Virginia's Best Bream Fishing
September 30, 2010
Every corner of Virginia has a great bream water, and with it comes a chance to fill a stringer or cooler with a great meal. Here are some top spots across the state.
Photo by Tom Evans
The sweet smell of fresh spring wildflowers and the sudden disappearance of your float marks the arrival of spring. Bream fishing is where it all started for most of us as anglers. Whether your approach involves a bait covered hook and a float or finessing a popper along the surface, there are plenty of destinations for you to enjoy successful trips on the water this year in search of bream. You might just find it as fun as you did when you were a kid.
The tidewater region's slower moving rivers, tidal surges and brackish waters includes the state's leading producer of citation-sized bream: Lake Prince.
One of the older impoundments in Virginia, Prince is located in Suffolk. The 777-acre lake is 30 feet deep in places and has been a consistent water for bluegill for a number of years.
Chad Boyce, fisheries biologist with VDGIF in the region, assisted us with data and observations on waters in his region. He reported that in 2002, which is the most recent year for which citation data is available, Lake Prince led the state with 89 sunfish citations. Lake Prince was followed by the Nottoway River with 81 citations, and Lake Meade with 32.
"Lake Prince produces large bluegill, while other Suffolk lakes like Lake Kilby, and Lake Meade produce a lot of smaller fish," he noted.
According to Boyce, Lake Prince receives a lot of fishing pressure during the prime bream fishing season, which he feels runs April through June. This could explain the high number of citations.
Boyce's sampling data from May 2003 indicates that the catch per unit effort (CPUE) was 83 fish per hour. This may not be an extremely high number but Boyce noted that the number of quality fish was good. Lake Meade had a similar CPUE figure but smaller fish dominated the sample.
Fishing Lakes Prince and Meade is normally best from early April to late May, depending on the weather. Sunny banks are great places to begin dunking bait as the waters warm up faster. Look for bowl shaped spawning grounds to really get in on the action. Both Prince and Meade have plenty of undeveloped shoreline.
Boyce suggests that anglers start with a number 8 or number 10 long shank hook baited with red wigglers or crickets suspended at least a foot below a float. Stick floats provide less resistance and alert anglers to a fish taking the bait just as well as traditional floats.
Flyfishermen enjoy using poppers to entice angry strikes from fish on the spawning beds.
A second choice destination for bream anglers residing in the Tidewater Region would be the Nottoway River. Most of the catch on this scenic river will be redbreast and redear sunfish.
Fishing for bream and redear, also known as shellcrackers, in the Nottoway River can be excellent in the early spring. Shellcrackers are notorious for their size and their aggressiveness. Anglers should try the lower section of the river, downstream of Courtland, during the early portion of the season and then switch to the upper river during the summer. Boyce notes that the water is cooler, which is ideal for a summer dip to get some relief from the heat and the fish are smaller but more abundant. Anglers will find plenty of launch locations on the Nottoway River. Carey's Bridge, Peter's Bridge, Hercules Landing and Rt. 258 near Riverdale all offer access.
Currently, the creel limit for bluegill and other sunfish in all of the above waters is 50 per day, with no size limits. Boyce also wanted readers to know that Lake Kilby, a Portsmouth water supply lake, no longer has public launch facilities available.
For more info on bream fishing opportunities in this region call (757)-465-6812.
SOUTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
The southern Piedmont counties are often dominated by news of fishing at Smith Mountain or Buggs Island. For the savvy bream angler, the glory is in a quiet and small water where the fishing is fine and the peace is unbroken.
Dan Wilson of the District II office of VDGIF provided us with a few such bream destinations. Amherst County has three lakes -- Thrasher, Stonehouse, and Mill Creek -- close together and offer good bream prospects. Of the three, Thrasher gets the nod from Wilson.
"Bass are slightly over populated in Thrasher and are picking on the bluegill numbers a bit, which has improved the size structure. There is also no competition from shad. Lakes with shad in them tend to be poor bream lakes."
The three lakes are smaller but offer simple food webs and very balanced populations of the few species of fish that reside in each. Bluegill dominate the scene in Thrasher while Stonehouse and Mill Creek offer redear to anglers wanting a larger panfish. Most bluegill are in the 7-inch range. A day with several fish topping eight inches possible.
