March means the bass fishing is about to look up across the state of Virginia. Try these top waters this spring! (March 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Largemouth bass anglers in Virginia have endless places to dunk their boat or cast their lures. But over the years, the fishing has waned at some waters and picked up at others. This year, we researched the better waters in each region to help point anglers in the right direction whether it be for numbers of fish or memorable trophy catches.
Scott Herrmann, fisheries biologist for the region, pointed out that as of late last fall, Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir was ranked fifth in the state for the nine citation bass that had been registered by anglers. Only Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Anna, Sandy River and Briery Creek topped Beaverdam in terms of citations.
The reservoir was sampled during the spring of 2005 and showed a number of bass in the 12- to 15-inch range. Herrmann and company sampled 131 bass per hour while probing its waters, and that sample included many 3- to 5-pound fish and some nice 7-pound bass. The size structure at Beaverdam is very well spread out and there is a good mix of nutrients and abundant cover, making the reservoir very productive. This is particularly true in the upper creek arms where the water is shallower.
Anglers should concentrate their efforts uplake during the spring. Coves are the places to begin casting in March and April as the fish begin their spawning rituals. Bass anglers will find that a 15- to 20-fish day is not at all out of the question on Beaverdam. Herrmann also said that the town of Gloucester maintains a second boat ramp in the uplake part of the reservoir where anglers can access it for an additional fee.
Another largemouth gem that has come on strong in the last two years is the Chickahominy River. The Chick had strong 2004 and 2005 year-classes, which means anglers will see continued improvement in the fisheries in the near future, with increased catches of 12- to 15-inch fish. As most local anglers know, the drought that devastated much of the river fisheries in 2000-2002 finally gave way to much-needed rain and a boost in recruitment from surviving bass afterward. Seventy-one percent of the bass sampled in the fall of 2005 were young-of-the-year fish. Angler catch rates have doubled between 2002 and 2005. Anglers here reported the highest catch rate of bass in 2005 than any other catch rate that VDGIF has on record from the annual surveys that they conduct.
Bob Greenlee, fisheries biologist for Region 1, pointed out that there are some really nice fish in the Chick. An extremely strong 1998 year-class of fish has produced a number of 4- to 5-pound fish in the recent past.
If good weather patterns continue, anglers should expect to see improvement in the bass fishery on the Chick. There is plenty of great habitat in the form of submerged aquatic vegetation, cypress trees, duck blinds and cattails along the river. Private boat launches are numerous on the river, putting anglers within striking distance of good bass water in minutes.
More information can be obtained by calling (804) 843-5968.
The Southern Piedmont region is well known for several standout bass waters that prove to be consistent producers of largemouth bass and are therefore "must-fish" impoundments for serious bass anglers.
Briery Creek Lake is the premier destination of bass anglers in the state and recipient of visits by anglers from all over the country as well. As of press time, Briery Creek Lake had 57 citation bass registered with VDGIF for 2006. The lake has been a solid producer of trophy bass and consistent water to fish for numbers of fish.
The average size bass sampled at Briery was 14 inches. Fish up to 12 pounds are caught annually. A great aspect of angling at Briery Creek Lake is that the trophy bass fishing does not just exist in the spring. Anglers catch large fish year 'round.
The trend at Briery Creek Lake shows that it has been a very consistent fishery for the past seven years. The data that fisheries biologist Vic DiCenzo has gleaned from a recent sampling shows that the lake has just come off a few weak to average year-classes. This means anglers may see catch rates of fish under the slot limit of 14 inches decline, but the catch rates of "slot-sized" fish and trophy fish will continue to be good.
DiCenzo suggests that anglers wanting to locate their dream fish in the spring should target water that is shallow and adjacent to vegetation. In March and early April, anglers find that the jig-and-pig and soft plastics work best. Once the heat turns up, anglers do well on topwaters and spinnerbaits.
Sandy River Reservoir is the second water that DiCenzo's sampling shows holds a high abundance of largemouth bass. He expects that angler catch rates will continue to be good, with bass averaging 12 inches and weighing up to 10 pounds. Successful anglers are often seen probing the aquatic vegetation at the reservoir with soft plastics in the spring and weedless topwater baits in the summer. Shallow-water points and the backs of coves are hotspots to consider lakewide.
