Spring means largemouth bass with their noses pointed to the shallows -- and, with any luck, your baits. But where to launch your boat? Here are some of our top picks. (March 2006)
Our annual largemouth bass roundup strives to point you to best-bet well-known waters across the state and smaller and lesser-known waters that also hold quality or good numbers of largemouth bass. Read on to find out which water is close to you.
TIDEWATER BASS WATERS
Chandler's Millpond is located in Westmoreland County about three miles west of Montross off Route 3. Chandler's is Scott Herrmann's responsibility as the VDGIF biologist in the district. Herrmann commented that during a 2005 spring sampling of the pond, he saw quite a few quality bass.
"The largemouth bass fishery appears to be in great shape with numerous bass in the 4- to 6-pound range. The four sample trips yielded a collection of 483 largemouth bass. The number of recaptured bass was 55 with large numbers of newly sampled bass appearing with each trip. The combined CPUE (catch per unit of effort) was 70 bass an hour. This rate ranks higher than most water bodies within District 1."
Anglers who visit the 75-acre pond will find that it is relatively shallow, with two major creek arms and plenty of cover in the form of blowdowns and lily pads. Herrmann relayed that many of the larger bass were hanging tight on the woody structure along the shoreline. The bass fishery was closed for harvest until this past season, when the lake was reopened to harvest. No bass between 12 and 15 inches may be kept.
The bass certainly have plenty to feed on at Chandler's. There are gizzard shad and sunfish and a few golden shiners in the pond.
Chandler's Millpond is for trolling motor use only. No outboard motors are allowed. The pond is open 24 hours a day.
Herrmann also pointed out a newcomer to our annual roundup that anglers may want to try. Diascund Reservoir is owned by the city of Newport News, but a portion of the water is in James City County. As of late, the 1,110-acre reservoir has been providing anglers with a decent bass fishery. Anglers will find a public boat ramp, a courtesy pier and a parking lot that VDGIF has established with the city of Newport News and James City County. There is some limited shoreline fishing in and around the parking lot area. Anglers should take a moment to review the rules for the reservoir posted above the ramp. The ramp is located just north of Route 60 on 603 about a mile or so from Lanexa.
During the 2005 sampling, a number of bass were collected in the 3- to 4-pound range. The reservoir is also known for the occasional 9- and 10-pound fish. The forage found in the reservoir consists of gizzard shad and bream.
Herrmann pointed out that the size distribution of the bass sampled looked good, which points to a healthy population. He said that the best area for bass was along the banks of the Timber Swamp creek arm. Another good spot to try is the tree line across from the boat ramp.
Bass anglers will find a slew of points and islands to target as they work their way around the reservoir. No gas motors are permitted, but trolling motors are allowed.
SOUTHERN PIEDMONT BASS DESTINATIONS
The southern Piedmont is well known for three important bass-fishing destinations: Buggs Island, Briery Creek and Smith Mountain Lake. As good as they are, these three impoundments are not the only good largemouth waters in the region. Fairy Stone Lake is also worth the drive for a day of bassing.
One hundred sixty-eight-acre Fairy Stone Lake is located about 20 minutes outside of Martinsville, Virginia, within Fairy Stone State Park. The lake permits the use of electric motors only, which makes it a quiet place to fish.
Fairy Stone may be a small impoundment, but the fishing is good, with bass averaging 15 inches in length, according to Dan Wilson, VDGIF fisheries biologist. Some bass have been sampled that measured over 20 inches, so there is some potential for a rod-bending "hawg." Anglers visiting the lake will find quality bass in its waters. Wilson noted that there are no shad in the lake and sunfish provide forage for the bass. The fact that the bluegill population has increased indicates that the bass population is not overcrowded. Anglers who visit Fairy Stone should concentrate their efforts around the woody structure in the lake. In addition to fishing, the park also offers camping, swimming, hiking, picnicking and boat and canoe rentals.
