Want some expert advice on how to catch Lake Anna's hungry fall stripers? Read on.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Summer may be winding down. but the striper action at Anna is heating up. The cooler it gets, the hotter the action at this Piedmont impoundment.
Lake Anna, which is owned by Dominion Virginia Power Company, spans 9,600 acres, damming the Pamunkey and North Anna rivers. The shoreline now includes property in Louisa, Spotsylvania and Orange counties and serves as cooling water for the two-unit North Anna Nuclear Power Station.
John Odenkirk, the VDGIF fisheries biologist who keeps tabs on the fishery at Lake Anna, shared quite a bit of information with us about Anna's striped bass fishery. VDGIF began stocking striped bass in 1973 with 3-inch fingerlings. Today, biologists stock striped bass at a rate of 20 per acre.
According to Odenkirk, striper growth at Anna is rapid: Fish often attain the minimum harvest size of 20 inches in 30 months. Growth slows thereafter, with most striped bass taking an additional three to seven years to grow to 10 pounds in weight.
Although the last creel survey was done in 2001, a new creel survey is under way and Odenkirk feels the newer data will reveal a higher harvest rate due to expanded hours and more access points being monitored. In 2001, the creel data recorded 1,725 fish harvested, while 4,290 were released. At that time, the average harvested fish weighed in at 5.9 pounds.
"Striped bass are the No. 2 fish on Lake Anna, with 15 percent of anglers targeting this species. I think it's much higher now. Striped bass comprised only 4 percent of the total number of fish harvested but accounted for 30 percent of the biomass. The stocking is going very well, and the fishery is as good as it can be given the water quality and habitat," Odenkirk commented.
Most people have a misconception that stripers in Lake Anna can be patterned and located at the same location year after year at a given time. While there is some pattern to the fishing at Lake Anna, it is not based on a certain location, according to striper guide Jim Hemby, who makes his living plying the waters of Anna year 'round. Hemby should know as he has been guiding exclusively for striped bass for seven years and has fished for largemouth bass and striped bass his entire life.
"I love guiding for striped bass. The fish are willing if you know what to look for," he said. "My clients like to catch fish. Each day is a challenge to me because the striped bass are not like largemouth bass. Bass anglers will often target locations such as a brushpile or a dock. Striped bass do not key in on a certain piece of structure at a certain location in the lake. They move around. Any good striped bass angler will tell you that you have to hunt the fish and move around looking for them. It is a learning process and it is fun."
Hemby also pointed out that the fish do feed on flats, but "flats" is a relative term. Most anglers think of a flat as being a very shallow structure, when in reality a flat at Lake Anna can be at any depth. In the lower third of the lake near Dike Three, a flat may be a 30-foot area next to 60 feet of water. In the upper third of the lake where the water is shallower, a flat may be found at 15 to 20 feet.
Stripers not only feed on flats but they also herd bait on humps and points, especially those near the channel because they can move from deeper water and feed before moving on to the next meal.
Stripers have their choice of forage at Lake Anna. Gizzard shad are the top choice for larger fish due to their size. An average gizzard shad caught for bait in the fall measures 6 to 12 inches long.
Threadfin shad are much smaller but are also a favorite food. Stripers especially target threadfin when the water is under 55 degrees and the fish's metabolism slows down. They are easily digested due to their small size. The threadfin shad will fit in your hand.
Blueback herring are also a good forage food and a favorite bait for striped bass anglers. Herring measure anywhere from 3 to 7 inches. Both threadfin shad and blueback herring were successfully introduced to Anna in the 1980s.
While some anglers may think that the stripers move around as a whole group, Hemby pointed out that his experience has shown that there are as many as 15 different schools of stripers all over the lake, with the fish traveling in schools according to size structure. Therefore, anglers who begin catching fish that are smaller than the legal size limit may find it wise to move on to another location to look for larger fish.
