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2020 Impoundments Forecast

Virginia has extremely diverse aquatic ecosystems found over varied geographic regions, from the Lowland Coastal Plain to the rugged topography of the Appalachian Plateau. Over 176,000 acres of public lakes, primarily man-made impoundments, and 28,300 miles of fishable streams (1,000 miles tidal) provide fishing opportunities for more than 600,000 licensed anglers.  Virginia‘s 24 man-made large impoundments (>500 acres) are spread throughout the state and provide the public with over 139,000 acres of quality fishing. These impoundments range in size from 510 to 48,900 acres and were built by various federal, state, or private entities for flood control, water supply, hydroelectric generation, and /or recreation.  Additionally, Virginia has over 40,000 miles of streams. This important resource includes approximately 25,000 miles (1,000 miles are tidal) of fishable warmwater streams which support a great diversity of freshwater fish species and provide excellent sport fishing opportunities.  Included here is the 2020 fishing forecast for selected large impoundments (>500 acres) representing all the physiographic regions of the Commonwealth.

Region 1

Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir’s 635-acres in Gloucester County provide valuable freshwater angling opportunities on the middle peninsula. A 2019 electrofishing survey collected 196 Largemouth Bass for an impressive catch rate of 117 fish/hr. – an increase from 2017 (77 fish/hr.). The 2019 survey, conducted on April 10th, was prime time to encounter a large proportion of the population starting to pair for the spawn. Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir is shallow and typically warms quickly during normal spring weather. Look for bass to tuck their beds in close proximity to shallow flooded timber. Bass were in good condition with favorable relative weights from foraging on Gizzard Shad and Bluegill. Similar to past surveys, a large concentration of 13-16” bass was detected with fair recruitment of 6-10” fish. The 2019 survey produced a record catch of preferred-sized bass (≥ 15 inches) at 50 fish/hr. The bass fishery produces respectable fish, but recent surveys failed to produce many fish over 6 pounds. White Perch and Black Crappie populations continue to provide excitement for anglers during late winter and early spring, and an abundance of citation-sized Yellow Perch have historically been present. However, these populations have recently shifted with fewer large Yellow Perch and more White Perch. These schooling fish, when found, can provide great action and can keep young anglers engaged. Bluegill, Chain Pickerel and the occasional Channel Catfish provide anglers with additional action. The Bluegill population has been producing fish in the 6-9” range.

Chickahominy Lake is a popular destination for anglers who enjoy fishing a 1,230-acre reservoir with plenty of habitat and cover. This reservoir continues to be a predator heavy system with an abundance of bass, Black Crappie, Chain Pickerel and Bowfin, and the Blue Catfish population continues to increase. Fishing reports from Ed Allen’s refer to numerous large blue cats caught by anglers recently. Based on fishing records taken at Ed Allen’s, 2019 was another incredible year for bass over five pounds, with anglers also landing multiple fish in the 7 -10 pound range. Recent trap net surveys suggest the lake’s crappie population is healthy with an abundance of 11-13” fish. The flats of Johnson and Lacey Creeks typically provide earliest crappie action each spring. The 2019 spring electrofishing survey collected 134 Largemouth Bass for a catch rate of 90 fish/hr. – a slight increase from 2018 (86 fish/hr.). The collection of 45 preferred-sized Largemouth Bass (≥ 15 inches) provided a respectable catch of 30/hr. The two private ramps, Ed Allen’s and Eagles, have numerous tournaments annually. Anglers putting time in usually find hot spots and catch quality limits. Chickahominy Lake continues to produce many 4-6 pound Bowfin with a chance at a citation over 10 pounds. The Bluegill and Redear Sunfish populations have been producing larger fish that anglers should target during the first wave of the spring spawn.

