Across much of the state, our crappie populations are in very good shape. Here's the latest scoop on where the fishing is apt to be best in your corner of Virginia. (April 2006)
After experiencing a drought in 2002 followed by three years of above-average rainfall, Virginia crappie anglers might feel as though they might have to settle for less-than-desirable fishing conditions until some stability in the weather returned. The good news is that despite a horrible drought that impacted much of the outdoor world three years ago, the crappie fishing has rebounded and is in good shape across the state. These scrappy fish will not let you down this spring if you plan ahead and do a bit of research. We have done the grunt work for you by highlighting the top destinations in each region this year.
Chad Boyce is the fisheries guru for Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) in the Chesapeake office near Virginia Beach.
Lake Cohoon is one of Boyce's top picks for crappie fishing. The lake is part of the Portsmouth city water supply.
"Cohoon has both good numbers and decent-sized crappie thriving in its 510 acres of water. There are a number of 8- to 11-inch crappie in the lake as evident by our sampling last spring," Boyce pointed out. "We even turned up a fish at 16 inches during our sampling!"
The upper lake has many arms and points and "S" curves where trees have fallen and now provide crappie habitat. These are great locations for anglers to target as they wind their way uplake.
The slightly stained water in Cohoon is perfect for fishing. The forage of gizzard shad, alewives and golden shiners helps keep the crappie population strong. Boyce noted that 3-year-old fish currently dominate the fishery.
Anglers visiting Cohoon will find that there is some shoreline fishing available, although the better opportunities await those with a small boat launched from the ramp.
Farther north in the region, Scott Herrmann is Boyce's counterpart for the VDGIF. Herrmann gives the nod to the Chickahominy as his springtime choice for crappie angling. Last spring, Herrmann trap netted the 1,230-acre impoundment to determine what the fishery looked like.
According to Herrmann's notes, this shallow reservoir gave up most of its April fish in 3 to 5 feet of water.
During late March, most of the black crappie can be found near the stream channels and the numerous flats. Herrman noted that the first night he trap netted the lake he caught 104 black crappie.
"This respectable average of more than 10 black crappie per net was much better than the other reservoirs sampled, including Lee Hall, Harwoods Mill and Waller Mill reservoirs."
Herrmann pointed out that crappie were consistently caught in tributaries. Two notable tributaries were Lacey Creek and Johnson Creek. Anglers are encouraged to target flats and shallows of the creeks where the pre-spawn fish are looking for food and scout out spawning sites. Anglers might also check the area around the small islands of the southern shoreline across from Lacey Creek.
Uplake, the better locations to find crappie include points. The point near the power line across from Eagles Landing was memorable, according to Herrmann. He told us that the net had 30 black crappie in it and was the best net of the sample. The fisheries biologist's second-best net was the one set just inside the mouth of Cedar Farm Creek.
Cypress trees, aquatic vegetation and fallen trees are the dominating structure in this tea-colored water. Golden shiners thrive in the water and small bluegills and blueback herring also provide good forage.
The average crappie sampled at Chickahominy was 3 years old and 9.25 inches long. These fish came from the 2002 year spawn and will provide a strong base for the next few years. Herrmann also was pleased to see that fish in the 8- to 9-year age-class measured 12 inches in length. On average, most of the crappie over 12 inches long will be 6 years old or older.
Anglers may want to touch base with one of the three local bait shops to get the skinny on daily conditions on the lake: Ed Allen's Boats & Bait, (804) 966-5368; Eagles Landing, (804) 966-9094 and Adam's Sportsmart, (804) 966-5509.
SOUTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
Smith Mountain Lake is one of several popular destinations for crappie fishing in this fertile region of the state. While Smith Mountain does not give up great numbers of crappie on every trip, the average size of the crappie caught is typically very good.
Dan Wilson, VDGIF fisheries biologist for the district, offered an explanation for the quality of fish.
"The lack of heavy pressure on crappie at Smith prevents overharvest and contributes to longevity and larger sizes dominating the fishery."
