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Due to exceptionally dry conditions, the Department of Wildlife Resources has implemented a complete ban on any open burning (e.g., campfires, grills) on all DWR properties west of Interstate 95, effective immediately and lasting until further notice.

2023 Large Reservoir Fishing Forecasts

Written by the Aquatics Reservoir Committee Team, Edited by John Odenkirk

Region 1 (Southeastern/Tidewater Virginia)

Lake Chesdin

Lake Chesdin is a 3,100-acre impoundment located in Chesterfield and Dinwiddie Counties and a popular destination for very respectable Largemouth Bass. The 2022 spring electrofishing survey yielded 355 bass for a catch rate of 129/hr. which was a slight increase from 2021 (122/hr.). A large proportion of fish were 16–20”. The collection of 140 preferred-sized bass (≥ 15”) provided a decent catch rate of 51/hr. placing Chesdin in first place again for district lakes. This was an unfavorable decline from 2021 (66/hr.) and well below the record of 2018 (71/hr.). Survey date and timing play major roles in catch rates and size structure. Lake Chesdin had a surprisingly high abundance of large males in the 4 to 5-pound range. High relative weights indicated bass were finding plenty of forage. Gizzard Shad provide a great forage base but also can make fishing a bit tricky for the average angler. Recent surveys continue to reveal an abundance of bass in the 3 to 5-pound range which should make tournament anglers happy. Lake Chesdin received supplemental F1 bass stockings for three years (2020–2022) as part of a DWR program. Three additional years of stocking will be conducted in an attempt to improve top end size structure. DNA analysis from fin clips will allow for assessment of stocking success. Bluegill are extremely abundant, but very few make it past 6”. Redear Sunfish are not as abundant, but sizes are better with fish reaching 9–11”. The crappie fishery consists of both Black and White Crappie. The crappie community has historically suffered from stockpiling but has the capacity to produce quality fish with most White Crappie holding in the upper third of the lake. Lake Chesdin’s crappie community has been producing some extremely large hybrids (natural cross between a black and white). This fishery has an increasing abundance of larger fish that have been foraging on juvenile shad. Anglers are encouraged to harvest crappie in the 8–9” range to thin out this segment. One of the better fishing opportunities on Chesdin comes from Channel Catfish with fish averaging 3–5 pounds. The Flathead Catfish population has shown recent growth potential. The 2022 net survey found most fish in 8 to 12-pound range with the largest at 26 pounds. Lake Chesdin received saugeye (Sauger x Walleye cross) fingerlings in 2019, 2021 and 2022 with Walleye fingerlings stocked in 2020. The 2022 surveys revealed an abundance of saugeye from the 2019 and 2021 year classes. The fast-growing saugeye from the 2019 stocking has female fish pushing over 5 pounds. Crappie anglers have reported catching saugeye in various areas of the lake. Anglers are reminded minimum size for saugeye and Walleye is 18” at 5/day in aggregate. Both fish have taken to foraging on Gizzard Shad with larger saugeye from previous stockings still available. DWR has recently certified a new state record saugeye of 6 pounds from the Staunton River. It is only a matter of time until an angler catches one larger from Lake Chesdin. The Chain Pickerel population has produced some very healthy fish with many 2–4 pounds and an occasional trophy. Anglers should not expect many large White or Yellow Perch, as both have a difficult time growing past 9”.

Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir

Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir is a 635-acre impoundment in Gloucester Count providing valuable angling opportunities on the middle peninsula. Gloucester County Parks & Rec. operates Beaverdam Park just northwest of Gloucester providing a fishing pier, public boat ramp, boat rentals, and decent shoreline access. The 2022 electrofishing survey was not one of the more productive days on the water. The survey yielded 72 Largemouth Bass for a catch rate of 54/hr. This ranked higher than 2021 (39/hr.) but below 2019 (117/hr.). The 2022 survey was conducted on May 2nd with water temperatures in the 71 to 72-degree range. Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir has shallow shorelines that typically warm quickly as the last two surveys were conducted post spawn with many bass vacating the shallows. Collected bass were in good condition and showed favorable relative weights. Bass forage heavily on Gizzard Shad here. The survey revealed an increase in juveniles compared to 2021. The bass population receives a great deal of pressure from tournaments, so anglers are encouraged to try new and different lures and patterns to entice these heavily pressured fish. This fishery has the capacity to produce some respectable fish, but recent surveys have failed to yield many over 5 pounds. The reservoir was stocked with F1 Largemouth Bass fingerlings for three years (2020-2022). These stockings are part of a 6-year study to assess survival and contribution to the fishery. The eventual goal of the supplemental stockings is to increase the overall top-end size potential. The White Perch and Black Crappie populations continue to provide excitement during late winter to early spring. DWR staff plan to trap net the reservoir in 2023 to assess the current strength of the crappie population. This lake has historically produced an abundance of citation Yellow Perch, but there has been a decline recently. The community has seen a relatively recent shift from Yellow Perch to White Perch. These schooling fish can provide great action and can keep youngsters engaged.  Bluegill and the occasional Channel Catfish round out the action. The Bluegill population has been producing some larger 6-8” fish and is better than most district reservoirs.

