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Virginia’s Top Lakes
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Virginia’s Top Lakes
by Jim Brewer at The Daily Progress | April 9, 2014
Chickahominy Lake is a popular destination for anglers that enjoy fishing a 1,230 acre reservoir with plenty of habitat and cover. Chickahominy Lake continues to be a predator heavy system with an abundance of bass, black crappies, chain pickerel and bowfins. The blue catfish population has recently increased as anglers have started to target the catfish population. The 2013 trap net survey was not as exciting as past years. The very cold weather that hit the region in March most likely broke up or delayed the usual mass migrations of black crappies into the shallow regions of the lake. The collected black crappies were similar to past surveys with the majority of fish in the 10 to 13 inch range. The shallow flats of Johnson and Lacey Creeks provide the earliest crappie action each year. The 2013 spring electrofishing surveys were some of the best we have seen on the lake as it relates to larger bass greater than 15 inches in length. The surveys collected a total of 289 largemouth bass for a catch rate of 96.3 bass/hr. This catch rate showed a slight increase from the 2012 survey (CPUE: 92.3 bass/hr). The collection of 93 preferred-sized largemouth bass (15 inches or larger) provided a very respectable catch rate of 31 preferred bass/hr. The survey also revealed an abundance of bass in the 12 to 14.5 inch range. Some additional excitement came in the form of a pair of bass that weighed 6.7 and 7.1 pounds. Anglers reported four citation-sized bass from Chickahominy Lake during 2013. Chickahominy Lake continues to produce an abundance of 4 to 6 pound bowfins with a decent chance at a citation over 10 pounds.
Lake Chesdin is a 3,100 acre impoundment located primarily along the county line of Chesterfield and Dinwiddie Counties. Lake Chesdin was created by impounding the Appomattox River with the construction of Brasfield Dam. This popular fishing destination continues to produce some very respectable largemouth bass. The 2013 spring electrofishing survey yielded 132 largemouth bass for a catch rate of 88 bass/hr. The majority of collected bass were in the 15 to 21 inch size range. The total of 70 preferred-sized bass (15 inches or larger) provided an extremely high catch rate of 46.7 preferred-bass/hr. The survey revealed positive signs of largemouth bass recruitment. Numerous year classes of juvenile bass can be observed on the length distribution graph. Relative weight data from the collected bass showed favorable values that indicate that adult bass are finding plenty of forage available. The abundant gizzard shad population provides a great forage base for the largemouth bass population, but also makes fishing a bit tricky for the average angler that does not have the opportunity to fish the lake on a consistent basis. The survey revealed a good abundance of bass in the 4 to 5 pound range with a few 6 and 7 pound fish. The bass fishery provides anglers with some larger specimens over the course of the year. Anglers reported a very respectable total of 10 citation-sized largemouth bass from Lake Chesdin during 2013. The bluegill population is extremely abundant, but very few fish make it past 6 inches in length. The 2013 survey collected a total of 1,772 bluegills for a catch rate of 1,181.3 bluegills/hr. The black crappie population has historically suffered from stock piling issues, but still has the capacity to produce some quality fish. Anglers reported the total of 8 citation black crappies during 2013. One of the better fishing opportunities on Lake Chesdin comes in the form of the channel catfish population for those anglers willing to target them. The survey revealed some extremely healthy channel cats that most likely have been feeding upon the stunted bluegill population. Lake Chesdin received 100,000 saugeye (sauger x walleye cross) fingerlings in May 2013 along with 50,000 walleye fingerlings. Future surveys will hopefully reveal positive results as it relates to the overall survival and growth rates of these fish. It will most likely take a few years for anglers to fully benefit from these stocked fish.
Back Bay has been experiencing a substantial recovery in recent years, with submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) growths near levels not seen since the early 1980's. The fisheries have also dramatically improved. In May of 2012, the VDGIF initiated a three-year largemouth bass stocking project in the bay. Approximately 125,000 bass fingerlings were stocked in the bay in the springs of 2012 and 2013 and will be stocked at the same rate in 2014. The creeks on the western shore held excellent numbers of 1-3 pound bass. Although anglers may catch some quality bass, they should still remember this is a recovering fishery and the bass size structure is steadily improving. Spring and summertime catches of white perch have been excellent and anglers fishing with beetle spins and small spinner lures should expect consistent action when fishing near the marsh islands and SAV edges. An often overlooked late winter/early spring fishery is one for spawning yellow perch. Anglers should focus on the creeks such as Hell's Point, Muddy Creek, Beggar's Bridge Creek, and the canal leading to Princess Anne Wildlife Management Area. These creeks can offer great fishing for 12+ inch yellow perch. The month of February is generally best, and anglers should plan on fishing warm days when surface water temperatures may slightly rise, triggering these fish to become more active. Channel catfish are also possibilities in these creeks.
