March 17, 2016
By Mark Fike
Each year we try to change up the waters we profile for largemouth destinations. This year we continue that effort and have some great picks for you to study.
The Tidewater Region is unique due to the fact that there are both impoundments and tidal river systems that are great bass destinations. For that reason we have decided to cover one of each this month for anglers wanting to expand their largemouth-fishing destinations portfolio.
Chickahominy Lake is managed by Scott Herrmann, fisheries biologist with VDGIF. Herrmann offers a great tidbit of information that bass anglers should keep in mind when fishing Chickahominy Lake during March and April after a mild winter.
"A lot of the fishing action on Chickahominy Lake will depend upon the severity of the winter. If the winter has been mild, the action for largemouth bass can be good to great in some of the northern creek arms of Johnson and Lacey creeks. These tributaries will warm up rather quickly and schools of bass will migrate up these creek channels for easy access to prey fish up on the shallow flats.
Chickahominy Lake has a large population of adult gizzard shad in the 10- to 12-inch range that some of the 6- to 8-pound bass can prey upon. Most of the adult bass will key in on the bluegill population, as well as golden shiners and abundant population of juvenile creek chubsuckers."
Spinnerbaits and medium-sized swim baits are great choices for anglers. Keep in mind that pickerel are abundant in the lake and will be looking for food in the same area. Anglers using bass lures will often have a good bycatch of these toothy fish. Keep some pliers handy to remove hooks.
Herrmann also noted that Ed Allen's and Eagles Landing had very good reports from bass anglers last season. There have been a number of largemouth in the 4- to 6-pound range caught, and some over 6 pounds have come to the net. Anglers should find March and April to be the best time to find large fish. It is also a great time to find new areas to fish before the hydrilla takes over various parts of the impoundment, making navigation and fishing tough.
Herrmann's electrofishing surveys show plenty of 2- to 3-pound bass and some of the 4- to 6-pound fish referenced above. Some of the nicer fish were found along the shoreline of the main lake bend just east of Eagles Landing. Start your search by fishing the cypress trees.
Our tidal river choice this year is the James River. We went to Eric Brittle, another fisheries professional, to get the data and some of his observations on where the best fishing might be found.
Brittle surveys the James regularly and notes that the area near Dutch Gap and Herring Creek tend to hold lots of quality fish. Brittle reminds anglers that Dutch Gap has a warm water outflow that attracts threadfin shad year around, making it a magnet for predators, too.
"The largemouth bass feed on those shad all year, allowing them to have a longer growing season. Largemouth seem to be heavier for their length at that site, with fish up to 9 pounds found there."
Obviously anglers want to use minnow-type lures in shad colors. There are a number of sunken metal barges that hold fish. Because of the cover, anglers should consider braid and check their line regularly for nicks. Plan on taking a few extra lures.
Brittle explains that Herring Creek has a history of being productive. The fishing is a bit different there, though, as the fish tend to relate to cover off the bank rather than along the shore. Find huge blowdowns in 12 to 15 feet of water and jig plastics or suspending crankbaits into the cover.
SOUTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
Dan Goetz is the fisheries professional that we interviewed to get the latest updates on largemouth destinations in this region. He manages Briery Creek Lake and Sandy River Reservoir.
At Briery Creek Lake the best time to find trophy largemouth bass is during March and April along the shoreline in water up to 10 feet deep. Biologists find the fish are transitioning from deep winter holding patterns to staging areas for spawning purposes. By late April the fish are shallow to reproduce.
Because there is so much standing timber here, anglers find that using weedless plastic baits can be more cost effective than hanging an expensive crankbait up only to lose it. Biologists have noticed that the bass weights are lower than average. Further study revealed that the lake is likely experiencing overcrowding of bass; shad, herring and bluegill are lower in abundance than they should be.
As a result, VDGIF is drawing down the lake to promote some vegetation growth along the shoreline for prey fish to hide in. Biologists also stocked a half million bluegill fingerlings to enhance the forage base in the lake. There are currently plenty of 14- to 18-inch bass in the lake. Look for the weights to improve as the forage base takes hold.
Not far from Briery Creek, Sandy River Reservoir has a similar largemouth fishery. During March and April, anglers are going to find the fish moving from deep water to the shallows to spawn. Some probing of the shoreline and cover with a fish finder and plastic lures is going to be the best bet at this impoundment.
Dan Goetz pointed out that there are plenty of 10- to 12-inch fish at Sandy River — likely the average size of the population as a whole. However, there are plenty of fish in the 16-inch-plus category as well. In fact, Goetz says that the reservoir has an abundance of fish longer than 20 inches that are fat and healthy. Savvy anglers can expect to see some really nice 5-pound fish.