Lake Chesdin is a 3,100-acre impoundment located primarily along the county line of Chesterfield and Dinwiddie Counties. This popular fishing destination continues to produce very respectable Largemouth Bass. The 2019 spring electrofishing survey yielded 174 bass for a catch rate of 116/hr. This was a decline from 2018 (142 fish/hr.) likely due to a survey date of May 8th. An earlier survey would likely have encountered a higher proportion of adult bass in and around water willow. A large proportion of bass were 16-20”. A total of 81 preferred-sized bass (≥ 15 inches) provided a high catch rate of 54/hr. placing Lake Chesdin in first place again for District impoundments. Lake Chesdin has a surprisingly high abundance of large male bass in the 4-5 pound range. Relative weights were favorable indicating adult bass are finding plenty of forage. The abundant Gizzard Shad population provides a great forage base but can make fishing tricky for the average angler. Bluegill are extremely abundant, but very few fish make it past 6”. The Redear Sunfish population improved with a good abundance of 9-11” fish. The crappie fishery consists of both Black and White Crappie. Crappie populations have historically suffered from stockpiling but still have capacity to produce quality fish. Experienced anglers have caught extremely large crappie hybrids over 3.5 pounds. The crappie fishery has an increasing abundance of larger fish that have been able to forage on juvenile Gizzard Shad. Anglers are encouraged to harvest 8-9” crappie to thin that overabundant segment. One of the better fishing opportunities on Lake Chesdin comes from the Channel Catfish population typically yielding 4-6 pound fish. Lake Chesdin received saugeye (Sauger x Walleye cross) fingerlings in May 2013 and 2014 as well as walleye fingerlings. DGIF staff stocked roughly 150,000 Walleye fingerlings in 2015, so anglers should be able to find action from this year class. The lake also received 89,000 saugeye fingerlings in 2019, but it will be a few years before these fish provide any action. The minimum size limit for saugeye and Walleye is 18”, and the creel limit is five (in aggregate). The Chain Pickerel population has produced very healthy fish with many in the 2-4 pound range. Anglers may be surprised by a trophy pickerel.

Region 2

During the early to mid-2000’s, Briery Creek Lake was arguably the best place in the commonwealth to catch a trophy Largemouth Bass and even gave the current state record (16.25 pounds) a scare. Since then, trophy bass potential declined due to several factors including reservoir aging, Largemouth Bass virus, and introduction of Hydrilla. However, do not let that stop you from fishing here, as the lake still boasts a unique combination of bass size and number. Since implementation of a 16-24” protected slot, abundance of fish in that range has tripled. Currently, 45% of the population is > 15”. In fact, 2019 samples yielded the highest catch rates of bass > 15” and > 20” ever observed in the lake. It is uncertain if Briery will ever return to its previous status, but intensive stocking of 1-3” Bluegill annually since 2015 has resulted in a 20% increase in forage abundance. Hopefully, this will translate to faster growing larger bass. Although Briery’s hay day of producing near state record fish is distant, it is showing signs of improvement and remains one of the best bass fisheries in the state. Bass anglers will find no shortage of casting targets with 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 ledges should hold considerable numbers of fish. Briery is not just a bass lake, it also provides moderate sunfish and crappie fisheries. Bank anglers wishing to target these will find many opportunities along two fishing trails and three ADA compliant piers. For more information visit the Briery Creek Lake page.

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 but without standing timber. Collections by biologists in 2019 yielded the highest catch rate of bass > 20” since the lake was opened to fishing (19 were sampled). Large bass can be found throughout the lake, but fishing shoreline areas is likely most productive in spring before and after the spawn. During summer, anglers should fish deeper water (8-12’) during daytime off points and ledges. Anglers who take notice of shad activity and adjust methods are often successful. Sandy also boasts impressive catfish, sunfish, and crappie fisheries. DGIF stocks over 7,000 Channel Catfish annually to bolster this population. The abundance of beaver lodges in the lake creates ideal habitat for sunfish and crappie. The fishing pier at Sandy provides excellent opportunities for these species during spring months. For more information visit the Sandy River Reservoir page.