Buggs Island (Kerr Reservoir) is located in south-central Virginia and north-central North Carolina. Largemouth bass in the 2-4 pound range are still common; however, density of bass over 4 pounds has declined in the last 5 years due to the impacts of largemouth bass virus and reduced productivity of the system. The best fishing is on the upper end of the lake and the lower end creek arms, especially during high water events in the spring when water gets into the trees. The catfish fishery has become dominated by a world class blue catfish fishery with many fish caught from 5-30 lbs. Many larger fish are also caught and Buggs Island boasts the state and world record blue catfish at 143 pounds caught in 2011. The striped bass population is in fair condition and should be similar to the last couple of years. Anglers should note that on January 1, 2013, the regulation for striped bass during the cool season (October 1-May 31) changed from 2 fish per day, 26-inch minimum length limit to 2 fish per day, 24-inch minimum length limit. This should allow anglers greater harvest success during the cool season of the fishery. During spring, striped bass may be found in the upper end of the lake and in the river above the lake as fish travel upstream to spawn. During summer, habitat (combination of temperature and dissolved oxygen) forces striped bass to be found in the lower end of the lake (the dam to about Buoy 9 and in the mouth of Nutbush Creek). Fishing during the fall and winter is typically best from Goat Island to the Clarksville Bridge, although fish may be found throughout the lake. Buggs Island Lake is also one of Virginia's best places to catch crappie with fish over two pounds not uncommon. Fishing for crappie is typically best from February through April (pre-spawn and spawn); however, many anglers enjoy high catch rates year-round. Buffalo, Grassy, Bluestone, and Butcher Creeks are very productive for crappie. Other species available for Buggs anglers include channel catfish, flathead catfish, white bass, white perch, and freshwater drum.
Briery Creek Lake has gained the reputation as the best trophy largemouth bass lake in Virginia. Anglers from across Virginia fish for largemouth bass at Briery Creek Lake and about 80 percent of them fish this lake in hopes of catching a lunker. Catch rates for largemouth bass are highest in the summer, but the majority of the trophy fish are caught in March and April. While largemouth bass fishing is not as good as it was in the early 2000's due to largemouth bass virus and reservoir age, Briery is still one of the best Virginia destinations for trophy largemouth fishing. Fishing with subtle baits, such as jigs and plastic worms, tend to be better than crank baits and spinner baits. On January 1, 2013, the regulation for largemouth bass was changed to a 16-24 inch protected slot limit (no bass between 16-24 inches may be kept) and a five fish per day creel limit (only one fish larger than 24 inches may be retained). Biologists recognize that some harvest of largemouth bass is necessary; this regulation merely directs the harvest to younger, more abundant largemouth bass while at the same time allowing the harvest of exceptionally large fish. Briery Creek Lake also has an excellent sunfish fishery. From late spring through summer, anglers can expect to have success with big redear (also known as shellcrackers) and bluegill. Crickets, worms, and popping bugs (with a fly rod) fished along the vegetation are effective for catching sunfish. Crappie fishing in early spring can also be exciting; fishing with minnows or jigs always a good bet to catch a nice mess of fish from February through April.
Sandy River Reservoir is thought of as a sister lake to Briery Creek Lake and this county owned impoundment gives anglers another opportunity to catch quality largemouth bass in Southside. Sandy boasts an uncommon combination of a high density largemouth bass population with an excellent size distribution. Number of fish greater than 20 inches in one hour of DGIF sampling has been as high as 7 per hour. After the change to a 14-20 inch protective slot limit in 2004, number of bass greater than 14 inches has doubled. We do encourage anglers to harvest some bass below 14 inches to help reduce density and improve growth rates of larger bass. Anglers should target bass on points with drop-offs and near any structure like beaver lodges. Large bass are common in early spring in the standing timber in the upper Marrowbone and Sandy River arms of the reservoir. Quality channel catfish, fish over 20 inches, are fairly common in our samples. Night fishing near the dam and mid-lake in the summer months can be excellent for catfish. The sunfish fishery at Sandy River is average with bluegill and redear sunfish plentiful in the spring. Look for beds in the shallows in April and May. Anglers might fish near beaver lodges or other structure in the summer months. Other sport fish species present in the lake include chain pickerel and bullhead catfish.