"Stripers are always on the move and they are fast. There are so many factors that affect where the stripers will be located and how they will be behaving from day to day and even hour to hour. Weather and other conditions, including the barometric reading, boat traffic, and water temperature and clarity are the top factors an angler needs to consider," Hemby suggested.
Boat traffic is bad news for striper anglers. Striped bass are very sensitive to boat engine noise. A school of stripers will scatter when they hear a boat roar up and slam to a stop. It is important that anglers move in on suspected schools of bait with a trolling motor. Take care to not thump or drop heavy objects on the bottom of the boat as well.
While we cannot change the weather, we can learn how the fish react to it and fish each condition effectively. On a bluebird day, Hemby likes to begin fishing the shallow waters at first light. As the day wears on and the sun begins to climb into the sky, the fish go deeper and can be found suspended, yet moving in 20-35 feet of water. Fishing the flats where the baitfish are located is a key point to remember.
It is obvious that a working knowledge of the fish finder on your boat is very important. Using and reading the finder's screen is critical to finding fish, especially baitfish.
"If you can find bait, then you will find fish," Hemby advised. He also pointed out that it is critical to fish at the same depth at which the baitfish are suspended, especially when using artificial baits.
Hemby gets excited when he sees baitfish scattered on his fish finder screen. If the bait is scattered around, then it means the striped bass are feeding. It is in such a place that he will stop the boat and begin putting out lines. When he sees a bait cloud or tightly balled group of bait, he remembers the location and checks back on the spot later to see if the striped bass have decided to feed yet.
On overcast days, anglers will find that the fish stay in the shallows a bit longer. This tendency becomes more pronounced as the water cools later in the fall. Striped bass feed very aggressively in 55-degree water.
During early September, the water is not yet that cool and the fish will go deeper to locate cooler water. As October and November approach and bring cooler temperatures, the water cools and the fish are much easier to catch because they remain in shallower water a greater length of time. As a result, Hemby's favorite time of the year to fish for big stripers at Lake Anna is from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
In late August and September, anglers will find that trolling a deep diving Redfin with a 3-foot leader tipped with a 1/4-ounce bucktail at 20-30 feet will take fish in the midlake area. Hemby was quick to point out that the strategy will work well with any boat if the anglers troll slowly. Most of the hookups will be reaction strikes on the bucktail jig.
Once the water begins to cool in the latter part of September, the fish turn on in the uplake portion of Lake Anna above what is commonly called The Splits. This is where the North Anna and Pamunkey rivers feed into the lake. Anglers new to Lake Anna will find that fishing uplake is not as challenging because the water is not as clear and the fish do not spook as easy.
It is not uncommon to see birds working the backs of creeks or the headwaters of the rivers during the fall. Working birds are a sure sign that the fish are feeding and anglers should approach quietly and cast to the fish.
Jim Hemby offered the following creeks as good places to begin a search for baitfish and stripers in the fall.
"Plentiful Creek, Contrary Creek, Terry's Run and the Pamunkey are good locations where baitfish can be found in numbers. As fall turns to winter, anglers should key on any headwater area, especially the headwaters of the Pamunkey and the North Anna rivers."
Even though the fishing is good and even considered by some to be better or at least easier in the upper portion of the lake, Hemby pointed out that the schools of stripers roam the entire lake feeding on baitfish. He suggests that anglers access the lake at the midlake access points and then run up or down as needed to find the fish.
"Anna Point Marina is where I put in, but High Point Marina and Sturgeon Creek are also good midlake locations where anglers can slip their boats into the water," he said.
Hemby also mentioned that anglers who want to fish downlake can find really good fishing near Dike 3, which is the outflow from the power plant. Stripers like current and higher oxygen levels. The outflow from the power plant provides a bit of current for the fish. On cloudy days at Dike 3, the fish will tend to stick around in the shallows where they are easier to target. This is not the case on sunny days.
The most effective way to catch Lake Anna stripers is to use live bait. Our local expert is a big believer in using live bait and spends whatever time is necessary to catch bait for his clients each day.