Chickahominy Lake

Chickahominy Lake is a popular destination for anglers who enjoy fishing a 1,230-acre reservoir with plenty of habitat and cover. This lake has historically been predator heavy with an abundance of Largemouth Bass, Black Crappie, Chain Pickerel and Bowfin. Blue Catfish continue to increase, and anglers have begun to target them. Fishing reports from Ed Allen’s refer to numerous large blues over the last few years. The lake was trap netted in 2022, and the survey found the crappie population healthy with an abundance of fish 11-13”. Schools of crappie will migrate shallow late winter. The flats of Johnson and Lacey Creeks will provide the earliest action each spring. The 2022 spring electrofishing survey collected 154 Largemouth Bass for a catch rate of 51/hr. This decline from the 2021 survey (64/hr.) may have been caused by the later survey dates of 4/27 and 5/8. Timing of surveys on Chickahominy Lake is critical to get a representative sample of larger fish. Post spawn survey dates typically miss the majority of 3 to 5-pound females. Some nice bass were collected in 2022, with the two largest bass weighed in at 6.8 and 7.1 pounds. The survey yielded 61 preferred-sized bass (≥ 15”) for a catch rate of 20.3/hr. This was minor decline from 2021 (21.7/hr.). Two private boat ramps, Ed Allen’s and Eagles Landing provide most of the access and host numerous bass tournaments over the year. Anglers who put enough time in can usually find hot spots and catch quality limits. Chickahominy Lake continues to produce an abundance of Bowfin with the average size showing a decline from past surveys. A few citation-sized Bowfin are caught each year as you never know where that larger female might be lurking. The Bluegill and Redear Sunfish populations have been producing larger fish that can be enjoyed by fly fishermen and spin anglers using light tackle. Anglers here will find a wide variety of species that can provide an enjoyable day on the water.

Little Creek Reservoir

Little Creek Reservoir is a 947-acre Newport News water supply located in James City County just south of Toano. It’s a scenic place to fish for a variety of species. The fishery is enhanced by annual stocking of Striped Bass along with previous Walleye stockings. The reservoir’s small watershed can be supplemented by water pumped in from Chickahominy Lake or Diascund Reservoir. James City County operates a park with a boat ramp, courtesy pier, fishing pier, and concession stand. The reservoir has numerous arms and coves with plenty of area for anglers to explore with steep shoreline drops and clear water. There is often thick Hydrilla growth along shorelines in most northern creek arms from June-November. Outside edges of Hydrilla provide great locations to catch bass, Chain Pickerel, and sometimes Black Crappie. The use of outboard engines is prohibited, but trolling motors are permitted. Community electrofishing is conducted every other year to assess the fishery. The 2022 survey was different than past years, as Newport News was in the process of lowering the reservoir in preparation for dam repair. The pool was roughly 8’ below full at the time of sampling, and it’s currently down even more now. The survey revealed a limited abundance of bass with 50 collected (26/hr.). This catch rate showed an increase from 2020 (23/hr.). Little Creek has historically been a difficult place to collect bass during daytime surveys, and the reduced elevation added another complication. Bass appeared to be in good health with the length distribution showing a high concentration of 12-15” fish. The survey revealed that 20% of the collected bass were of preferred-size (≥ 15”). The abundant forage base of Blueback Herring provides a great source of nutrition for the assemblage of predators. The survey was consistent with past years showing an abundance of medium size Bluegill and Redear Sunfish. The reservoir has potential to produce citation Yellow Perch and Black Crappie, and anglers with good electronics can sometimes find these schools. An abundance of Chain Pickerel and large American Eel can provide additional action. Anglers may still have a chance at catching stocked Walleye and an outside chance at finding saugeye.