On the other end of the size scale, Smith Mountain Lake is one of the trio of big-water bassin' destinations for the region. At 20,600 acres, this clear water impoundment has been a favorite of striped bass and largemouth anglers for quite some time. What many anglers do not know is that the largemouth population actually peaked in the mid-'90s. Dan Wilson observed that after the largemouth population began slipping, angler pressure picked up and fish became tough to catch as a result.
The good news is that after the slump, the bass numbers began to increase in biologists' samples. There was a slight increase in 2003 and the numbers continued building in 2004. According to Wilson, the fishing in the spring of 2005 was better than it had been for several years. This was likely because of more fish being available and great fishing conditions. The 2003 year-class recruitment was the biggest push toward improving the fishery. Wilson also cautioned readers that the 2004 year-class did not experience the same successful recruitment that the 2003 year-class did.
Of particular interest to anglers should be the numerous boathouses, docks and coves in the upstream portion of the lake where the bass can find refuge from boat traffic. Of course, during the spring spawn, anglers will find bass heading to the shallow waters of the coves.
Vic DiCenzo covers both Briery Creek and Buggs Island. Both locations are very well known for excellent crappie and bass fishing. Buggs is huge, with over 48,000 acres of water to ply in search of a trophy. Much of the better water is uplake, where there are more nutrients. In the spring, be sure to visit the very backs of coves where flooded timber is key for spawning fish. Try plastics and topwater baits in the flooded timber areas. Make long casts to avoid spooking fish.
Briery Creek is nationally known as a great bass water. The impoundment is not huge like Buggs but very well managed. The 845-acre VDGIF-owned lake gives up "hawgs" year 'round, but spring tends to be the best.
The slot limit of 14 to 24 inches was put into effect two years ago. This has created a trophy bass fishery that is likely unrivaled for hundreds of miles. There are more fish in the 16- to 20-in
ch range at Briery than any other Virginia water. Most fish average more than 15 inches.
Anglers should use their electronics to locate structure when the water temperature is less than 60 degrees and then head for shallower water when the mercury rises above that temperature, which triggers the pre-spawn and spawn. Anglers who take a quality fish in the slot limit are advised to make quick work of taking a photo and getting the fish back into the water.
MOUNTAIN LARGEMOUTH IMPOUNDMENT FAVORITES
The mountain portion of the state does not boast a largemouth mecca per se, but there are some very consistent producers of bucketmouth bass. These include Lake Frederick (117 acres), the main stem of the Shenandoah River and some Forest Service lakes that vary in size but are generally 50 acres or less.
Steve Reeser drives up and down I-81 keeping track of the waters in the northern portion of this rugged region. His first choice was Lake Frederick.
"For 10 years, Lake Frederick has been a consistent producer of many species of fish, which include largemouths, bream and crappie. The record largemouth that came from Frederick was over 11 pounds and we know that the lake gives up 8- to 10-pound fish each year. We regularly shock up 6- and 7-pound bass during our sampling efforts."
Two- and 3-pound bass are also common at Frederick and that is why it is a favorite for anglers in this region. According to Reeser, bluegills are the base forage for largemouth bass in Frederick because there are no shad in the lake. The bluegill population's size distribution is in good shape, too, thanks in part to the pressure from bass.
Although some anglers may find Frederick tough to fish because of its clear waters and steep sides, the lake does offer good fishing opportunities. Reeser noted that the uplake arms are good starting points.
"The two arms that make up the uplake portion of the impoundment do have some standing timber left in them. Some of the timber has broken off and is still submerged, offering additional cover for bass."
During the spring, the shallower waters can vary in temperature two to three degrees enough to trigger the spawn. Frederick also has a good supply of coontail, which is a rooted vegetation from which bass like to ambush prey. Anglers will find that by fishing the edges of the vegetation, they can score on nice fish. A concession is open seasonally and can be reached at (540) 869-1104. Jeff Wolf runs the concession and can provide daily reports on the fishing.
The main stem of the Shenandoah River suffered a horrible fish kill this past year, but the kill affected mainly redbreast sunfish and smallmouth bass. Largemouth bass dodged the bullet and populations appear to be in good shape, according to biologists. The slow-moving pools of the main stem of the river are not only great spots to fish but also very scenic and offer the angler a chance for a relaxing float through some of the finest country in Virginia.
