10 Hotspots For Close-To-Home Crappie

Want slab crappie fishing and convenience all at once? We've picked 10 top crappie lakes that are close to the 10 biggest cities in the Commonwealth. (April 2009)

The grass is not always greener on the other side, and the best fishing is not always found somewhere else. In fact, the finest opportunities often are close to home. With that thought in mind, we began by looking at the most populous Virginia cities and then we handpicked a close-to-home crappie fishing hotspot for each. So, unless you just like spending more time driving and less time fishing or spending extra money on gas, these are the waters you'll want to consider this month.

Lake Whitehurst is sort of like two lakes in one because it has two distinct bodies, which are connected by a shallow canal that is impassible by boat. One section, which is located within Virginia Beach, is also commonly called Little Creek Reservoir (not to be confused with the Little Creek Reservoir in James City County) and is very shallow. The main section includes several deep holes. Combined, Lake Whitehurst covers 673 acres, all convenient to Virginia Beach residents and serving up fine crappie fishing, especially during the spring.

Black crappie are popular sport fish on Lake Whitehurst, and recent biologists' surveys suggest that the crappie populations are improving, with good numbers of 1-pound fish available. The Whitehurst side is generally thought to offer the best overall fishing; however, it also gets more fishing pressure, due both to a better reputation and to better boating access. On either side, trolling is a good way to locate crappie.

Gas motors up to 9.9 horsepower are permitted on Lake Whitehurst. A daily fishing permit is required. A dirt ramp provides access to the Little Creek Reservoir side of the lake. Two paved ramps provide access to the rest of the lake. Bank-fishing is limited to fishing piers at the access areas.

For close-to-home crappie, it would be hard to top 1,110-acre Diascund Reservoir, which straddles the New Kent/James City county line and serves as water source for the city of Newport News. The lake's population of black crappie appears to be in good condition, based on the most recent trap netting surveys conducted by the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, with most fish captured in the nets falling in the 8- to 12-inch range.

Beyond yielding good numbers and a nice average size, though, Diascund produces some genuine slabs, which is evidenced by the fact that this lake annually yields several citation-earning black crappie. In 2007, the most recent year for which results are available, Diascund's yield of nine citation crappie put it seventh in Virginia.

Diascund has several significant creek arms, and during April, many of the crappie will be up the creeks. Trolling or drifting is a good way to locate fish, and anglers should be ready to toss out a marker buoy any time a couple rods go down at once. Crappie are schooling fish, and where there is one, there often are many.

Diascund does not offer much to the shoreline angler. The only public bank access to the lake is in the immediate vicinity of the boat ramp. Boating anglers should check the water level before planning a trip as low water levels can cause temporary boat ramp closures.

A 510-acre water-supply reservoir for the city of Portsmouth, Lake Cohoon is located within the city of Suffolk. Year after year, Cohoon stands out as one of the best crappie lakes in the Tidewater Region, with good numbers of quality fish consistently available. Lake Cohoon is a narrow impoundment of Cohoon Creek and part of the Suffolk Lakes chain.

Stumps and flooded cypress trees in the upper part of the lake and the upper ends of creeks provide good visible cover for crappie fishermen to probe during the spring. The lake also has numerous coves scattered along its narrow body. Crappie fishermen typically find good success during April simply by casting jigs around visible cover or by dangling minnows under floats in the same areas.

Access to Lake Cohoon is available at the Cohoon-Meade Fishing Station, which is located on Pitchkettle Road off state Route 58. A daily permit from the city of Portsmouth is required for fishing or boating. Rental boats are available, but private boats (9.9-horsepower limit) may be used on the lake. Bank access is limited to the vicinity of the fishing station, excluding the dam.

Lake Burke is a fishing lake. It's as simple as that. Fisheries are intensively managed to maximize productivity, and facilities are maintained with fishermen in mind. In fact, around the VDGIF access, which includes a boat ramp, fishing piers and extensive bank-fishing access, non-fishing recreation is considered trespassing! A separate county park on the lake's shores, although set up for other uses as well, provides an additional ramp and more foot access.