Diascund Reservoir

Diascund Reservoir is another Newport News water supply. This 1,110-acre impoundment lies within James City and New Kent Counties. The VDWR, with agreement from Newport News and James City County, built a public boat ramp, courtesy pier, and parking lot off Route 603 near Lanexa. The reservoir has several large arms with plenty of interesting contour and structure. Several small islands, numerous large points, and bridge crossings all add to the extreme variability of topography. Submersed aquatic vegetation (primarily Hydrilla) has spread to several areas and has grown quite thick. The use of outboard engines is prohibited, but trolling motors are permitted. Anglers might want a few fully charged batteries if they plan to make long trips toward the upper end. The 2022 spring survey collected 159 Largemouth Bass for a CPUE of 79.5/hr. This was a decline from 2021 (86/hr.). Most bass were 14-17” with a high proportion 2-3 pounds. The catch rate of preferred bass (≥15”) was a respectable 44/hr. The survey yielded a limited abundance of larger bass, with the largest at 20.6” and 4.7 pounds. This survey collected 13 Alabama Bass (6.5/hr.) of which the largest was 18.6” and 3.2 pounds. It is illegal for anglers to move Alabama Bass from Diascund Reservoir and can only be held alive (in possession) if actively fishing a tournament. Both Bluegill and Redear Sunfish have historically been stunted providing a wealth of action from 3-5” fish. The 2022 survey revealed similar results with few Bluegill over 6”. The Redear Sunfish showed some improvements with fish pushing into the 8-9” range. Two of the more attractive components to this fishery are White Perch and Black Crappie with the perch population producing fish in the 9-11” range. The crappie fishery could benefit from harvest of 8-10” fish instead of larger ones in the citation-size range. Although not nearly as abundant as in nearby Chickahominy Lake, Bowfin in Diascund provide excitement and trophy potential. Anglers can also find excitement from Longnose Gar and Chain Pickerel.

Region 2 (South Central Virginia)

Briery Creek Lake

During the early to mid-2000s Briery Creek Lake was arguably the best place in the Commonwealth to catch a trophy Largemouth Bass and even scared the current Largemouth Bass state record of 16 pounds 4 ounces. Since then, the trophy bass potential has declined slightly because of several factors including reservoir aging, Largemouth Bass virus, and the introduction of Hydrilla. However, Briery Creek Lake still boasts a unique combination of size and numbers of Largemouth Bass. Since the implementation of a 16–24” protected slot limit, abundance of Largemouth Bass in that size range has tripled and remained consistent. In fact, samples from 2019 yielded the highest catch rates for bass ≥ 15” and bass ≥ 20” ever observed on the lake. Those numbers have declined slightly in the years since but remain well above levels observed in the mid-2000’s. A total of 8 Largemouth Bass ≥ 20 inches were collected during 2022 indicating the lake is still producing fair numbers of memorable bass. Intensive forage stocking of 1-3” Bluegill annually from 2015-2021 resulted in a 20% increase in forage abundance. This has translated to faster growing bass and improved opportunity for quality fish.
Although Briery’s hay day is distant, it is showing signs of improvement and remains one of the best Largemouth Bass fisheries in the state. Bass anglers will find no shortage of casting targets with the lake’s abundant standing timber, stumps, and fallen trees. Target transition areas leading in to spawning flats in early to mid-spring. Later in spring and through summer, main lake points and creek channel ledges should consistently hold numbers of fish. Briery is not just a bass lake; it also provides moderate sunfish and crappie fisheries. Bank anglers wishing to target sunfish and crappie will find ample opportunities along the lakes two fishing trails and three ADA compliant fishing piers. More information on Briery Creek Lake.

