesterfield side of the reservoir, there are plenty of boat docks, pilings and bulkheads to cast to and around. If pristine cover is your preference, hit the Dinwiddie side where dense water willow, some trees, brush tops and lily pads are available.
During late April and early May, the water willow is where Scott Herrmann, fisheries biologist and avid angler, recommends hawg hunters toss their lures. Large crankbaits, spinnerbaits and swim or jerkbaits in shad colors will be a great choice to start fishing. There are plenty of 5- to 8-inch gizzard shad feeding the bass in this reservoir.
In fact, Herrmann makes a point to say that the bass are in extremely healthy condition and much of that is due to the forage of the gizzard shad. He adds that a 21-inch largemouth would easily weigh 6 to 6.5 pounds.
Chesdin has one of the highest catch rates of preferred size bass (over 15 inches in size) around and gives up plenty 5- to 7-pound bass, according to Herrmann. The reservoir also produces several citations each year. Herrmann reports that during his electrofishing sampling efforts at the end of April last year, the fish were still in a prespawn stage. He and his coworkers sampled for a total of 3.5 hours at 14 sites along the shoreline. The results were nearly record-breaking, with 54.6 preferred size bass sampled per hour.
There are three private boat ramps around the lake and one VDGIF ramp near the dam. This reservoir is an easy drive from the Richmond area and well worth an outing.
SHENANDOAH RIVER POOLS
We would be seriously remiss not to mention the Shenandoah River pools for largemouth fishing. These pools, although known by some anglers, are what could be considered a “sleeper” fishery. Largemouth bass like the slower waters in the pools and have thrived. According to Steve Reeser, fisheries biologist in the region, he and his coworkers have collected some impressive fish — up to 7 pounds — in the pools.
The key seems to be to fish the slower water near woody debris. Reeser reports that the smallmouth to largemouth ratio can be 50/50 in these areas. During April the challenge is to pick a time when the water levels are reasonable and the sufficiently clear to be fishable. Spring rains can dramatically change things in a hurry. Although the largemouth bass will go shallow once the water warms to 60 degrees, anglers should still fish the deeper water until they have a string of warm days pushes the fish shallow.
According to Reeser, most of the largemouth will be in the 2- to 4-pound range but fish up to 6 pounds are not uncommon. The better pools to fish are in the South Fork and main stem of the river. Specifically, anglers floating the pools downstream of Shenandoah, Newport and Luray Dam on the South Fork and the Warren Dam on the main stem of the river should see good largemouth action.
Reeser pointed to the pools at the Port Republic, Island Ford, Newport, Shenandoah, Massanutten Access sites (South Fork) and Lockes Landing, Riverton, and Route 50 Access sites on the main stem as good locations. Fish crayfish patterns or use jumbo minnows if you are looking to harvest some fish. And of course, a bonus element to fishing the pools is that you might hook into a lunker smallmouth in the process.
Given the temperature of the water and possible change in weather and water conditions, please wear a PFD while fishing this spring. Consider harvesting some of the smaller fish and send us photos of the memorable fish.