March 15, 2017
The Tidewater Region has many great bass fisheries, one of which is Lake Chesdin. At 3,100 acres located near Chesterfield, this lake is a regular producer of largemouth in the 2.5- to 3-pound range. Recent surveys by VDGIF fisheries biologists have placed Chesdin at the number-one slot for fish over 15 inches in the district.
Scott Herrmann told us that not only is there a high density of bass in the 2- to 3-pound range, but there are also many in the 4- to 6-pound range.
Herrmann added, "Lake Chesdin has plenty of forage for the bass population. The stunted bluegill population, along with the abundance of juvenile gizzard shad, have allowed the bass to put on some serious weight. It is not uncommon to find a 20-inch bass that weighs 5.5 to 6 pounds. The high protein diet of the gizzard shad allows the bass to put on some quality girth."
The northern creek arms and coves tend to warm up faster, meaning that the fish may begin spawning in those areas first. Look for fish to spawn in the third to fourth week of April according to our professional source. Post spawn males will be guarding nests in the water willow vegetation.
Obviously the month of April will be the easiest time to catch bass at Chesdin, as they will be shallow. Later they will roam the lake looking for a shad meal. During the prespawn, fish with creature baits, jig and pigs or jerkbaits in or near the willow grass.
Chesdin has a public ramp, handicap pier and is open year around. There are also private launch sites, rental boats, camping and tackle available. There is a five-fish limit per day.
At nearly 49,000 acres, Buggs Island, straddling the North Carolina border, is a fisherman's paradise. The bass fishing at Buggs has had its ups and downs, but recent surveys by VDGIF have shown an improvement in both the growth and abundance of largemouth since the decline around 2010. Largemouth bass virus was found during the summer of 2010. The virus often will slow growth rates and decrease survival rates.
VDGIF fisheries biologists also report tournament anglers are catching 5-pound bass a little more often than they had in the past. This usually indicates an improving fishery.
Dan Michaelson, one of the fisheries biologists working the waters in the region, reports that the average size of bass here is 2 to 4 pounds, with some fish up to 8 pounds being caught. This translates to a catch on an average day in a knowledgeable bass angler's boat, of numbers of fish in the 13- to 18-inch range.
Michaelson also noted that last year they had one of the highest catch rates of what they call young-of-the-year bass since 2009 (before the largemouth bass virus) and the third highest catch rate since 2002. In summary, it looks like the largemouth fishery is rebounding at Buggs — to the delight of anglers.
Two very popular places to fish for largemouth in March and April are Eastland and Grassy Creeks. There is good habitat there and in the spring, anglers will find good numbers of fish preparing for the spawn.
In addition, the creeks at the lower end of the lake can be productive as well. Fish the very backs of the creeks, particularly when they are flooded, and use chatterbaits, swim baits and creature baits to entice strikes. Remember the limit is 5 per day in aggregate and only 2 of the bass can be less than 14 inches.
Another water that is worth mentioning for trophy bass anglers is Lake Burton (76 acres) in Pittsylvania. While no creel is permitted, there are good numbers of fish above 15 inches. The lake is fairly shallow and therefore the largemouth fishing is better at the lower end of the lake where the depths are better. However, bass can be found in the shallows in the spring. Catching a trophy largemouth at Burton can be a challenge due to the abundant forage in the form of small crappie, gizzard shad and lots of small bluegill. However, numbers of 6-8 pound fish are caught each year and the opportunity of catching memorable fish is very good.
Anglers should note that sight fishing can be tough at Burton, as the water is generally stirred up due to the carp and suckers groveling in the bottom.
There is a concrete ramp and some parking. If you want a quiet place to fish off the beaten path with less pressure than the big names, Burton is a great spot to try. Bank anglers can walk the entire perimeter of the lake as long as they stay between the signs.
Last, we have not profiled Lake Gaston for a few years. This is a massive 20,300-acre impoundment located just below Buggs Island Lake. With 350 miles of shoreline, there is much territory to cover. A chat with Kirk Rundle, the North Carolina fisheries biologist who samples Gaston, turned up some good information.
Rundle reports that the average size bass at Gaston is right around 14 inches (about 2 pounds), and that trend has been stable. The catch rate when they survey is on the high end (compared to North Carolina impoundments) with 60 bass per hour. On most impoundments he manages, shock surveys find 30 to 60 fish per hour. He said that 65 percent of the largemouth sampled were over 14 inches and 5 percent were over 20 inches. So, a 5-pound bass is not out of the picture when fishing Gaston.
A possible concern is the unauthorized introduction of spotted bass. The theory is that an angler stocked a few of them in the lake and now they are there to stay. Current surveys put the percentage of spotted bass at 10 percent of the bass population.