Sandy River Reservoir

For quite some time Sandy River Reservoir has played second fiddle to its sister lake, Briery Creek, located just down the road. Sandy offers the same caliber Largemouth Bass fishery as Briery with far less standing timber to complicate navigation. Catch rates of largemouth in the 15–20” range in 2022 samples were nearly double those observed in 2021 and were well above the historic average. Sampling efforts in 2022 yielded 20 bass of ≥ 20”, equaling the highest catch rates for this size class ever observed on the lake. Large bass can be found throughout the lake. Fishing shoreline areas is most productive in spring around the spawn. During summer, anglers should fish deeper (8-12’) during daytime off points and ledges. Aquatic vegetation also holds fish throughout the year and targeting edges can be a great place to start. Anglers who take notice of shad activity and adjust their methods accordingly are often very successful. Sandy also boasts impressive catfish, sunfish, and crappie fisheries. DWR stocks over 3,500 Channel Catfish annually to bolster the catfish population in Sandy River. Anglers should find success around beaver lodges and fallen trees which create ideal habitat for sunfish and crappie. The fishing pier at Sandy also provides excellent opportunities for crappie and sunfish anglers during spring and summer months. For more information on Sandy River Reservoir.

Buggs Island (Kerr Reservoir)

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 four pounds has declined somewhat mainly due to reduced productivity of the system. DWR samples have shown that survival has improved since impacts of LMBv were felt in 2009-2012, and the number of bass over 15” in surveys has steadily improved since 2012. Abundance of bass over 15” in 2022 surveys was higher than average and, numerous bass under 12” were sampled which should provide quality fishing in coming years. Additionally, several bass in the 16-20” range were sampled the past five years, and 2022 was no exception. The bass population seems to have recovered to a consistent and quality level since 2015. 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 pounds. 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 recovering very well with high densities of stripers from the 2018 year class. This strong year class and higher stocking densities should maintain a fishery that will provide a lot of action in coming years. During spring, Striped Bass may be found in the upper end 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 occupy the lake’s lower end (the dam to about Buoy 9, and in the mouth of Nutbush Creek). Fishing during fall and winter is typically best from Goat Island to Clarksville Bridge, although fish may be found throughout the lake. Buggs Island 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, Walleye, White Bass, White Perch, and Freshwater Drum. Drum densities have increased greatly in recent years. Walleye catch rates rose in 2020 and 2021 due to increased stocking efforts in the Staunton River drainage but showed a slight decline in 2022. Hopefully we’ll see fishing success improve once again in this final year of our exploitation study. If you capture a Walleye with a yellow tag, please return it to the address on the tag with a note on the general location where you caught it, when you caught it, if you were fishing for Walleye, and if you kept or released the fish; and we’ll send you a $20 reward. These fish were tagged in the Staunton River beginning winter 2020 as part of an exploitation study.

Smith Mountain Lake

The Smith Mountain Lake Largemouth Bass population, based on DWR sampling, has been improving since 2015. Catch rates for adult bass (≥ 8”), bass at least 15”, and bass at least 18” in 2018-2022 were all higher than the previous 10 year average. An experimental Largemouth Bass stocking program was initiated in 2015 to determine if supplemental stocking of F1 bass in Virginia’s larger lakes can improve populations. While the increasing bass population coincides with stocking, the primary reasons for the overall increase of bass was improved forage and higher than average spawning success. Sampling in 2018 showed stocked bass only added 6% to years when stocking occurred and only 0.03% to the entire adult population after three years of stocking. Extensive sampling was conducted again in spring 2021 to evaluate contribution to the population after six years of stocking, but those data are not yet available. Tournament bass ≥ 4 pounds sampled in 2021 were 13% stocked fish. Stocking will continue for at least several more years and be evaluated with electrofishing and tournament samples to determine if stocking benefits are worth the investment. The Smallmouth Bass population makes up less than 10% of the black bass fishery but still contributes. This species has generally mirrored largemouth trends with overall numbers steady and matching historical highs. Striped Bass fishing improved after 2016 for both number and size and has been stable for several years. The Striped Bass population was too high from 2010-2015 resulting in a depleted forage base and severely reduced striper growth. Consequently, the Striped Bass population needed restructuring. Reduced stocking success and regulation changes reduced Striped Bass numbers, increased forage abundance, and improved striper growth rates. Improved Striped Bass growth increased the catch of fish ≥ 30”. However, the population is again getting too high, which has reduced forage and impacted growth. Anglers should see good catch rates from higher numbers and less available forage resources. The crappie population has been generally consistent for both numbers and size. The number of crappie collected in DWR sampling was lower in 2018-2020 compared to the previous 6 years but was higher in 2021 and at the long term average in 2022. Thus, anglers should find a good distribution of fish 8-13”. Channel and Flathead Catfish should be similar to past years.