Goetz pointed out that Sandy probably has more 5-pound fish, but the bass at Briery are likely longer in length. Sandy River has similar forage offerings, including bluegill, redear, alewife and gizzard shad.
SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
One of the Southern Mountain Region's nicest gems is 90-acre Rural Retreat Lake. Not only is this lake a great place to go fishing for largemouth bass, but it offers other amenities nearby, including a campground, pool, picnic area, and concession stand. The lake is managed by VDGIF fisheries biologists, among whom is John Copeland.
Copeland confirmed that the bass fishery is in good shape, with the average adult bass they sampled while electrofishing measuring 14 inches. He notes that the recent history of the fishery is strong for largemouth and fish up to 20 inches are available. There is an 18-inch minimum on largemouth and anglers are permitted to keep only one per day. Anglers are advised to fish the flooded vegetation in April along the left side of the lake headed towards the dam.
Copeland points out that a new fishing pier was finished last summer and offers shorebound anglers even more access.
Claytor Lake is the second largest and most visited impoundments in the region. The black bass population at Claytor Lake has been very stable and the fishing has been consistently good for the past decade. The largemouth portion of the black bass family can be counted on to provide anglers with good angling for fish over 12 inches and even up to 20 inches in size. Copeland's most recent survey data shows that of smapled bass that measured at least 8 inches long, 35 percent were also over 15 inches long.
Claytor Lake is huge at 4,475 acres. It can be overwhelming to visit the lake and fish. A good tip would be to fish the coves, particularly in April. The larger coves in the lower end of the lake are reportedly the best places to start fishing.
NORTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
In the Northern Mountain Region we found two different waters for largemouth anglers to ply for their green fish fix. The South Fork of the Shenandoah River has a reputation for great smallmouth fishing, but it also has a very viable largemouth fishery.
Brad Fink, one of VDGIF's regional fisheries biologists, suggested that the stretch of the river from Port Republic to Whitehouse is likely the best because this stretch of the river has a lot more largemouth habitat than does the lower end of the river.
Fink says that his sampling of the river indicated that the average largemouth is 13 inches long, and they brought up a very nice bass measuring 21.5 inches long. Over 36 percent of their fish were over 15 inches. Although anglers may not find lots of largemouth on this river compared to impoundments, the quality makes up for the quantity.
Typically, anglers find that soft plastics fished in and around the woody structure, such as blowdowns and log jams, produce great results. Try creature bait lures and crawfish-type baits in the long, deep pools. Don't be surprised if you end up pulling more smallmouth in than you do largemouth; the largemouth population is strong, but there are quie a few smallmouths here too.
Another stellar largemouth destination, particularly for young or apprentice anglers, would be the Bath County Recreation Ponds. There are two ponds, one 27 acres and the other 45 acres, that have notable densities of largemouth bass. Many of the bass are in the 10- to 12-inch range. The slot limit is 12 to 15 inches, making this a great place to go to catch some of the fish just under the slot and keep them for supper. Due to the largemouth bass predation on panfish, the bluegill are quite large. Try bluegill-colored crankbaits when fishing for bass in these two waters.
The entire 45-acre upper pond has plenty of bank access and reportedly almost half of the lower pond is accessible to bank anglers. Anglers will find a campground nearby and possible options for a spring gobbler "Blast and cast" trip via nearby National Forest.
NORTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
In the Northern Piedmont Region there are always great largemouth bass options. This year John Odenkirk, fisheries professional responsible for Northern Virginia, shared that Occoquan Reservoir had its second best bass sample in his entire career. He pointed out that the catch rate of bass weighing 2 to 6 pounds was "amazing."
During their electro sampling efforts, they found numbers of quality fish around the entire lake. Fishing main lake points and the outer halves of the coves in conjunction with woody structure is the key to finding fish on this reservoir. The impoundment does get a lot of pressure, so fish slowly and cast a variety of lures to determine the pattern that the fish are after during your particular trip.
Additionally, there are some water willow beds that hold fish. Locate such vegetation adjacent to woody structure and deeper water. The forage base consists of gizzard shad, alewives, white perch and bluegill.
Last, we would be remiss not to update readers on the status of Lake Anna. Biologists' reports from sampling the lake in 2014 (most recent available) showed that largemouth bass catch rates and densities were very high and in some cases, at record level. The figures for large fish sampled were extremely good. The bottom line is Lake Anna continues to be a quality fishery with the potential to produce trophy fish as well as numbers of bass.
This year, try an impoundment you might not have fished before. The largemouth outlook is quite good and the angling opportunity awaits you all over the state.