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. Surveys suggested survival has improved since bass virus issues in 2009 -2012, and number of bass > 15” has steadily improved. Several 16-20” bass have been sampled in recent years, and 2019 was no exception. Additionally, three of the last four years have produced good spawns, which should translate into excellent fishing for several years. The bass population seems to have recovered to a consistent and quality level. The best fishing is on the upper end of the main lake and the lower end of creek arms, especially during high water in spring. The catfish fishery has become dominated by a world-class Blue Catfish population with many fish 5-30 lbs. Larger blues can be found, and Buggs Island boasts the state and world record at 143 lbs. caught in 2011. The Striped Bass population is recovering with high densities of fish from 2018. This strong year class and higher stocking densities should maintain a quality fishery in the coming years. During spring, Striped Bass migrate to the upper end of the lake and into the river as fish travel upstream to spawn. During summer, habitat (combination of temperature and oxygen) forces Striped Bass to occupy the lower lake (dam to about Buoy 9 and the mouth of Nutbush Creek). Fishing during fall and winter is typically best from Goat Island to Clarksville Bridge, although fish are dispersed. Buggs Island is also one of Virginia’s best places to catch large crappie, but this population experienced a decline recently. To help the fishery recover, we have implemented a 9” minimum size. 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 include Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Walleye, White Bass, White Perch, and Freshwater Drum.

The Smith Mountain Lake Largemouth Bass population has been improving. Adult bass (≥ 8”) increased 20%, bass >15” increased 18%, and bass >18” increased 27% from 2015 to 2019. An experimental stocking program began in 2015 to determine if stocking in Virginia’s larger lakes can improve populations. While this expanding population coincided with stocking, primary reasons for the increase were improved forage and recent spawning success. Sampling in 2018 indicated stocked bass added only 6% to years when stocking occurred and only 0.03% to the entire adult population. Stocking will continue for at least several more years and will be evaluated with electrofishing and tournament data. The Smallmouth Bass population comprises <10% of black bass but still contributes to the fishery. This species generally mirrors Largemouth Bass trends with overall numbers steadily increasing since 2014 matching historical highs in 2019. Striped Bass fishing improved in 2019 for both number and size with anticipated stable to slightly increasing numbers in 2020. The striper population was too high from 2010-2015 resulting in a depleted forage base and severely reduced growth. Consequently, this population needed restructuring. Reduced stocking success multiple years and regulation changes reduced overall numbers resulting in improved forage and growth. The population appears to be rebuilding with good stocking survival in 2017 and better growth. The crappie fishery has been generally consistent for both number and size. However, the number of crappie collected >9” declined 30% in 2018-2019 compared to recent history. Size structure was similar to previous years. Anglers should find good numbers of fish 8-13”. Channel and Flathead Catfish populations should be similar to the past few years.

Leesville Lake’s Largemouth Bass population has been very stable for many years. Most fish were 13-16”, but there were some up to 21” in recent surveys. Electrofishing catch rate of bass >15” was actually slightly better than neighboring Smith Mountain Lake. The best fishing areas are between the dam and mile marker 6, as most of the upper lake has poor habitat due to high flows from Smith Mountain Lake dam and other hydrological conditions. This reservoir has historically supported a fair Striped Bass population that has fluctuated for both number and size due to variable recruitment. The current population is fair but declining due to fading of the record 2010-year class that sustained the fishery since 2013. However, experimental stockings the past few years have shown promise for more consistent stocking success. Leesville Lake has historically produced a marginal Walleye population, but experimental saugeye stockings 2013-2015 produced much better survival and populations than previous Walleye stockings. Despite this, Walleye were stocked >2016 (resulting in a declining population) due to difficulties procuring saugeye. Catfish are abundant at this reservoir with Channel and Blue Catfish most common. Limited numbers of White and Flathead Catfish are available. The crappie fishery is fair with good size but low number. This reservoir can be difficult to fish due to quickly rising and falling water levels and lack of submerged structure. However, anglers who spend time deciphering this lake are often rewarded.