Leesville Lake

The Leesville Lake Largemouth Bass population has been stable for many years. Most fish are 13-17”, but there are bass to 22”. Electrofishing catch rates of bass ≥ 15” are very good. The best areas are from the dam to mile marker 6, as most of the upper lake has poor habitat due to high discharge from Smith Mountain Lake. This reservoir has historically supported a fair Striped Bass population that has fluctuated in numbers and size due to variable recruitment. The current population is good and improving due to better recruitment. Experimental stockings since 2017 improved survival and produced the best DWR catch rates ever recorded at the lake. Leesville has historically produced a marginal Walleye population, but experimental saugeye stockings 2013-2015 worked better. However, only Walleye have been stocked since 2016, and this fishery declined to historical levels. The return of stocking only Walleye (no saugeye) into Leesville was to maintain genetic integrity since much of Virginia’s broodstock come from this system. Catfish are abundant with the most common species being Channel and Blue Catfish. There are limited numbers of White and Flathead Catfish, but these species make up a smaller portion of the catfish community. The crappie fishery has produced good sizes but low numbers for the past 20 years, limiting the fishery. However, there has been much better recruitment the past few years resulting in a better fishery for 8-11” fish. It is unclear why the drastic change after 20 years, so it is uncertain if this population will continue to sustain current numbers or will return to historic levels. White Perch are also abundant and provide another fishing opportunity. This reservoir can be difficult to fish due to quickly rising and falling water and lack of submerged structure. However, many anglers who spend the time are rewarded with good fishing.

Philpott Reservoir

Fishing Philpott Reservoir in 2023 should provide anglers with good recreational opportunities. Philpott supports a variety of sport fish with the most popular being Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, crappie, Walleye, and various species of sunfish. Fisheries surveys from 2022 showed a strong largemouth Bass population with abundant numbers of 10-18” bass (1/2 – 3 pounds). Smallmouth were less abundant, but anglers do target them with success. The bass population is abundant enough to support small scale tournaments weekly during most of the year. Within the past five years, Alabama Bass were illegally introduced, and they’ve been showing up in surveys. Informational signs about Alabama Bass and how to identify them are posted at most access points. Alabama Bass have displaced (replaced) largemouth and extirpated smallmouth (genetic introgression) at many southeastern US reservoirs. The walleye fishery continues to be stable, supported by annual stocking, and the fishery continues to produce good numbers > 18”. Anglers can also catch decent numbers of Black Crappie and sunfish.

Carvins Cove

Fishing Carvins Cove in 2023 should be decent and offer anglers a variety of fish. This is a 630-acre impoundment located in Roanoke and Botetourt Counties owned by the Western Virginia Water Authority managed primarily for municipal water supply for the City of Roanoke. The most popular sportfish are Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, hybrid Striped Bass, Black Crappie, catfish, and sunfish. Largemouth Bass are abundant with good numbers of fish up to 16”. Smallmouth are present, but in lower numbers typically in deeper water. Hybrid Striped Bass were stocked in 2013-2015 & 2017-2022, and Pure Striped Bass were stocked in 2017 to diversify fishing opportunities. Anglers fishing for sunfish can find a variety of smaller Sunfish including Redear, Redbreast, and Pumpkinseed, but Bluegill are dominant. Most Bluegill are small with sizes ranging from 3-7” and a lot in the 4-6” range.

Region 3 (Southwest Virginia)

