Some of the best bass fishing of the year is just getting started in Virginia. Here's a look at some of the top fisheries in the state. (March 2010)
Bass aficionados all over Virginia are ready to push the boat off the trailer this month in search of those pre-spawn, heavy egg-laden hawgs of a lifetime. Although some of the big-name waters are still in our forecast lineup, there are others that have been overlooked and we aim to rectify that so that anglers can find a water close to home to get in some great fishing.
For this forecast, we found a pair of waters not regularly mentioned in magazines. Chad Boyce, fisheries biologist from the Virginia Beach area, brought us up to date about the best spots in the far southeast corner of the state.
Lake Prince is one of the oldest lakes in the region and it is still going strong. Its 900-plus acres of water have remained a favorite with local anglers. The lake's narrow coves and swamps with cypress trees and structure give it the look of a bass angler's dream water.
Boyce pointed out that Lake Prince is once again in the top 10 lakes in the state for citation bass. The total number of bass in the lake is very good, with excellent size distribution as well. The length-to-weight ratio of the lake is also very good. The average size fish is 2.5 pounds, and plenty of fish are in the 12- to 15-inch range. Gizzard shad and blueback herring provide a solid forage base for bass.
Boyce commented that the spawn tends to start a bit earlier here than in many Virginia impoundments. By late March, the spawn is on and the bigger fish are sure to be a draw to anglers.
The second water that we got the scoop on from Boyce was Burnt Mills Reservoir. This lake sprawls to over 700 acres and contains stumps, trees and plenty of cypress. Boyce stated that the average size largemouth at Burnt Mills, like those at Prince, is about 2.5 pounds -- but the potential for a really big fish is quite good at Burnt Mills. This is particularly true in the early spring during the pre-spawn. Some fish over 10 pounds can be caught out of the reservoir. The boat ramp has been closed for two years but is scheduled to be open by the time you receive this issue. If the boat ramp is open, the fishing is likely to be spectacular as the pressure at the reservoir has been essentially nonexistent.
The Southern Piedmont is so full of great bass destinations it is tough to cover them. Buggs Island is a mammoth bass lake that gets a good deal of ink each year because it is a top fishery for so many species of fish, including largemouth bass. In the last sampling, fish averaged 13 to 14 inches, and there is enough potential for 7- to 8-pound fish that any bass angler would be content to fish its waters. If Buggs is your destination, be sure to fish the upper lake, the creek arms and in the spring, don't be afraid to go to the back of the creeks in very shallow water. The spawn takes off in March, so don't miss it!
No bass forecast about this region would be complete without mentioning Briery Creek Reservoir either. This is the best bass lake in Virginia, according to the droves of anglers that come from out of state and even other countries to fish it. The average fish caught from Briery is going to be between 15 and 16 inches. A 16-pound bass has been hauled from its waters and biologists would not be surprised if the state record came from there soon. March through May is prime time to fish Briery. Be mindful of the slot limit of 14 through 24 inches when fishing at Briery.
One other lake that anglers might consider fishing for bass in this district is Nottoway Lake (also known as Lee Lake). The lake is 188 acres and is located near Blackstone. Motors up to 10 horsepower are permitted. The spring bass fishery is outstanding at Nottoway. Many bass in the 6- to 7-pound range are caught. The most recent sampling shows an average bass at Nottoway to measure 14 inches. There is standing timber and timber just under the surface, so anglers should use caution when running a boat.
Because of the abundance of cover, the fishing can appear to be hit or miss. If your efforts are not producing fish, locals advise that you change tactics regularly to find what the bass want.
Smith Mountain Lake is another regular in our lineup. Dan Wilson gave us a rundown on the biology of the bass population there. He reports that the size structure of the bass population is stable and in good shape. The average bass anglers are likely to encounter will measure 14 inches. There are plenty of shad at Smith Mountain, so the bass have good forage. Although the lower end of the lake has lower bass densities, the flats and points make patterning the fish here a little easier. Plus, as Wilson pointed out, the lower end of the lake is clearer and that makes the spring spawn and sight-fishing a bit easier on the angler.
SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
A standout bass impoundment in this mountainous region is South Holsten Reservoir. Although the impoundment is over 7,500 acres, only 1,600 acres are in Virginia. Anglers fishing the Tennessee side must have a Tennessee license. Most anglers consider the Virginia portion of this TVA impoundment to be the best and most productive. With mudflats, riverbeds, rock bluffs, shale cliffs and treetops, the lake has plenty of cover to target for largemouth bass.
Bill Kittrell, fisheries biologist in the region, pointed out that South Holsten is an excellent water to fish. However, the lake is loaded with plenty of forage, such as gizzard shad, threadfin and alewives. This means that bass have plenty to eat and can be tough to catch. On the flip side, all the forage means the bass are healthy, fat and grow well.