In Mill Creek, anglers should note the location of beaver lodges. Such areas are often used extensively by bream.
Wilson suggests that anglers use a boat to access the best fishing at any of the three lakes. Shore fishing is available, but the fish are heavily pressured in these areas.
Families will enjoy the picnic area, the playgrounds and other facilities. The lakes are only open during the daylight hours.
Lake Nelson is another small water that Wilson suggests that angler visit when wanting to target panfish exclusively. This forty-acre lake is located south of Lovingston. There are no facilities at Nelson but anglers will find good bream angling and a good ramp to put a boat in.
An overlooked piece of water in the Southern Piedmont is Amelia Lake. VDGIF fisheries biologist Dan Michealson shared with us that the 100-acre lake has a stunted bass population but a great redear and bluegill fishery. Very few people are aware of the great bream fishing here. Ten-inch redears are not uncommon and 8-inch bluegill are regularly put in the cooler as well. The shallow area around the ramp is a great place to start with a small jon boat or canoe. This lake is just outside of Richmond, making it a great place for city dwellers to fish after work. There are some Christmas trees in the lake for cover and the lake has a nice courtesy pier that is handicapped accessible.
Call (434) 392-9645 for more information.
SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
The southern mountain counties can be tough places to find good largemouth bass and bream fishing, but a few places definitely stand out. We spoke with VDGIF fisheries biologist Tom Hampton to get the nod on which waters are worth your trip for a day of bream fishing.
Hampton first pointed to Flannagan Reservoir at a full 1,143 acres. Flannagan is located in Dickenson County. It stretches over thirteen miles and is very narrow with steep sloping banks. Flannagan is known to produce bluegill eight inches and larger.
"There are a few hybrid bluegills still around that were stocked in 1995. These fish weigh up to 2 pounds," Hampton pointed out.
Anglers will find boat ramps near the overlook at the dam. Some of the ramps require a two-dollar fee. A marina is located off Rt. 614 near the Pound and Cranesnest River. Some camping is also available nearby. Those wanting to turn their bream fishing trip into a family camping adventure should call the Army Corps of Engineers at (540) 835-9544 for information.
Anglers who want to have a shot at citation-sized bream should note that Keokee Lake (92 acres) has some "trophy" sunfish (bluegill and redear). Like most trophy fish, these sunfish are not abundant. Hampton pointed out that there is a lot of standing timber in the lake and underwater structure. Wire hooks for live bait fishing are probably a good idea.
Claytor Lake is one of the most popular fishing destinations in the region. The 4,475-acre water has been home to a stable bream fishery for years; mature fish average a half-pound each according to John Copeland, VDGIF fisheries biologist for the district. It is also not uncommon for anglers to take home a limit of fifty bream Claytor. In fact, angler surveys indicate that bluegill are the most frequently caught and harvested species at Claytor Lake.
According to data that Copeland supplied us, bluegill harvest peaks in May and October. Bluegill in Claytor Lake are in excellent condition and provide great angling and good eating for anglers that ply its waters.
Good locations to begin looking for bream at Claytor include the tributary creeks and the coves in the middle and upper sections of the lake. Peak Creek is still a very good spot to try.
Copeland offered a tip in catching the fish once they are located.
"I have fished it during a few summer days the past 2 years with my sons," he said. "We catch numerous 6-8 inch bluegill using small white crappie jigs (1/8 to 3/16 ounce) tipped with nightcrawlers. We cast to the steep, rocky shorelines and catch bluegill and other species with regularity as these jigs fall through the water column."
Call (276) 783-4860 for more info.
NORTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
Lake Frederick is arguably this region's best bream water, although there are quite a few other choices for anglers in the northern mountain counties.
Frederick gives up many citation fish each year. Most of these are redear bream but there are also some quality bluegill at Frederick. Steven Reeser, VDGIF fisheries biologist, noted that there is a good predator to prey ratio at Frederick with largemouth bass being the main predator. The bass keep the bream population thinned down a bit which allows those fish that remain to have more resources in order to thrive.