Region 3

With the possibility of catching Smallmouth, Largemouth, and Spotted Bass, the Claytor Lake bass fishery is popular, with nearly 67% of anglers fishing for these species. Spotted Bass are most abundant. During an electrofishing sample in 2019, 40% of adult Largemouth Bass were over 15”. Anglers can find them in coves throughout the lake, but best places are Peak Creek, Clapboard Hollow, and large coves in the lower lake. Claytor is considered a good smallmouth lake, with anglers targeting large fish during winter. Spotted Bass do not grow as large as Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, rarely reaching 2 pounds, although the state record 4.75 lbs. spot was caught at Claytor on January 1, 2020. In a 2017 angler survey, Channel and Flathead Catfish effort climbed to 13%, making catfish the second biggest fishery. Flathead Catfish up to 40 lbs. and channels up to 20 lbs. are available. In 2019, 9 citation Channel Catfish (12 lbs. or 30”) and 2 flatheads (25 lbs. or 40”) were reported. Both of these species can be caught throughout, but channels are more abundant in the upper third of the lake. Striped Bass and hybrid Striped Bass are the third biggest fishery at Claytor, with 6% of anglers. Poor habitat (low dissolved oxygen at preferred temperature) in summer 2016 caused a striper kill, but the population has rebounded. Bait populations (Alewife and Gizzard Shad) are abundant which creates good feeding conditions. Water temperatures below 70F produce the best Striped Bass fishing. While most anglers troll or float live shad or herring, many are taken with topwater baits (Redfins, Rapalas, etc.) and bucktails in spring and fall. Trolling bucktails and umbrella rigs in 20-60’ can produce. Since they tolerate higher water temperatures, hybrids often chase shad at the surface at night in the summer. Claytor Lake is a top destination for hybrids in Virginia, producing 11 citations (> 8 lbs. or 24”) in 2019 and holding the state record with a 15 lb., 13 oz. fish caught by Don Jessie on March 16, 2016. With recent consistent Walleye stocking, this fishery is improving (5% of anglers targeted). In 2019, anglers reported 8 citations (>5 pounds or 25”). Look for walleye with stripers most of the year, but target them on their spring spawning run where the New River enters the lake near Allisonia. From February through May, from Claytor Dam upstream to Buck Dam on the New River, no Walleye 19-28” may be kept, and creel is 2/day. From June through January, Walleye in the lake and in the river (upstream) are regulated by a 20” minimum and a 5/day creel. This seasonal slot limit is designed to protect large spawning females in the river while allowing harvest of more abundant males.

Anglers targeting bass on Flannagan Reservoir in 2020 should have success, especially for largemouth. Sampling in 2019 provided the highest catch rate for this species since 2015 due to high catch rates of adults and juveniles suggesting successful recent spawning. Largemouth Bass size structure remains good, as fish in the 2019 sample ranged from 5–22” with an average of 13”. Eighty-four percent of bass were ≥12”, and 31% exceeded 15”. Largemouth Bass ≥20” accounted for 1% of the sample. Smallmouth Bass are generally less abundant, but more than normal were collected in the 2019 sample. Anglers targeting this species should focus on the lower lake. Walleye anglers that haven’t fished Flannagan in a while should definitely return in 2020. The lack of stocking in 2016 and 2018 reduced overall abundance, but there are good numbers of legal-sized fish. The catch rate of Walleye in 2019 net samples (8/net night) was down slightly from 2018 (12/net night) but still near the management target of 10. The reduction in abundance of Walleye can be attributed to the missing 2016 and 2018 cohorts. Fortunately, the 2017 stocking survived well, and their presence contributed to the number of legal fish. Walleye collected in 2019 ranged from 10–26” with an average of 19”. Seventy-five percent of adults were ≥18”, and 43% exceeded 20”. Hybrid Striped Bass continue to be popular, and this system produced the former state record.  Approximately 17,000 hybrids were stocked in September 2019.  Abundance of hybrids in 2019 net samples was down from previous years, but size structure was good. Sampled fish ranged from 14-26” with a majority of fish greater than 20”.  This suggests a good number of legal fish will be present in 2020.  Hybrids are routinely caught in the lower lake on top water plugs or by drifting live baits.

Region 4

Population metrics describing abundance and size structure of Lake Anna Largemouth Bass in 2019 were at or near record levels. 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. 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. 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 five years will occur in efforts to determine if population level or size structure can be enhanced. After years of variable stocking rates for Striped Bass, annual stocking rate of 10 Striped Bass and 10 hybrid Striped Bass per acre began in 2019 and will continue unabated. This new format should result in consistent recruitment and abundance of legal fish (almost 200,000 stocked annually). Several cohorts of young fish are poised to move into the fishery following two poor year classes from 2014 and 2015. This “hole” should continue to progress through the fishery, and noticeable improvement should occur in 2020. The Black Crappie population is riding a “big-fish” cycle. There were a record number of crappie over 12” in 2019 samples, but numbers of small and medium-sized fish were down. Thus, this fishery may experience a down cycle over coming years.