Another factor that impacts anglers is the steep-sided topography of the lake and the drawdown zone, which can be up to 30 feet in the winter. That said, the largemouth bass fishery is in excellent shape. In fact, the VDGIF reports that 40 percent of the largemouths measure 15 inches or larger.
There is no doubt that Claytor Lake is beautiful, has abundant opportunities for the dedicated bass angler and the family, too, and it does have a viable bass population.
Anglers should understand that the bass at Claytor grow slowly, and there are fewer of them at Claytor compared with many other popular impoundments. However, the bass fishing is good in the mid-lake area around and in Peak Creek, and the coves in Clapboard Hollow and Spooky Hollow. The lake is tough to fish because it is so steep sided. However, ample cover, treetops and other structure can be found and should be targeted in these areas.
John Copeland, who is responsible for this district, reports that the electrofishing catch rate for largemouths has increased compared with the catch rates
for other bass species. Roughly a third of the sampled bass were largemouths. There are large bass in the lake and it is possible to get a real wallhanger. The lake record stands at 14 pounds, 6 ounces! Anglers can contact, Mike Burchett at Rockhouse Marina at (540) 980-1488 for up-to-date bass fishing information on the lake.
One last water we should mention is probably best fished by anglers with a kayak or canoe. Lovill's Creek Lake (55 acres) is located in Carroll County not far from Cana. This quiet little gem is perfect for small craft anglers, a solitary angler or the entire family. Kittrell was impressed with the most recent sampling, which turned up plenty of healthy bass. Most were in the 10- to 12-inch range.
NORTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
Although the Northern Mountain anglers don't have as many good choices for bass fishing as anglers do in some other parts of the state, the ones that they do have are quite good. Very likely the most overlooked water in the region for largemouth bass anglers is the Shenandoah River. Most anglers who hit the Shenandoah are after smallmouths. Fisheries biologist Steve Reeser pointed out that his sampling efforts have shown that there are more quality-sized largemouth bass in the river than there are quality-sized smallmouth bass. That fact surprises many people because they just don't think of the river as a largemouth destination.
Reeser pointed out that some anglers have figured out that the slower moving pools in the main stem and the South Fork hold really nice fish. The slower water that is fished in a deliberate and careful manner can produce fish up to 7 pounds!
Largemouth bass that have been sampled on the river have averaged 14 inches.
Another water that readers are likely to be familiar with is Lake Frederick. Near Winchester, this 117-acre lake gets steady pressure, but because of its management and the fertility of the water, the lake holds up quite well. Fishing during the spawn before the vegetation takes hold is good, and many anglers find that the vegetation can be a productive area to fish during the summer with weedless baits. Senkos, drop-shot rigs and other plastics not to mention Scum Frogs or Phat Rats work well.
The average fish is 12-13 inches long, but there are some very nice fish here too, including a 10-pounder taken from the lake.
NORTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
When you come to the Northern Piedmont Region, the topography and scenery can vary from the big-city waters of the Potomac near Washington, D.C. to the quiet waters of Lake Orange -- and plenty of prime bassing waters in between.
Steve Owens, VDGIF fisheries biologist, has a pulse on the fishing in the region and gave us his picks.
"Lake Anna seems to get better and better. Our recent sampling showed good size structure of the fishery and a large availability of fish in the 15- to 16-inch range."
Owens also commented that anglers that regularly fish Anna see plenty of 4- to 6-pound fish, with larger fish certainly being available.
Anna is a sprawling impoundment with loads of coves, flats and dropoffs and plenty of structure too. Although bass obviously can be caught anywhere on the lake, Owens noted that biologists always do quite well when sampling for bass in the upper part of the lake above "The Splits."
"Our catch rates and sizes of fish tend to be better in that area of Anna," he said.
There is plenty of water willow and other vegetation in the Terry's Run area of the lake, which makes great ambush cover, forage cover and bass habitat.
Although Lake Anna certainly gets the nod for being an outstanding all-around fishery, Lake Orange is likely one of the more infamous yet secluded waters that we write about. Despite all the press, the lake continues to produce quality bass fishing. Owens said that they have seen bass over 11 pounds in Orange, and there are normally one to two fish taken each year that exceed 9 pounds.
Anglers regularly catch bass in the 2- to 3-pound range, and the density of these fish is good. However, there are gizzard shad in the lake and the sheer plentitude of forage can make it tougher to catch bass at times. Obviously, shad-colored baits will work well. The lake itself is open year 'round. If you are looking for a place to go that is quiet, has the potential to produce a wallhanger or large numbers of decent-sized bass, then Orange is a good destination.