Reeser also noted that several smaller impoundments are great destinations for anglers wanting to take a family outing, fill the stringer or just have a load of fun. Lake Laura is a 44-acre impoundment owned by Bryce Mountain Resort in southwestern Shenandoah County. Laura is a great small impoundment just full of decent sized bluegill. While the bluegill are not trophy sized, they are worth catching and keeping. The stunted bass population is targeting these fish and keeping their numbers from getting out of hand.
Lake Robertson, near Lexington in Rockbridge County, is another small water (at 26 acres) known for good bream fishing. Reeser noted that the bream population included a good balance of sunfish. Redear sunfish were stocked a few years ago and should be of quality size by now.
Dominion Power owns two ponds, Bath County Recreation Ponds, near Back Creek in Bath County. The 27-acre and 45-acre ponds have great sunfish opportunities. The redbreast sunfish are handsized.
With its larger size and good bank access, the upper pond is the first stop an angler should make. The lower bank of the lower pond has good bank access too, however. Electric motorized boats are permitted on the upper pond only. The bream are large enough that tiny crankbaits and even small bass lures make good catches.
Finally, as we always point out, the South Fork of the Shenandoah is a good river destination for most species of fish. This sleeper fishery is a river rat's dream, with slow-moving pools and some rapids between. The redbreast spawn on the river is robust and occurs in June through July. Small spinnerbaits, teeny crankbaits in crayfish patterns and live bait work best.
NORTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
The northern Piedmont counties have always been a sweet spot for bream anglers. Usually the bream fishing in most regions stays stable and this year the data we received showed no surprises.
Lake Curtis tops the list for bream in both quality and quantity. The redear sunfish and bluegill that populate the waters of the 91-acre, timber-covered impoundment are quality fish.
Steve Owens, the fisheries biologist working out of the Fredericksburg office, noted that Lake Curtis is productive for two reasons. The shallow areas in the lake provide an abundance of spawning habitats. Second, flooded timber that was left standing in the lake provides desirable structure and encourages invertebrate colonization, which equates to loads of good food for the fish.
Bream at Curtis average up to 9 inches, with some fish stretching a bit longer. Catch rates of bream at Curtis are high too.
Late spring is an outstanding time to fill a stringer with bream at Curtis. Anglers should concentrate on the flooded timber opposite the dam and the area to the right of the boat ramp. Beaver lodges and aquatic vegetation provide additional cover and good angling locations.
There is no need to fish in depths greater than six feet. Drop offs and points combined with structure are great locations to fish. During the spawn in June anglers can look for beds in the coves by using polarized glasses.
Redworms, crickets, mealworms, tiny minnows and crappie jigs all do the trick. Gulp baits by Berkley have proven themselves to be dynamite at Curtis. Although there is not a nearby tackle shop, Ken's Tackle in Fredericksburg often has daily reports of what anglers are using to catch fish on area waters. They can be reached at (540) 898-1011.
Owens shared some valuable information with us on the redear sunfish at Curtis.
"At Curtis, redear sunfish congregate in several large shallow flats offering anglers ample opportunity for success."
One of these flats can be located halfway across the lake to the right of the boat ramp.
Motts Run is another great bream water that does not get mentioned very often. The 160-acre lake is steep sided and can be tough to fish at times. However, anglers that take the time to learn the lake will find that the redear sunfish and the bluegill are fat and aggressive.
Any of the coves offer bedding areas during late May and early June. There is a concession at the lake: boat rentals and even bait offered for sale at Motts. The people working the concession, particularly Don Minor, are very helpful and knowledgeable about the fishing at Motts. Call 540-786-8989 for more info on fees and hours.
The fisheries biologists from the Fredericksburg office noted that most of the VDGIF lakes offer above average bream fishing due to intensive management. Lakes Orange, Curtis, Brittle, and Burke are fertilized which increases fish production by encouraging phytoplankton growth, which acts as an important food source for fish (especially juvenile fish).
For more info call (540) 899-4169.
If you have not enjoyed a good outing followed by a fish fry it is not due to lack of places to fish. Every corner of Virginia has a great bream lake waiting to be fished. Just bring your rod and some bait and let the good times begin!