DiCenzo also noted that each year the reservoir gives up an increasing number of citation bass. Sandy River Reservoir is in the top 10 waters for citation bass and thus is a top Virginia fishery for anglers wanting a trophy fish.
Smith Mountain Lake was running fourth in the number of citation bass caught as of press time. Dan Wilson also works in the region as a fisheries biologist and reported to us that the average size largemouth has been 14 inches. Most of the larger fish top out at 6 to 7 pounds. The fishery is in good shape, according to Wilson.
"Catch rates have consistently increased for several years primarily due to a very good spawn and survival in 2003."
Wilson feels the fishing will continue to be consistent or even improve slightly. Early spring anglers should target deeper structure in coves. Boat docks can be used as secondary fishing locations. During the spawn, bass will move into shallow water keying on structure in the lake. More information on fishing in the region can be obtained by calling (434) 392-9645.
SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
Bass anglers that reside in the rugged mountainous region of the state have a tougher time finding a premier bass lake than do their eastern counterparts. We have simplified that search for you by featuring an up-and-coming water this year.
Fisheries biologist Tom Hampton gave the nod to Lake Witten as a
sleeper lake for the region. Lake Witten is a 52-acre lake located in Tazewell County. Hampton recently did a survey at Lake Witten and found that the sampling rate was 100 bass per hour. This figure is a much higher average than all other sampled southwest impoundments in the state. Twenty percent of the bass collected measured more than 15 inches in length. The remaining size structure of the bass population was equally proportioned, indicating a healthy fishery. Several bass were collected that exceeded 20 inches in length.
In an effort to enhance the trophy fishery at Lake Witten, a new slot limit was recently put into place. All bass between 14 and 24 inches must now be released. The lake is a proven producer of quality bass.
Anglers should target areas near submerged weedbeds. Use light line and make long casts to avoid spooking the fish during the spring when they are spawning. Hampton suggested that anglers pay close attention to the numerous small points and coves in the lake. There are a number of trees that have been felled into the water, too.
Tazwell County operates Cavitt's Creek Park where they maintain a concession stand and boat launch. For more information on Lake Witten, contact the park ranger at (276) 988-7250 or VDGIF at (276) 783-4860.
Claytor Lake is a regularly covered and featured impoundment of the New River. The 21-mile-long, 4,475-acre impoundment is located in Pulaski County. John Copeland is the VDGIF fisheries guru in charge of Claytor. He noted that nearly 60 percent of anglers who fish at Claytor do so for bass. There are three species of bass that thrive in Claytor: largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. All three species have a minimum size limit of 12 inches. Five fish may be creeled daily.
Data indicates that the largemouth bass population continues to increase at Claytor. Angler surveys suggest that two of every five bass caught at Claytor are largemouth bass.
Popular largemouth haunts at Claytor include Peak Creek, Clapboard Hollow, Spooky Hollow and Texas Hollow. These coves are the most popular places to encounter good largemouth fishing, but coves throughout the lake are worthwhile spots to fish as well.
Anglers will find that there are a number of facilities and launch sites on the lake. Claytor Lake State Park is located on the northern side of the impoundment and offers a variety of amenities, including a marina. Lighthouse Bridge, Conrad Brothers and Rockhouse marinas also offer private launch sites for a fee. VDGIF has a free ramp on the upper lake at Allisonia. A second VDGIF ramp is located near the entrance to the state park and is named Dublin Ramp. Mid-lake anglers can use Harry's Point Ramp in the Harry DeHaven Park. The ramp has double lanes and courtesy piers. At this location, there is also a handicapped-accessible fishing pier.
NORTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
The Northern Mountain Region can be a tough location for a largemouth bass angler to fish. In this issue, we put the spotlight on a river that many would feel unlikely to get any positive attention because of recent unexplained fish kills that took out a number of smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish.