Claytor Lake

With the possibility of catching Smallmouth, Largemouth, and Spotted Bass, Claytor Lake is popular with nearly 67% of lake anglers fishing for these species of black bass. Claytor is considered a good smallmouth lake with anglers targeting large fish during winter. Good areas are the shoreline across from the mouth of Dublin Hollow, the shoreline between Spooky Hollow and Texas Hollow, and in Dublin Hollow. Minimum length for Smallmouth Bass is 14” with a combined daily creel limit for Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass of 5 per day. Spotted Bass are the most abundant black bass, however they typically do not grow as large as the others rarely reaching 2 pounds, although the state record 4-pound, 12-ounce Spotted Bass was caught here in January 2020. Alabama Bass are also in Claytor Lake but are not easily distinguished from Spotted Bass, so size and creel limits on Spotted Bass were rescinded. Thus, anglers can keep unlimited numbers of Spotted and Alabama Bass of any size. During the electrofishing sample in spring 2022, catch rates for largemouth were slightly higher compared to previous years, with 59% of fish over 12”. Anglers can find Largemouth Bass in coves, but the best places are Peak Creek, Clapboard Hollow, and large coves in the lower end. There is no minimum size for largemouth. In the 2017 angler survey, Channel and Flathead Catfish fishing effort climbed to nearly 13%, making catfish angling the second biggest fishery here. Flathead Catfish up to 40 pounds and Channel Catfish up to 15 pounds can be caught. Both of these are throughout the lake, but Channel Catfish are more abundant in the upper third. Anglers primarily target catfish from April to June, with a second bump in effort in early fall. Catch rates are good, with an average of 1.2/hr. Channel Catfish were the fourth most harvested fish with an estimated 2,692 fish. Striped Bass and hybrid Striped Bass are the third biggest fishery with nearly 6% of anglers fishing for these. Poor habitat (low oxygen at preferred temperature) in summer 2016 caused a striper kill, but the population has started to rebound. Bait populations (Alewife and Gizzard Shad) are abundant, which creates good feeding conditions for Striped and hybrid Striped Bass, and water temperatures below 70 degrees produce the best fishing. While most anglers troll or float live Gizzard Shad and Alewife, many are taken with topwater baits (Redfins, Rapalas, etc.) and bucktails in spring and fall. Trolling bucktails and umbrella rigs in 20-60’ of water can produce. Since they tolerate higher temperatures, hybrids often chase schools of shad at the surface at night in summer. Claytor Lake is a top destination for hybrids in Virginia holding the state record with a fish just shy of 16 pounds. With consistent Walleye stocking in recent years, this fishery is improving, with 5% of anglers targeting them. The improved population is a result of VDWR fisheries biologists restoring New River strain Walleye to the New River upstream from Claytor Lake. During fall, winter, and summer, look for schools in the same areas where stripers hang out. During the spring run from February to May, look for Walleye where the New River enters the lake near Allisonia. A new size and creel limit is in place from Claytor Lake Dam upstream to Buck Dam on the New River in Carroll County year round (formerly a seasonal size and creel limit). No Walleye 19-28” may be kept, and anglers are limited to 2 per day. Size and creel limits are designed to protect large females while allowing some harvest of more abundant males. Anglers report catching a number of trophy Yellow Perch (> 1 pound, 4 ounces or 12”) each year. The Black Crappie population is not large compared to other lakes, but they typically average nearly a pound. Bluegill are numerous throughout the lake providing action when other species are not biting. With catches of 20 to 30 pound Common Carp possible, anglers from as far away as England come to fish here.

South Holston Lake

Bass anglers fishing South Holston Lake in 2023 should have an exceptional season. Sampling by VDWR biologists in 2022 documented Largemouth Bass abundance at near record levels. Nineteen percent of all Largemouth Bass collected were > 15”, and 26% of Smallmouth Bass measured at least 14”. This is good news for bass anglers in 2023! Recent creel survey data indicate anglers target Smallmouth Bass in cooler months and Largemouth Bass in warmer months, as habitat use and catchability change. Walleye fishing remains the best in the Commonwealth; however, fishing success has declined recently due to increasing pressure and a missing 2016-year class due to hatchery issues, but those numbers are on the rebound. Biologists collected 72 Walleye during fall 2022, and most were over 20” and legal. Anglers can expect good catches during the spring run on the South Fork Holston River. The post spawn topwater bite at night in the lower lake during April and May 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. Anglers should remain flexible during summer; and if trolling is not productive, they should shift to targeting shorelines at night with lures. South Holston offers the best crappie fishing of all lakes in southwest Virginia. Black Crappie were abundant during 2022, as 147 fish were collected during spring and fall surveys. Of those, 91% were legal (>10”). Black Crappie in the 12-17” range were abundant, and as a result; prospects for anglers pursuing crappie looks good in 2023. Biologists continue to work on adding fish habitat (brush piles and pallet teepees) in designated areas to improve spawning and aid survival. Bluegill are always plentiful in South Holston and provide excellent fishing opportunities in summer when success for other species slows. Anglers can find good numbers of quality size Bluegill concentrated in the backs of coves near wood structure. For more fishing information on South Holston Lake go to the South Holston Lake page or the TWRA website.