Lake Burke, which is owned by the VDGIF, impounds 218 acres in Fairfax County. Because of its proximity to northern Virginia's biggest people populations, it is one of the most heavily fished lakes in the state. However, the department's management efforts, which include regular fertilization, keep productivity high. Lake Burke does not produce really big crappie on average, but catch rates are typically good for average-sized fish and it does kick out occasional slabs. The lake record crappie weighed an impressive 3 1/2 pounds.

Making Lake Burke especially attractive to crappie anglers, some of the best fishing is found around the fishing piers, both at the VDGIF area near the dam and in the park area. In fact, the park pier is lit and provides good night-fishing for crappie. Anglers walking the lake's shores or going out in boats can do well by simply concentrating on visible cover during April. Most fish will be shallow, making laydowns and other visible cover the best areas to work.

The crappie limit is 25 fish, with no minimum size. Only electric motors may be used, and gas motors on boats must be kept trimmed out of the water, with the gas tank disconnected, or removed from the boat, if possible. The VDGIF area remains open for fishing 24 hours a day, with no costs. The park charges entry and boater access fees.

Creel data indicate that crappie are the third most commonly pursued game fish at Lake Anna (behind largemouth bass and stripers) and that they serve up the highest catch rate of any species sought by anglers. This 9,600-acre impoundment, which provides cooling functions for the North Anna Nuclear Station, provides anglers with good crappie action year after year, but it also produces plenty of big fish. The availability of big crappie in Lake Anna is evidenced by the 30 citation crappie

the lake produced in 2007.

The most recent gill net surveys showed very good numbers of quality crappie but also a good representation of fish through a range of size-classes, pointing toward good quantity and quality in the crappie population at least for the next few years.

Creel surveys show that some of the best crappie fishing in Lake Anna tends to be in the Christopher Run area and North Anna arm. During March and early April, the fish will move onto shallow flats and relate to cover in 5 or 6 feet of water. As April progresses -- and on into early May -- the crappie will move farther up the creeks and way back in coves off major channels and will move very shallow, congregating around water willows, boat docks, brush and shallow bridge pilings.

Numerous marinas and campgrounds, along with Lake Anna State Park, provide good access to all parts of Lake Anna.

It's said that good things sometimes come in small packages, and this is certainly true about 230-acre Lee Hall Reservoir, which is located with the Newport News Park. This little gem produced 15 citation crappie in 2007, putting it fifth on the statewide list of slab producers. Lee Hall's crappie population is made up of all black crappie, and the best numbers are in the upper part of the lake.

Spanned by the Interstate 64 and state Route 143 bridges, Lee Hall Reservoir is close to home and handy for folks in Newport News, and the lake's small size makes fish finding a more reasonable proposition, even for anglers who aren't familiar with the lake. That's especially true this time of year, when the fish tend to be close to the bank. Facilities are also great for a family outing. Boat rentals are available from two locations, and there are campgrounds, boat ramps, a fishing pier and some bank-fishing access.

Only boats with electric motors may be used on Lee Hall Reservoir, and a daily access permit is required. Statewide limits apply.

A fairly young reservoir (built in 1989), Beaverdam Swamp offers crappie fishermen both quantity and quality. Recent electro-shocking efforts, combined with trap-netting surveys, reveal large numbers of black crappie that average 9 to 11 inches, with plenty of larger fish in the mix. In 2007, Beaverdam Swamp also produced eight citation crappie, making it one of the top smaller reservoirs in the Virginia.

A water-supply reservoir for Gloucester County, Beaverdam Swamp covers 635 acres. Several creek arms and an abundance of flooded timber created great structure and cover for crappie and other game fish. Some of the best crappie fishing occurs during the spring in the upper half of the reservoir on big, shallow flats.