Hemby uses a cast net to collect herring, gizzard shad and threadfin shad. No bait is too large for a striped bass. Striped bass are very aggressive feeders and will smack anything even slightly smaller then they are. A 12-inch gizzard shad is more eye-catching to a 10-pound striper than a 3-inch threadfin shad. Use the largest bait that you dare use to catch the best fish.
Hemby has a neat system he uses to cover lots of water while looking for his client's next fish. He uses side planers to effectively and neatly fish up to 12 rods from his pontoon boat. The side planers pull the live baits out away from the boat in formation and cover up to 100 yards of water. Hemby suggests using a 10-pound leader with 12-pound line. He prefers Big Game line in the green color in those weight configurations for several reasons.
"A thick line sends out harmonics or sounds to the fish as it cuts through the water much like the wind whipping around a piece of line stretched out tight in the air. The thinner line also has less visibility and my leader is even smaller, so that if I do lose anything it is just the terminal tackle, the hook and bait and not the planer," he noted.
Shad and herring can be hooked through the nose with a red circle hook and a trailer treble hook, which should be tied to the circle hook. The circle hooks allow anglers to simply pull the rod out of the holder and reel the fish in. Circle hooks also are good conservation tools as the fish will almost never be gut hooked.
A quality baitcaster reel spooled with plenty of line and equipped with a bait clicker is essential to proper trolling of live bait. When the clicker goes off and the drag begins squealing, the angler knows the fish is hooked. A 7-foot, medium-action graphite rod with a fast tip made of fiberglass is our expert's choice in a rod for striped bass fishing at Anna.
If the fish are feeding aggressively at Lake Anna, artificial lures can also work, and anglers have a variety of choices. Some of the most popular lures that work very well at Lake Anna include Storm's Wild Eye Shad, Bass Assassin's Sea Shad, Sassy Shads and other swim baits. As the water cools and the fish begin hitting the surface in October and November while chasing bait, Redfins, Zara Spooks and other loud and attention-getting surface chuggers will work very well.
Anglers without a boat can access great fall fishing at the Dike 3 Fishing Area on Route 622 in Louisa. This area offers the bank-angler good access to feeding stripers at dawn, dusk and at night. On overcast days, the bite may continue well into the day at times. Night-anglers will hang a lantern above the water to attract the herring to the outflow and light, which in turn draw the stripers. Freelining bait in the current flow with the use of a long rod is a good technique.
Another good bank-fishing area is Lake Anna State Park, which has miles of shoreline that can be hiked to access Pigeon Run and Ware Creek. Pigeon Run is known to be a popular area for baitfish to congregate year 'round. The same can be said of the mouth of Ware Creek.
What constitutes a good day of striper fishing at Lake Anna? Beginners can feel good about themselves if they boat five nice stripers in a day of fishing. Considering that the fish average almost 6 pounds, the stringer is pretty hefty at the end of the day. Hiring a guide to learn the lake is an excellent way to hone your striper hunting skills and make your personal outings more productive in the future. Hemby considers his average day to be 10 to 15 fish. A really good day may be 20 or 15 really large fish.
Consider the good eating you will have at the end of your trip. VDGIF stocks the striped bass in Lake Anna with the intent for anglers to harvest them. The fish do not spawn successfully due to the lack of current in the lake, so do not feel bad about harvesting a nice meal.
To learn m
ore about Lake Anna's stripers, consider giving our local expert a call at (540) 967-3313.
Ramp Fees at Anna are generally $6. There are good ramps all over the lake. Upper lake: Hunters Landing, and Christopher Run (540-894-4744). Midlake: Anna Point (540-895-5500), High Point (895-5249), and Sturgeon Creek (540-895-5095)Down Lake: Dukes Creek (540-895-5065) and Pleasants Landing (540-872-7024)
A GMCO map is a great tool to use at Lake Anna. Look for them at tackle shops or call (888) 420-6277.