Each year we call biologists, fishing guides and tournament anglers to do some homework for readers to whittle down the learning curve and make your time on the water more productive. Here are the seven best waters we could find scattered across the state, so everyone can get in on the action.
Chickahominy Lake is 1,230 acres of incredible fish habitat backed up behind Walker’s Dam on the Chickahominy River. The largemouth population has been on fire here the past three or four years. VDGIF fisheries biologist Scott Herrmann reports that anglers have been hauling in an abundance of 5- to 7-pound bass lately.
Ed Allen at Ed Allen’s Boats and Baits has seen a number of even bigger bass, bumping over 8 pounds with one nearly 13 pounds being caught and weighed at this long time business. Herrmann reports that the monster was actually a bass he had tagged during a VDGIF survey in 2016 in Johnson Creek on the eastern edge.
Herrmann went on to say that the 2017 season’s survey was a record for preferred bass over 15 inches with 36.3 bass per hour sampled. Sampling in 2018 was later and conditions were not nearly as good as 2017, but VDGIF still sampled some quality bass to include some 5-6 pound fish. Forage for bass in Chickahominy Lake includes gizzard shad, golden shiners, bluegill, chubsuckers and plenty of frogs. Some bass inhale the herring that are in the lake during spawning runs from the river.
Anglers should key in on Lacey Creek and Johnson Creek in early spring as they reportedly warm up the fastest. The eastern edges have the deeper water and better spawning areas. Later in the spring, hydrilla, duck weed, and water meal serve as vegetation where forage might hide, and anglers do well to pitch something like a Bass Assassin Heavy Punch Craw in Watermelon Red Flake. Another hot tactic is to throw a Booyah’s Toad Runner Frog (in Bullfrog) over the vegetation and back in the shade in these creeks. Senko’s in any color at all are dynamite according to Allen (facebook.com/edallenboats) if worked in the grass, which emerges during the spawn and post spawn. Allen added that any of the square billed crankbaits will also work.
When pressed for a color he said anglers are catching fish on numerous colors and he stocks plenty of them, so color is not as important. This year, as of press time, there were 15 citation largemouth caught on the lake with 9 over 10 pounds.
Lee Hall Reservoir
Anglers near Virginia Beach should consider getting a daily boat permit from the campground office or the Newport News Park office and dunk their bass boat in Lee Hall Reservoir near I-64. Although there is road noise, the scenery is gorgeous and the proportion of bass in the 2-4 pound range is quite good. Herrmann reported a nice spot to fish near the Jefferson Avenue Bridge in the deeper hole there. Some anglers have found using shad colored jerkbaits with a little weight and letting them sink slowly around this location will entice bass.
The trolling motor only reservoir has no shortage of submerged aquatic vegetation either. The lower end of the reservoir is great for using Scum Frogs, Spro frogs or virtually any weedless frog type bait according to Tommy Wilcox of Wilcox Bait and Tackle (757-595-5537). The frog color with a light colored belly tends to be a favorite of many anglers, so the fish can key in on it. Some really nice fish have come out of both ends of the reservoir but the area near the railroad does have a lot of vegetation and gets a lot of attention noted Wilcox. Focus on the brushy shoreline in the lower basin for the fat 2- to 5-pound bass that typically stage here.
His shop is a mere 12 miles from the water and he stocks all sorts of weedless lures that work great at Lee Hall.Bluegill and gizzard shad tend to be the main forage for bass in this impoundment. The park office can be reached by phone at (757) 886-7912.
Buggs Island is a massive impoundment on the North Carolina border that is a favorite destination for tournament anglers. Catch rates by anglers is one fish for every 1.6 hours of fishing. Biologists report that their samples turned up a solid population of fish around 15 inches and some fish up to 21 inches too. Keep in mind that this lake got hit with largemouth bass virus back in 2010, but since then the survival estimates of largemouth has increased. The population of bass over 15 inches is trending upward as is the number of bass over 5 pounds reported in tournaments according to VDGIF. There is a modified size limit for largemouth with five fish per angler but only two less than 14 inches.
When fishing Buggs in early April, Bobby from Bobcats Tackle (bobcatslakecountry.com) said he sees a lot of anglers on breezy days fishing the main lake points below Grassy Creek in 4- to 6-feet of water using various brands of spinnerbaits in a ½ ounce white/chartreuse color with gold blades. The gold blade color is important.
Later in April the bite goes to topwater in less than 6 feet of water on Pop-R’s or Ricos in a Cisco color. Fish near shad schools. Also, anglers can fish the back of Eastland Creek in the buckbrush using creature baits with a red or blue flake color with braid line to avoid break-offs.