Wilson also commented that some anglers have keyed in to where and when to load up on crappie at Smith. With a little time on the lake, anglers will learn of hotspots and should keep them secret to avoid overfishing them.
We asked Wilson what the crappie feed on to gain their notable size at Smith Mountain. As could be expected of a large impoundment, the answer included shad and alewives. Crappie will also inhale small sunfish fry and minnows.
Because Smith Mountain is not noted for an abundance of cover, it can be hard to fish. Therefore anglers need to fish available cover along the shoreline during the spring and fall but also use a fish finder to locate submerged structure as well.
Wilson suggested that anglers concentrate on the upper end of the lake. The Roanoke and Blackwater arms are particularly good for crappie fishing. The farther upstream you venture, the better the crappie fishing tends to get.
Buggs Island always gets a mention when it comes to Virginia crappie fishing, and for good reason. Buggs is likely the most popular crappie water in the state if not the country! Vic Dicenzo gave us the scoop on crappie at Buggs Island, which is where he spends quite a few of his working hours each year sampling the water.
Dicenzo told us that the average crappie at Buggs is 10 or 11 inches, although during the spring anglers regularly run into fish measuring 8 to 11 inches. Many anglers have begun culling fish shy of 10 inches. Dicenzo said that culling is not doing the population a favor. Sometimes growth is variable enough that an 8-inch fish may be old and slow-growing. He encourages ang
lers to keep 8-inch fish, too.
Dicenzo also shared with us that crappie are found in water less than 3 feet at the beginning of April and then move into deeper water (to 10 feet) as the month comes to an end. This may vary depending on how cool the spring is. A cool spring can delay things and a warm spring may speed things up a bit.
Recent sampling at Buggs shows continued growth by crappie, which are feeding heavily on alewives, blueback herring and shad. The threadfin shad spawn last year was incredible and will aid continued crappie growth. Additionally, the 1998 crappie spawn was outstanding and those fish are now reaching a whopping 2 pounds!
SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
While the Southern Mountain Region may not be the most popular destination for crappie fishing, it still offers anglers residing in the region a pair of beautiful fishing destinations.
We spoke to Tom Hampton, who studies and manages the fishing in the region. He recommended one small lake, North Fork Pound Reservoir and one large impoundment, South Holston Reservoir. Anglers should note that both lakes have a 10-inch minimum length limit for crappie. Statewide creel limits apply.
North Fork Pound Lake was built in 1966 and has an abundance of structure along the 13 miles of shoreline. The U.S. Forest Service now owns the land surrounding the 154-acre lake. Hinge-cut trees provide additional cover and VDGIF has stocked 8-inch crappie in the lake to further improve the fishery.
Dedicated crappie anglers will be pleased to hear that there are good populations of both black and white crappie that congregate around the fish attractors in the lake. This is especially true in the spring when the spawn gets going. To get to the lake, take Route 23 to Pound, then turn west onto Route 630. Follow Route 630 for a mile to the boat landing.
South Holston sprawls across 7,580 acres and is a project of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Anglers should be aware that most of the reservoir is technically in Tennessee. Virginia retains the rights to 1,600 acres of water. Unfortunately, anglers must have a license for each state depending on where they choose to fish, as Virginia has not worked out a reciprocal license agreement with Tennessee.
Although there are both white and black crappie in Holston, black crappie are the dominant species. During the April, anglers should concentrate on submerged brush in the upper end of the reservoir. Anglers might also probe the river channel near Whitaker Hollow Boat Landing.
There is a diverse amount of forage for crappie here, including alewives, threadfin shad, shiners and gizzard shad, all of which aid the fish in growing to respectable sizes. Over half the fish recently sampled exceeded 10 inches. Some fish have been sampled at more than 15 inches as well.
We would be remiss if we did not mention Claytor Lake, which is VDGIF fisheries biologist John Copeland's responsibility. Claytor Lake is a large lake at 4,475 acres. Because it is an impoundment of the New River, it is long and narrow and receives plenty of driftwood and woody flotsam that provide good cover for crappie. Copeland pointed out that the lake has many miles of undeveloped shoreline and fallen trees that offer anglers additional excellent crappie habitat.