The Smith Mountain Lake largemouth bass population has been stable for several years with overall numbers remaining near all time highs. However, the number of bass over 15 inches declined 16% and bass over 20 inches dropped 55% from 2011 to 2012. The decline in larger bass is likely due to largemouth bass virus that was found at Smith Mountain Lake in 2011, previous testing in 2001 for this disease was negative for all fish tested. While this disease does not usually impact the overall numbers, it does typically impact the number of larger fish. The good news, this virus usually impacts a bass population temporarily and populations do recover. The 2013 sampling has shown some improvements with overall numbers still remaining about the same but the number of bass over 15 inches did improve to match 2011 levels. However, the number of bass over 20 inches is still lower and similar to 2012 levels but should start showing some improvements in the near future. The smallmouth bass population makes up less than ten percent of the bass population at this lake but still contributes to the fishery. This species has been stable for many years and has not experienced declines of larger fish similar to the largemouth population. Striped bass fishing success will be similar to 2013 for fish up to 30 inches but with fewer fish in the 30-36" inch range. Recent year classes have been well above average and should continue to produce high numbers of young fish, 20-23 inches. Growth of larger (= 26 inches) and older fish has been steadily declining for the past five years and is limiting the number of trophy fish available. Discussions are underway to shift the striped bass slot limit beginning in 2015 to remove more of the slower growing and stunted striped bass to ultimately provide additional striped bass over 30 inches. The crappie population is doing well with higher than average numbers. Anglers should also find an even distribution of sizes from 8-13 inches. Channel and flathead catfish should be similar to the past few years with little change.
Bass fishing on South Holston Lake in 2014 will be great. The 2013 largemouth bass sample collected by VDGIF biologists was one of the best ever collected. Fifty-seven percent of all the largemouth bass collected measured 15 inches or longer, and fifty percent of the smallmouth bass collected measured 14 inches or longer. Hopefully, this means plenty of good bass fishing for anglers in 2014. Creel survey data from 2012 indicate that anglers target smallmouth bass in the cooler months and largemouth bass in the warmer months. Walleye fishing is still great and producing heavy stringers for anglers. Biologists collected 100 walleye in sampling efforts in 2013. Of these, forty-eight percent were 18 inches or larger, and 26% of the walleye collected were 20 inches or larger. Anglers can expect good catches during the spring river run on the South Fork Holston River. The post spawn top water bite in the lower lake will yield the best walleye fishing Virginia has to offer. Summer trolling for walleye and channel catfish in the main lake is productive and growing in popularity.
South Holston will produce the best crappie fishing of all the lakes in southwest Virginia. The 2013 samples were abundant, biologists collected 295 crappie, and approximately 64% of the crappie collected were of the legal harvestable size of 10 inches or larger. This looks good for crappie fishing in 2014. Biologists continue to work on adding fish habitat (brush piles) in designated areas to improve spawning habitat and add cover for young crappie. Bluegill are always plentiful in South Holston. Bluegill will provide excellent fishing opportunities in the summer when fishing for other species slows as the water temperatures increase. Anglers can find good numbers of quality size bluegill concentrated in the backs of coves near wood structure and piles of logs. Anglers may even catch the occasional white bass on South Holston in 2014. The Department has been working with TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) to re-introduce white bass back into the lake. Visit the South Holston Lake page for more fishing information or go to the TWRA website.
With the possibility of catching smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass, the Claytor Lake bass fishery is popular, with nearly 50 percent of lake anglers fishing for these species. During spring 2013 electrofishing, 81% of the largemouth bass collected over 8 inches long were over 12 inches, and 41% were over 15 inches long. Anglers can find largemouth bass in coves throughout the lake, but the best places to fish are Peak Creek, Clapboard Hollow, and large coves in the lower lake area. In 2013, Claytor Lake produced 7 smallmouth bass trophy award certificates (more than 5 pounds or over 20 inches), ranking Claytor Lake as the second-best Virginia reservoir for trophy smallmouth bass. Spotted bass in do not grow as large as largemouth and smallmouth bass, rarely reaching 2 pounds in size, although the state record 4-pound, 7 ounce spotted bass was caught at Claytor Lake in March 2012. Striped bass and hybrid striped bass are the second biggest fishery at Claytor Lake, with nearly 20% of anglers fishing for these 2 species. Water temperatures below 70 degrees produce the best striper and hybrid striper fishing. While most anglers troll or float live gizzard shad and alewife for stripers and hybrids, many are taken with topwater baits (Redfins, Rapalas, etc.) and bucktails in the spring and fall. Trolling bucktails in 20-60 feet of water can produce good catches. Since they can tolerate higher water temperatures, hybrids often chase schools of shad at the lake's surface at night in the summer months. Claytor Lake produced 13 trophy award certificate size (more than 20 pounds or over 37 inches) stripers in 2013, ranking second to Smith Mountain Lake. Claytor Lake is the top destination for hybrids in Virginia, producing 18 trophy award certificate size (more than 8 pounds or 24 inches) in 2013. Anglers will also find schools of walleye in Claytor Lake. In 2013, anglers reported 9 trophy award certificate walleye (more than 5 pounds or 25 inches) caught from Claytor Lake. During fall, winter, and summer months, look for schools of these fish in the same areas where stripers hang out. During the spring spawning run, look for walleye where the New River enters the lake near Allisonia. In 2013, anglers reported 24 trophy award certificate size yellow perch (more than 1 pound, 4 ounces or 12 inches). The black crappie population is not large compared to other lakes, but they average a little less than a pound in size. Bluegill are numerous throughout the lake, providing fishing action when other species are not biting. Flathead and channel catfish up to 20 pounds can also be caught from the lake. With catches of 20 to 30 pound carp possible, anglers from as far away as England come to fish for them at Claytor. For more fishing information on Claytor Lake consult the biologist report on our website.