Only electric motors may be operated on this lake, so anglers who plan to do significant exploring are wise to take a couple of batteries. Two boat ramps provide access to the lake, but the upper ramp is available only to annual pass holders. A daily or annual permit is required for all access. Rental boats are available at the main access area, which is accessible off Route 606. There is also a fishing pier in the same area.

Not far from Interstate 95, Occoquan provides good fishing that is convenient to many folks who live in northern Virginia, and crappie serve up some of the best opportunities. Both black and white crappie are part of the mix on Occoquan, and the overall crappie population is in great shape. In 2007, Occoquan ranked sixth in the state in citation crappie production, with 13 trophy crappie catches having been turned in for recognition.

Occoquan covers 2,100 acres and straddles the border between Fairfax and Prince William counties. It offers a good range of depths and plenty of visible cover for anglers to concentrate on during the spring. Dependable crappie-holding cover includes boat docks, brushpiles and fish attractors.

Three parks provide good access to various parts of Lake Occoquan, including boating access and boat rentals. The daily combined limit for black and white crappie is 25 fish, with no minimum size.

Although Buggs Island isn't quite on the back porch of any huge population center, it also isn't that terribly far from a pretty good portion of Virginia's total population, and there's just no way to talk about crappie hotspots in the Commonwealth without discussing this sprawling slab producer, which straddles the Virginia-North Carolina border. Buggs Island (or Kerr, if you prefer) annually dominates crappie citation listings, and 2007 was no exception. With 66 citation crappie to its credit, Buggs Island doubled the output of No. 2 fishery, Smith Mountain Lake.

Crappie are the second most sought-after fish species at Buggs Island (after largemouth bass) and they represent roughly 80 percent of all fish harvested from the lake, according to creel data. Catch rates are good year 'round (although fishing pressure is highest by far during the spring). Crappie average about 3/4 pound, but 1- to 2-pound fish (and larger) are common.

Spring fishing is generally better in the creeks than on the main lake. Traditionally good creeks include Buffalo, Grassy, Butcher, Bluestone, Eastland and Panhandle. The most effective techniques vary according to water levels, which can fluctuate as much as 15 feet and sometimes change in a hurry. When the water is high, the fish move into the willows and sweet gums, and the best way to catch them is to go way back in the creeks and pockets and fish among the bushes.

At lower levels, fish will be more widespread, and anglers can do well trolling or drifting in creeks, pulling jigs or minnows at a variety of depths. When a couple of poles go down at once, it's a good idea to circle back and make another pass or even to anchor near any cover that the fish might have been holding in and to fish that cover with minnows under floats.

There is no size or numbers limit for crappie on Buggs Islands. The lake's acreage is split between Virginia and North Carolina, but a fishing license for either state works lakewide. Boating access is very good, with numerous public and private ramps scattered all around the lake.

Although Smith Mountain Lake doesn't yield big numbers of crappie, the fish grow to large sizes in the 20,600-acre impoundment. The 33 citation crappie that Smith Mountain Lake produced in 2007 and second-place finish in the "slab count" are both on par with the annual average. With Smith Mountain being located in Bedford and Franklin counties, it definitely stands out the crappie destination of choice for folks from Roanoke.

As its name suggests, Smith Mountain Lake is mostly bounded by steep terrain. That limits crappie habitat and therefore overall crappie numbers. The good thing about having a modest amount of quality crappie habitat in a big lake is that it "shortens the playing field" for anglers. Most of the best crappie fishing occurs in coves in the upper end of the lake, where there is a bit more shallow w

ater and the water tends to be a little less clear. Any downed tree, shallow dock or brushpile in the upper half of the lake is apt to have fish on it during the spring.

Access to Smith Mountain Lake is good, with numerous public and private ramps providing boating access to all parts of the lake and Smith Mountain State Park offering a fishing pier. The limit is 25 crappie, with no length limit.

The fishing section of the VDGIF Web site offers an enormous amount of good information about waterways throughout the state, including details about regulations and access, plus phone numbers to call for more information. Be sure to check out www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing before making your next trip.

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