Flannagan Reservoir

Flannagan Reservoir should provide anglers with good bass fishing opportunities in 2023, especially for Largemouth Bass. Sampling in spring 2022 revealed good numbers of fish and good size structure. Bass in the 2022 sample ranged from 4–23” with an average of 15”. Eighty-six percent of the Largemouth Bass were over 12”, and 57% exceeded 15”. Largemouth Bass ≥20 inches accounted for 3% of the sample. Smallmouth Bass are less abundant, and anglers targeting this species should focus on the lower lake. Note that on January 1, 2021, a 15” minimum was implemented for Smallmouth Bass on Flannagan, which requires anglers immediately release all Smallmouth Bass less than 15”. The Largemouth Bass regulation did not change, and Largemouth Bass less than 12” must be released. The combined creel limit for black bass is still 5/day. Fishing for Walleye may continue to be somewhat challenging in 2023, but there are good numbers of 18 to 20” fish. VDWR biologists use the catch rate of Walleye in annual gill net samples as a measure of relative abundance. The combined catch rate of Walleye and saugeye (measured as the number collected per net set overnight) in 2022 (7.4/net night) represented a 32% decline compared to 2021 (9.5). This was the third time since 2012 Walleye catch rates dropped below the management target of 10/net night. This decline can largely be attributed to missed stocking in 2016 and 2018 resulting from insufficient hatchery production. These cohorts would have been age-6 and 4 in 2022 which have historically made up a substantial proportion of the sample, so their absence is reflected in the lower abundance observed. Fortunately, Walleye were stocked in Flannagan in 2019, 2020, and 2022 which should help the population rebound soon. However, in 2021 Walleye were stocked at a reduced rate, once again due to insufficient hatchery production. Walleye observed in 2022 were 11–29” with an average of nearly 19”. Ninety-two percent of adults were ≥18 inches, and 38% exceeded 20”. So, although the number of Walleye and saugeye were down, the majority of fish were legal (over 18”). Many anglers target Walleye on the Cranesnest and Pound River arms during the spawning run in March and April. However, anglers can also be very successful throwing top-water lures at night in May through early June, which coincides with the Alewife spawn. As the season progresses and water temperatures increase, Walleye move deeper. This requires anglers to switch tactics and troll nightcrawler harnesses and crankbaits using reels outfitted with lead core line. Hybrid Striped Bass continue to provide a popular sport fishery, and this system produced a previous state record.  Approximately 17,000 hybrid fingerlings were stocked in 2022.  The abundance of hybrids in December 2022 gill net samples was average, but the majority of fish were over 20” and legal. Hybrids are routinely caught in the lower lake on top water baits or by drifting live baits.

Region 4 (Northern Virginia)