Steve Reeser, regional fisheries biologist, pointed out that the fish kill on the Shenandoah River has not affected the largemouth bass at all. In fact, while on a recent sampling trip on the river, he and his crew collected plenty of bass in the 3- to 5-pound range. This trend occurred on the North Fork, South Fork and the main river.
Reeser indicated that the fish were predominately in water that was 6 to 8 feet deep near structure. The dam pools are particularly good spots to fish for largemouths, according to our source.
"Anglers should find good numbers of largemouths in the dam pools on the river near Warren, Luray, Newport and Shenandoah, as well as large, deep, natural pools. We usually sample at least one big largemouth on each sampling trip that would go 6 pounds or more."
Reeser also explained that in some areas of the river largemouth bass make up 50 percent of the bass population. Food items for these river fish are mostly other fish, including small sunfish, shiners, minnows and crayfish.
Call (540) 248-9360 for more information on fishing in the Northern Mountain Region.
There are three great largemouth destinations that we are profiling this month in the Northern Piedmont. Mountain Run, located in Culpeper, is small at 75 acres in size. During 2005, it ranked third for the number of largemouth bass sampled in an hour that were in the "preferred" size range (measuring more than 15 inches). Thirty-seven bass were collected in one hour measuring more than 15 inches. There is wooded shoreline at Mountain Run, which makes for good bass cover.
Biologists have noted that they find nice bass when they sample the uplake and left side of the lake. There is a good depth profile and plenty of good habitat. Mountain Run has a very nice boat ramp with a courtesy pier. Shore-fishing is very limited, but there is a picnic area nearby. Permits are required and can be obtained from the town of Culpeper, (540) 727-3423. On weekends, the police department handles permits. They can be reached at (540) 727-3430. Take Route 29 south from Culpeper, then turn right on Route 718 to the lake.
Lake Chesdin straddles the Chesterfield-Dinwiddie county line. The 3,100-acre water supply lake has excellent bass fishing and makes a fine destination for largemouth anglers in the Richmond area.
Biologists did an intensive sampling of the lake in 2005. According to the data that Dean Fowler collected for VDGIF, largemouth bass appear to be moderately abundant and in good shape at Chesdin.
"The age distribution of the population was excellent. Bass up to 11 years old were collected and every age group was represented in the sample. The size structure of the bass population was also excellent. Bass were common throughout their size range, and four fish longer than 20 inches were collected."
Fowler went on to report that the growth rate for bass up to five years of age was well above statewide averages but slowed thereafter. Fowler recalled that the adult bass they collected were fat and obviously healthy. Anglers that visit Chesdin will find that the average fish tips the scales between 2 and 4 pounds.
Creel surveys have shown that anglers release nearly all the bass caught at Chesdin. As a result, the slot limit has been removed. Slot limits are not effective unless anglers are willing to harvest fish outside the slot. Department biologists will be monitoring this population annually for the next several years.
Spawning at Chesdin kicks off in April, but the fish move into the shallows in March. Focus on coves and creeks for the best fishing during this time.
Lake Anna is certainly the jewel of the region, with recent headlines telling of another record-breaking sampling effort by VDGIF bio
logists. The surveys, which are conducted lakewide, are used to estimate the size structure of the bass fishery and the abundance of bass in the lake. The results suggest the lake has a more abundant bass population and more big fish than the biologists have ever seen here.
The data shows that recruitment from year to year is very consistent. The number of preferred bass (those over 15 inches) collected in an hour was a record-breaking 29 fish!
The regional fisheries biologist John Odenkirk stated, "In addition, total catch rate of bass was 86 per hour -- an incredible increase over last year's record-breaking 74 per hour."
Anglers will certainly be interested to know that the mid-lake region was the most productive. Biologists shared that the water willow beds near "The Splits" held a large number of bass.
For more information on Northern Piedmont fishing, call (540) 899-4169.
Bass anglers have much to be excited about this year. Surveys are showing that the mild winters and normal rainfall are helping the bass fishery improve. Should you hook a nice bass this year, take a photo of it and send it to Virginia Game & Fish for the Camera Corner!
Find more about Virginia fishing and hunting at: VirginiaGameandFish.com