Anglers at Lake Anna should find an improving largemouth bass fishery in 2014 based on evaluations of two decades of sampling data. Spring electrofishing catch rate again reached a record high in 2013 (98 fish/hour) with good numbers of fish over 15" and average numbers of fish over 20". Although spawning success has been stable, last year produced a very strong year class. Some of the best fishing should be found along edges of water willow beds in the area of the State Park - especially around Rose Valley, Ware Creek and Plentiful Creek. Striped bass catch rate was slightly above average in 2013 (based on winter net samples). This excellent fishery for small to medium-sized stripers should continue to produce limits in 2014. Maintained by stocking, several strong year classes have been produced recently which should persist through time and ensure solid catch rates. 2014 will bring the first ever hybrid striped bass stocking in Lake Anna, although anglers will not begin to creel these fish until 2015. Striped bass will continue to be stocked while the 2014 hybrid stocking is evaluated. If successful, both will be stocked in future years. Stripers will be moving around the lake following forage as temperatures change. Don't overlook early season action in extreme upstream shallows in areas such as Henry's Point (Pamunkey arm) and Route 719 Bridge (North Anna arm). Black crappie numbers in 2013 were again below average, although size structure was excellent. The trend over time of declining abundance is in contrast to the largemouth bass trend. Look for crappie to be transitioning from bridge pilings and docks during April to water willow edges and natural wood. Saugeye (hatchery cross between sauger and walleye) were stocked for the first time in 2013 (on a one-time experimental basis) and should enter the fishery in 2014 (although most fish will not reach the 18" minimum size until 2015). Catches of this fish were highest in the vicinity of Route 208 and up through the splits on each arm. Pending evaluation, this species may be stocked in future years.
The main forage base in Lake Moomaw consists of gizzard shad and alewife. The alewives are shallow and in-shore during late spring, and then move to the thermocline when the reservoir stratifies in summer. Anglers should target the depth of the alewife when fishing for bass, crappie, or trout. Moomaw is home to both largemouth and smallmouth bass. The largemouth population has remained fairly consistent over the years and good numbers of 12-15" fish should be available to anglers in 2014. Moomaw actually provides better habitat conditions for smallmouth bass and anglers have the opportunity to catch more quality-size bronzebacks than bucketmouths. The deep, cold waters of Moomaw provide excellent year-round trout habitat. Brown trout are stocked as fingerlings each year. The brown trout fishery has remained very consistent the past few years and anglers should expect to see good numbers of trout in 2014, with many being in the 18-22" range. Beginning in 2009 biologists started stocking a "steelhead" strain of rainbow trout in the Jackson River upstream of Lake Moomaw. Steelhead are a replacement for the McConaughy rainbows that had been stocked in Moomaw for many years. Steelhead rainbow trout will feed heavily on alewives similar to brown trout and the hope is that they will grow much larger than the McConaughy rainbows did historically. If the steelhead stocking is successful, there is also the potential for large steelhead to make spawning runs out of Lake Moomaw up the Jackson River and Back Creek. Currently, the steelhead stocking program is being evaluated and in 2013 biologists started to observe some 12" fish in the reservoir. All the steelhead rainbows that have been stocked by DGIF have the adipose fin removed. Anglers can also expect to catch some larger McConaughy rainbows that are still in the system. While black bass and trout are the mainstay fisheries in Lake Moomaw, anglers should also find favorable populations of black crappie, bluegill, chain pickerel, and channel catfish. Yellow perch also provide a very important fishery in Lake Moomaw. However, the population has declined dramatically in recent years. Biologists are not certain of the cause, but have instituted a conservative 10 fish per day creel limit to help stabilize the population.
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