Smith Mountain Lake
Smith Mountain Lake at 20,600 acres is a gorgeous, clear, but tough lake to fish at times. The upper end of the lake is particularly tough due to the steep sided shape and the fact that the fish are very concentrated in ideal oxygen and habitat locations. However, the size structure of the bass is consistent and healthy with fish averaging between 13-17 inches.
Many anglers prefer to go downlake and fish where the lake flattens out a bit. A close friend of mine, Gary Sanders, and his family go annually to Smith Mountain and have found the downlake area to be easier to catch fish. Sanders focuses on the area 3-4 miles above the dam and he targets the backs of coves. He noted that the relatively few docks are the go to spots, but unlike many anglers that will fish right up under them, he backs off from the docks and fishes in 10- to 14-feet of water with a shakyhead jig and worm combo in green pumpkin color.
Specifically he uses a Magnum 7 inch worm to take fish 4-5 pounds. Years ago they fished uplake but he says the move downlake has paid off big with great fishing for them. If your fish finder picks up any other structure in the deeper water, particularly post spawn, fish it slowly and thoroughly.
For anglers in the northern part of the state, Lake Frederick is the best bet. This lake can also be tough to fish because it is very clear much of the time. Most of the bass are less than 12 inches but there are plenty of bass larger than 12 inches to include some 8-9 pounders. Forage at Lake Frederick is mostly sunfish and shiners/minnows. VDGIF owns a 100 foot buffer around the lake which allows anglers access.
The best source of information on fishing at the lake is Gregory’s Lakeside Bait and Tackle. Greg runs the business and keeps in tune with what is going on each day. He reports that the Lucky Craft Ghost Minnow 100 series SP Pointer works very well from mid-lake up in the coves. Anglers should make long casts parallel to structure such as logs or timber or brush and bring it back in a stop and go or erratic retrieve to mimic a wounded minnow. In the March/April time frame fish the shallows 2- to 4-feet on a string of warm days but go deeper if the weather has been cooler. Greg points out that fan casting and moving on will not be as effective as methodically working the water with repeated casts.
The shop has 18 jon boats with trolling motors for rent. He focuses his lure stocks with those that work on Lake Frederick. In addition, he and his staff can give anglers up to date info on what is working on the lake. Call them at 540-869-2950 or visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/1076197769157558/.
The ever reliable Lake Anna is still going strong with recent sampling showing preferred, and quality fish being average or above average when compared to long term data. The average fish encountered at Anna is right at 16 inches at this point. VDGIF biologists also report that their electrofishing data showed a nice 2015 year class that will start showing up at the end of angler’s lines in the next few years. Shad, herring, white perch and bluegill are the main forage in Lake Anna.
Scott Taylor is a longtime angler and top local bass tournament fisherman at Anna. Taylor said that in March when the prespawn is on he searches for bass in less than 8 feet of water with one of two lures. The KVD Strike King Red Eye in Sexy Shad color or a white fluke in a ripped retrieve in places like Plentiful Creek, Goldmine and DucknHole near docks and off points. Once the spawn kicks off in April, he switches to sight fishing in Sturgeon Creek, Harlows Creek and Rose Valley using a 5” Yamamoto Hula Twin Tailed Grub in Smoke Flake color along hard bottom where the fish are spawning right up on the banks.
Finally, just after the spawn Taylor and his tournament partner, Chris Craft, have a Purple Tiger Shad spinnerbait always handy to fish around emerging willow grass because the crappie are in the grass near The Splits, and along the shores of the North Anna and Pamunkey Arms. Fish the holes in the grass or over the top of emerging grass. All of these baits and the most up to date information on the fishing can be gleaned from Taylor, Craft or Dave Fauntleroy at Fish Tales/Anna Point Marina; 540-895-5900 option 5.
Over on the Potomac River, the bulk of the largemouth angling is in the creeks. Gizzard shad, white perch and bluegill provide the most food for bass, but they do feed on frogs and crayfish too. The average fish caught on the Potomac is approximately 15 inches, but that figure reflects a lot of smaller fish in the fishery due to a couple of strong year classes that are coming on.
John Odenkirk and his team at VDGIF report that their recent catch rate was above average and the highest catch rate in the past four years (70 fish per hour of sampling). Odenkirk points out that the 2011 and 2016 years classes were excellent and will continue to provide good angling opportunities.I spoke with Jason Sanders, a local tournament angler, and got the scoop on his favorite tributary to fish. He said that while Potomac Creek used to be good, he has done much better in Aquia Creek. Specifically, he targets the area from Hope Springs Marina out to the flats near the mouth of the creek during the spring.
He favors a green pumpkin color but he uses a 6” Senko stickbait in the grassy pockets that are along the shore. When not throwing a Senko he opts for aNetbait Paca Craw in a black red flake or blue flake with rattles inserted. The Paca Craw has pincers which ungulate during descent, making for a tempting offering. One of Sanders secrets is not throwing the same color as everyone else.