The spotted bass can be more aggressive and fun to catch, but they outcompete other black bass and push the largemouth out of some habitat. So, many of the largemouth are found in the coves.
Like most of our profiled waters, March and April are spawn time for bass at Gaston. However, even though the lake is further south than most impoundments in Virginia, the cold water released from Kerr Dam delays the spawn slightly.
Fish the docks, bridges and culverts. Cover is key. Rundle observed that some anglers find a simple change in color of lures can change success rates. Being persistent is also important. There are numerous private launch sites at Gaston with many on the North Carolina side
This year we found a great water for largemouth anglers that, although small at 52 acres, is probably a hidden gem to the general public. Lake Witten located near Tazewell, is in Cavitt's Creek Park. Many anglers head there for stocked trout. However, the bass grow big eating the trout and bluegill. Biologists have found the size structure is good, with 20 percent of the bass over 15 inches. Steve Owens, VDIGF's local fisheries biologist, shared that the average bass is likely between 3 and 5 pounds. However, bass over 10 pounds are not uncommon.
Although the lake has plenty of bank access, the springtime usually brings out anglers interested in the stocked trout and a boat is therefore recommended to avoid the crowds. Fish the weekdays if possible too. Owens' recommended lures mimicking bluegill or trout in coloration since that is what the bass are feeding on. There is a protective slot limit of 14 to 24 inches, with a one-fish-per-day creel. This is definitely a place where a trophy fish could be caught and released after a quick picture.
NORTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
There are two impoundments that we are highlighting this year in the Northern Mountain Region.
Arrowhead Lake is very small at 39 acres and is located near Luray. The small gem is very productive, with consistent catches of 10-16 inch bass by anglers.
Jason Hallacher, VDGIF fisheries biologist, noted that biologists repeatedly shocked up fish in that size slot but they also sampled fish over 20 inches.
During April, the fish are in the shallows looking to spawn. One of the best places to find them is near brush piles. Some anglers also find large fish near the spillway tower.
Although small, Arrowhead has plenty of forage for the bass to keep growing. Lures mimicking the panfish forage base are going to be good bets, but crayfish-colored baits will work well too.
Lake Moomaw is an impoundment of the Jackson River and is unique in that it has a thriving fishery, including trout in its depths and bass and panfish closer to the surface. Alewives are a common part of the diet of predators at Moomaw.
Largemouth bass seem to be centered on the middle of the lake near the islands. Smallmouth bass are also in the mix, but usually are found deeper. To find the largemouth, fish tight to structure, even isolated stumps or rocks. Using your depthfinder is critical to success. Hallacher pointed out that there are artificial fish reefs, including the one near Mill Creek. Largemouth tend to quickly reach 3 to 4 pounds and then their growth slows considerably.
There are three launch sites and plenty of nearby camping for visiting anglers. Five bass in aggregate may be kept as long as they each measure over 12 inches.
This year we are focusing our effortson two places that have not been in the spotlight the past few years. Hunting Run is a great place to catch a trophy bass, as many 8- to 10-pound fish are landed there each year. Spring is the best time to get your photo of a lifetime too.
This 420-acre reservoir only allows electric motors so the fishing is peaceful. The habitat varies, but there is plenty of emerging vegetation in the spring and islands of treetops and sticks where the fish feed frequently.
John Odenkirk, who is the biologist responsible for the reservoir fishery, noted that the slot limit has been very helpful in creating population of trophy bass. The bass are eating big bluegill and crappie and have plenty of places to ambush prey. Odenkirk also shared that fish 20 to 23 inches are not uncommon. Anglers who enjoy bass fishing therefore have a real shot at landing an 8-pound bass.
Plastic baits seem to be the most effective bait at Hunting Run in the spring, but Rattle Traps have worked well for me when I have fished it later in the year as I trolled from spot to spot.
This reservoir is located about 15 minutes outside of Fredericksburg in a rural setting. A shallow ramp is available, as are boat rentals, a pier and restrooms. It is open Thursday through Sunday only.
The Potomac River has been a great bass fishery for years, but it has had some up and downs. This past year the river fished very well for largemouth, with many bass in the 16- to 18-inch range.
During March and April, anglers should fish any of the tributaries, such as Aquia, Potomac, Nanjemoy and the smaller ones too, in shallow water near docks, logs or blowdowns. Upper ends of the tributaries can be downright fantastic along the channel edges. Creature baits, spinnerbaits and pig-and-jigs are go-to baits during the spring.
This year, make a point to try a new bass water and learn it. It is fun challenging yourself and adding a new territory to your angling spread. March and April are outstanding times of year to find bass in new water, as they are shallow and getting ready to spawn.
Remember to be willing to change up colors of lures until you find what the fish are interested in. Observe what other anglers are using and follow suit. Keeping a fishing journal is a great way to learn a water and know when the conditions are right to fish it year to year!