Lake Moomaw

The main forage base in Lake Moomaw consists of Gizzard Shad and Alewife. Alewives are shallow and in-shore during late spring and move to the thermocline when the reservoir stratifies in summer. Anglers should target depth of Alewife when fishing for bass, crappie, Yellow Perch or trout. Moomaw is home to both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass. The largemouth population has remained consistent over the years, and fair numbers of 12 –18” fish should be available in 2023. In 2022 the catch rate of preferred size (> 15”) largemouth was 7 and memorable size (> 20”) was 0 per hour. Electrofishing catch rates in spring 2022 were low compared to past numbers; however, they were not consistent with angler catch rates which were more favorable. Over the years, Lake Moomaw has become better for Smallmouth Bass. In spring 2022, catch rate of preferred size (> 14”) smallmouth was 13 and memorable size (> 17”) was 3 per hour of electrofishing. Black bass anglers should add Lake Moomaw to their list of lakes to visit in 2023, particularly if anglers prefer Smallmouth Bass. Those targeting Largemouth Bass should focus on areas at the upper end. Deeper, cold waters of Moomaw have the potential to provide suitable trout habitat. Brown and Rainbow Trout are stocked as fingerlings annually. The Brown Trout population mainly consists of three cohorts (ages) when habitat suitability occurs over multiple years. Anglers can distinguish cohorts by size. Brown Trout are stocked between Nov and Feb at 6 –7” and grow to 12 –13” by summer. The next size class averages 16 –20” (age-2), and the third cohort produces fish > 20” (age 3+). Historically rainbows have never been as abundant as browns, but growth rates are similar. Trout numbers dipped in the 2010’s; however, the fishery may be responding to an adjustment in stocking efforts. Biologists are working diligently to explain the reasons for low numbers in the mid to late 2010’s. DWR experimented with stocking “steelhead” Rainbow Trout from 2009 – 2017. Steelhead appear to have not done as well as McConaughy Rainbow Trout that were stocked in the past. McConaughy became unavailable due to fish disease concerns during this time period. The McConaughy also do not survive and recruit to the fishery as well as the historically stocked Brown Trout. Sterile (triploid) Brown Trout were stocked as a substitute for diploids in the mid- 2010’s. The expectation was for triploid trout to grow faster and reach larger size, but survival of triploids may have been lower than expected. DWR has returned to stocking diploid Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout at historic densities when hatchery production allows. DWR sampling catch rates of both species improved in July 2022, and angler reports also improved. The traditional stocking of Brown and Rainbow Trout continued in fall 2022, although at a lower rate due to drought conditions at hatcheries. Anglers can still expect an uptick in catch rates for trout, mainly Brown Trout, in early 2023 compared to the past five years – especially those over 14”. DWR is working to determine the future ability of trout to survive in reservoir and are exploring stocking additional predators if trout habitat degrades to reservoir aging. While black bass and trout are mainstays, anglers should also find favorable populations of Black Crappie, Bluegill, Chain Pickerel, Yellow Perch and Channel Catfish. Channel Catfish anglers should focus on post-spawn (August–October). In 2022, angler reports of Yellow Perch also improved. Anglers are encouraged to check out fish habitat “reefs” that have been recently created by DWR. Visit this link for the locations of these reefs.

Lake Anna

Population metrics describing abundance and size structure of Lake Anna Largemouth Bass in 2022 remained at near record levels for the third consecutive year, and fishing should be fantastic here in 2023. This suggests there are currently as many (or more) bass in the lake as there have been for at least 25 years with a commensurate number of larger fish. Total catch rate was 124 fish/hr. The positive trend was likely a function of increases in primary productivity and habitat improvements related to the return of aquatic vegetation (both submersed and emergent). Recent creel surveys estimated very high voluntary release of Largemouth Bass–over 99%, which undoubtedly is helping keep mortality rates low (about 24%). Bass up to age-16 were found in 2019 in an age study prior to F1 supplemental stocking. Lake Anna is one of several large reservoirs in Virginia under evaluation for supplemental F1 (original cross between Northern and Florida) Largemouth Bass stocking. Variable stockings over the next four years will occur in efforts to determine if abundance or size structure can be enhanced (total of six stocking years at three rates). After years of variable stocking rates for Striped Bass, annual minimum stocking rate of 10 Striped Bass and 10 hybrid Striped Bass per acre began in 2019 and will continue unabated. Survival of both was excellent in 2021 and 2022 based on gill net catch rate. This new format should result in consistent recruitment and abundance of legal fish (nearly 200,000 stocked annually). Several cohorts have moved into the fishery following several poor years and should continue to provide increases in “typical” Anna keeper stripers 20-25”. There are now six cohorts of hybrids at-large, and survivors of the original group stocked in 2014 are getting quite large and could give Claytor Lake a run for the hybrid Striped Bass state record soon. The Black Crappie population has morphed a bit from a “big-fish” cycle to a numbers game with abundance near an all-time high.

Occoquan Reservoir

Occoquan Reservoir stunned biologists in spring 2020 by producing an extraordinary Largemouth Bass catch rate of 94/hr. for fish over 15” and 11/hr. for fish over 20”. These are the highest levels ever documented in the northern district in any water. Overall bass catch rate was 156/hr., so any bass angler even close to northern Virginia should plan at least one trip in 2022 to either Fountainhead Park on the Fairfax side or Lake Ridge Park on the Prince William side (or both). There are copious water willow beds along many shorelines and lots of submerged timber in this 2100-acre reservoir. A robust forage base of Gizzard Shad, Alewife, White Perch and Bluegill support predators here. Illegally stocked snakeheads can also be found in willow beds, and their abundance seems to be slowly increasing. Known as a good crappie lake as well, both White and Black Crappie populations are strong. There are still some Flathead Catfish, although they are not abundant.