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Five Great Places in Northern Virginia to Fish After Work

By Dr. Peter Brookes

With meteorological summer (June 1) now behind us and astronomical summer (June 21) just ahead of us, it’s high time to venture out to one of the Old Dominion’s wonderful waterways for some fishing.

Indeed, with even more hours of sunlight in the days ahead, there’s nothing quite like grabbing your favorite fishing rod after (or before!) a hard day at work to wet a line by yourself—or, better yet, with family and friends. And if you’re in the Northern Virginia (NoVA) area, you’re in luck as there are a lot of first-class places to sling some summer fishing string.

I recently spoke with John Odenkirk, a fisheries biologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), to get his take on the top five places to fish after work in NoVA. With lots of solid choices, Odenkirk had to give it some thought, but gave me the following tips—which aren’t in any particular order—for some awesome NoVA angling this summer. Check out DWR’s FishLocalVA information for more great local spots!

Burke Lake

In Fairfax Station, 218-acre Burke Lake epitomizes NoVA’s suburban fishing. Odenkirk called it “one of the top largemouth bass fisheries in the area.” And that’s saying something for a region that’s well-known for its bass fishing.

An image of burke lake with Canada geese on the water

Burke Lake. Photo by Dr. Peter Brookes

Besides bruiser bass, Burke Lake has musky, channel catfish, walleye, saugeye (hybrid walleye-sauger), white and yellow perch and other panfish. The lake is very accessible for both boat and bank fishing.

Plus, a large Fairfax County park surrounds the lake. Burke Lake Park provides a variety of recreational opportunities for those who may want to come along, but aren’t so interested in piscatorial pursuits.

Cook Lake

Looking to do some urban fishing? Check out this NoVA body of water. Located in a “pocket park” in Alexandria at Cameron Run Regional Park, 4-acre Cook Lake has largemouth bass, channel cats, and panfish. DWR also stocks it with trout in the cooler months.

An image of Cook lake with Canada geese on the water

Cook Lake. Photo by Dr. Peter Brookes

Occoquan Reservoir

No doubt just to stir up an argument with lunker lovers, Odenkirk told me that the Occoquan Reservoir on the Prince William-Fairfax County line near the town of Occoquan is the “best largemouth bass fishery in the state.”

An image of a dam next to a lake

I’m guessing that after this blog is posted he’ll hear about that assertion from some of his DWR colleagues—not to mention Virginia’s fervent bass anglers who may agree, but undoubtedly want to keep this “sleeper lake” a well-kept secret.

Indeed, the reservoir is a 2,100-acre impoundment known for its high “catch per unit effort of preferred fish” (i.e., fish greater than 15 inches). In layman’s terms: It’s very good fishing. Three marinas offer boat rentals and launches, bait, and tackle.

But no need to worry, with endless acres of water to fish, the reservoir has plenty of room for anglers to target not only largemouth bass, but also black and white crappie and flathead and channel catfish.

Lake Fairfax

Located in Reston, 28-acre Lake Fairfax, is another well-kept secret for summer fishing. The lake has no boat ramp, but has great shore access and is a super spot for largemouth bass, channel catfish, crappie, and panfish, according to Odenkirk.  The Lake Fairfax Park has other activities, too, for the non-angler(s) in your group.

An image of Lake Fairfax with the pavilion and dock visible

Lake Fairfax.

Leesylvania State Park

Maybe fishing tidal waters are more to your liking? If so, you may want to visit Leesylvania State Park, a 500-acre peninsula bounded by the tidal waters of the Potomac River and Neabsco and Powells creeks. Located in Woodbridge, the park has great fishing access and it’s a prime place to target snakeheads, bass, and catfish. The park is also well known for its birdwatching, including a chance to spy bald eagles and ospreys.

An image of a fishing pier in Leesylvania state park

The fishing pier at Leesylvania State Park. Photo by Dr. Peter Brookes

Of course, before you head out make sure you have a valid Virginia freshwater fishing license, which is available online. Also, minimize unpleasant “surprises” by checking applicable websites for the latest on hours, regulations, and any facility fees.

The fact is that there will only be one summer of 2023–and, unfortunately, it’ll be over before you know it. So get out there while the days are warm and the fishing is hot to make some memories that’ll last a lifetime.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a D.C. foreign policy nerd by day and an award-winning Virginia outdoor writer by night.

  • June 8, 2023