Largemouths hold close to the debris piles, blowdowns and riprap in the river. Live bait and jigs, plastics and even crankbaits work very well. Catching 2- and 3-pounders is very common on the river. Anglers are cautioned to consult the regulation book for any fish-eating advisories that may be in effect on the river. Sometime ago, the river was polluted with PCBs and mercury and some sections have consumption restrictions on them. You may also visit the department Web site to see the list at www.dgif.virginia.gov.
Finally, some of the most overlooked spots to either catch a trophy bass or just have fun catching 50 or more bass in an afternoon are the Forest Service ponds and lakes in the region. Most of the lakes and ponds are full of smaller fish in the 10- to 12-inch range. Anglers are encouraged to harvest these fish where legal. Reeser recommended Lake Arrowhead, Lake Laura, Sherando Lake and many others as good prospects for anyone wanting to have a blast catching fish in numbers. These lakes are also great places to retreat to a relaxing atmosphere, especially in the summer when fishing pressure goes down after the trout anglers leave.
Although most of the catch will consist of smaller bass, Reeser did note that there are fish over 10 pounds in each of the lakes. The lakes are regularly stocked with trout for anglers and the bass eat the trout. Some bass have grown quite large dining on such good food. Be sure and check the regulations because most lakes and ponds require a Forest Service Stamp.
NORTHERN PIEDMONT LARGEMOUTH HOTSPOTS
Lake Anna is the gem of the northern Piedmont region for many species of fish, including largemouth bass. Lake Anna covers more than 9,600 acres of water in Spotsylvania, Orange and Louisa counties.
John Odenkirk is one of the fisheries biologists that we regularly consult on fishing in this region. Odenkirk reported that Anna has always had good bass fishing, with only subtle fluctuations in size structure. He pointed out that the water pool has been stable and that is important to the quality of the fishery.
Odenkirk also noted that the good habitat structures in the upper and middle areas of the lake, which include docks, trees, beaver lodges and the recently expanding willow beds, is just one of the variables that sustain the good fishery. The second variable is good forage in the form of white perch, bluegills, gizzard shad, threadfin and blueback herring. While the lower lake may lack a great amount of structure, the structure that is there is a magnet for fish.
"Habitat structures in the lower lake -- especially Boggs Point and Dike 2 -- are loaded with large fish. There has been a trophy bass at Boggs for at least three years. I think the increase in catch-and-release, combined with the slot limit, boosted this fishery in the mid- to late 1980s."
The most productive areas for bass fishing includes the creek arms just above the "Splits." Odenkirk also commented that the slot is no longer needed because of the amount of catch-and-release practiced at the lake. Over 99 percent of the bass caught are released. The slot limit is due to be dropped within a year.
Odenkirk reported that Anna has always had a good number of fish in the 16- to 18-inch range. The average size of fish being harvested during the last available creel was just about 3 pounds.
Lake Anna recently ranked seventh among northern Virginia impoundments for largemouths when comparing the catch per effort of preferred fish (CPE-P). Anna posted 26 fish per hour that measured over 15 inches. According to Odenkirk, the previous record of CPE-P was 25 per hour back in 2001.
The larger the number, the more abundant large bass are in the lake. When looking at relative stock density of preferred fish (RSD-P), Anna grabbed the fifth slot with a rate of 40 fish, which tells us that there are a good proportion of larger fish in the bass population at Anna. Trophy bass numbers were also up. Odenkirk said that samples reflected that fish over 20 inche
s tied their existing sampling record of four bass per hour in 2000.
With continued good recruitment at Anna, hawg hunters can expect the fishing to remain stable and continue to offer northern Piedmont anglers a good destination to fish.
Bass angling across the Old Dominion is simply a matter of getting on the water with a rod in hand. Although we only mentioned a handful of waters, there are plenty of destinations that boast great bassing. Visit that small out-of-the-way place this year or one of our featured waters and send us a photo of your trophy.