Forage for crappie at Claytor includes gizzard shad, alewives and minnows. During the spring, crappie begin moving to staging and spawning areas at creek mouths and in the creeks themselves. Clapboard Hollow, Mack's Creek and Peak Creek and upper lake coves are great places to begin a search for crappie. Anglers also should not overlook the midlake coves as possible good crappie hangouts. Crappie average just under a pound in size at Claytor.
Paul Bugas, fisheries biologist for the region, gave us some valuable insight on the crappie fishing in the rugged mountains of the northwest part of the state. Although the crappie fishing in the region does not dominate the news, there are good out-of-the-way places to go fish and come home happy with the results.
Bugas pointed us to Lake Arrowhead as one destination. Although it is a mere 34 acres, the lake boasts crappie up to 14 inches in length. The water at Arrowhead is more stained than many mountain lakes because of organic matter. The lake does have fish attractors where crappie can be found. Jigs tipped with minnows or white grubs prove to be effective at the attractors.
Bugas also pointed out that the 118-acre Skidmore Reservoir is a worthwhile crappie destination and is located just outside of Harrisonburg. Crappie weighing 1 pound can be caught. Anglers should use small minnows and jigs to target fish near beaver lodges, which make up much of the sparse cover in the lake. The lake is accessible only by Forest Development Road 227 off Route 33 west of Harrisonburg, near the West Virginia state line.
One final destination that is an interesting prospect is the Bath County Recreation Ponds. The upper pond and much of the lower pond are open to bank-fishing. The upper pond is 45 acres and the lower pond is 27 acres. Bugas told us that recent sampling in the upper pond showed crappie to be up to 12 inches in length. As with the other Northern Mountain waters, crappie feed primarily on dace minnows and bream fry.
The most popular destination for crappie anglers in the Northern Piedmont is Lake Anna. Anna is quite large at 9,600 acres and was featured in our February issue of Virginia Game & Fish. To recap, crappie populations are stable at Anna and the best fishing occurs from "the splits" uplake into the Pamunkey and North Anna arms. Steve Owens, VDGIF fisheries biologist, told us that the growth of crappie in Anna is good.
In March and early April, crappie move into shallow water, particularly the Christopher Run area of the North Anna and in the Pamunkey River. Boat docks, brush or rockpiles and bridge abutments, including the Route 208 bridge, are also good locations to try. Use small jigs or spinners tipped with minnows. Jig your bait at a depth just above fish marked on your finder or try various depths until the fish are located. Find one fish and more will follow the first into the livewell.
A second water that does not get as much attention would be the Potomac River, specifically the tributaries of the Potomac River. In recent years, crappie fishing has improved and is quite noteworthy on Occoquan Bay, Pohick Bay, Dogue Creek, Aquia Creek, Quantico Creek and Potomac Creek. The winding headwaters of these tributaries and the treetops that lie in the water are prime locations to pitch a white grub on an ultralight rig. It is not unrealistic to expect a heavy stringer of fish from these waters once the fish are located.
Anglers should use a fish finder to locate structure that is submerged. Submerged cover is not as obvious and is not as heavily fished. Not only is the fishing good with fish up to 14 inches not being uncommon, but also public access is available at Leesylvania State Park and Pohick Bay Regional Park (Fairfax County).
Most of the tributaries are within striking distance of a gas-powered johnboat or bass boat from these locations. There are also many local, privately owned marinas that offer parking and ramps. Anglers who do not have a boat may want to try Leesylvania State Park and Pohick Bay Regional Park for shore-fishing opportunities.
One final note about the Northern Piedmont concerns military installations. Quantico Marine Corps Base has several waters that may be fished. Local anglers report that Lunga Reservoir is a good crappie water with fish up to 12 inches being taken off structure along the shoreline. Take a bucket of minnows and a bag of jigs to effectively fish this water.
Crappie anglers can look forward to another great year for speck fishing in Virginia. This year, try some of the out-of-the-way places we featured and harvest a few of these tasty fish for the table. The fishing is fine in April and May and the weather is beautiful.