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2024 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 in Chesterfield and Dinwiddie Counties and a popular destination for very respectable Largemouth Bass. The 2023 spring electrofishing survey yielded 391 bass for a catch rate of 104/hr. which was a decline from 2022 (129/hr.). A large proportion of fish were 16-20”. The collection of 192 preferred-sized bass (≥ 15”) provided a decent catch of 51/hr. placing Chesdin in first place again for district lakes. This catch rate of preferred-sized bass matched 2022. 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 4-5 lb. range. High relative weights indicated bass were finding plenty of forage. Gizzard Shad provide a great forage base but also can make fishing tricky for average anglers. Recent surveys continue to reveal an abundance of 3-5 lb. bass which should make tournament anglers happy. Lake Chesdin received supplemental F1 bass stockings for four years (2020-2023) as part of a DWR experiment. Two 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 including some extremely large hybrids (natural cross between black and white) 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 3-5 lb. fish available. The Flathead Catfish population has shown recent growth, and a 2023 net survey found most fish in 8-12 lb. range with the largest at 28. Lake Chesdin received saugeye (Sauger x Walleye cross) fingerlings in 2019, 2021, 2022, and 2023 with Walleye fingerlings stocked in 2020. The 2023 surveys revealed an abundance of saugeye from the 2019 and 2021 year classes. Some larger saugeye collected were females that weighed nearly 6 lbs. Anglers are reminded minimum size for saugeye and Walleye is 18” at 5/day in aggregate. The Chain Pickerel population has produced some very healthy fish with many 2-3 lbs. 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 County 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 shoreline access. The 2023 electrofishing survey yielded little excitement with only 37 Largemouth Bass collected for a catch rate of 23/hr. The April 24th survey found the bass population well past their spawn, as the CPUE ranked lower than 2022 (54/hr.). This reservoir has shallow shorelines that warm quickly with many bass vacating banks once the spawn is completed. 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. The reservoir was stocked with F1 Largemouth Bass fingerlings for four years (2020-2023). 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 top-end size potential. The White Perch and Black Crappie populations continue to provide excitement during late winter to early spring. A 2023 trap net survey yielded an abundance of White Perch (n = 606) and Black Crappie (n = 590) with several year classes clearly identified. The fishery has historically produced citation Yellow Perch, but there has been a decline recently with the influx of White Perch recruitment. 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 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. The Blue Catfish population has started to provide more excitement for anglers that target them. A 2023 trap net survey found a healthy crappie population with an abundance of fish 11-13”. Schools of crappie will migrate shallow late winter. The flats of Johnson and Lacey Creeks are always attractive locations to find early season action. The 2023 spring electrofishing survey collected 128 Largemouth Bass for a catch rate of 77/hr. This favorable increase from 2022 (51/hr.) reflected an increase in juvenile bass. 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 3-5 lb. females. The survey yielded 30 preferred-sized bass (≥ 15”) for a catch rate of 18/hr. which was a minor decline from 2022 (20.3/hr.). The 2023 survey failed to find any bass in the 5-7 lb. range which came as a surprise. Two private ramps, Ed Allen’s and Eagles Landing provide most of the access and host numerous tournaments. 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 average size showing a decline from past surveys. The average weight of collected Bowfin was 3 lbs. with the heaviest at 6. The Bluegill and Redear Sunfish populations have been producing larger fish that can be enjoyed by fly fishermen and 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. The 2023 spring survey collected 112 Largemouth Bass for a CPUE of 56/hr. This was a decline from 2022 (79.5/hr.). Most bass were 14-17” with a high proportion around 2 lbs. The catch rate of preferred bass (≥15”) was a respectable 39.5/hr., down from 2022 (44/hr.). The survey collected a limited abundance of Alabama Bass (n = 9, CPUE = 4.5/hr.) with a decline from 2022 (CPUE = 6.5/hr.). 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. The Bluegill population has historically been stunted with most fish in the 3-5” range. The Redear Sunfish population has shown a recent decline but still has the potential to produce a few larger fish. 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-2000’s Briery Creek Lake was arguably the best place in the commonwealth to catch a trophy Largemouth Bass and even scared the current state record of 16.25 lbs. Since then, trophy bass potential has declined slightly because of several factors including reservoir aging, Largemouth Bass virus, and the introduction of Hydrilla. However, Briery Creek still boasts a unique combination of size and numbers of largemouth. Since the implementation of the 16–24” protected slot, abundance of bass in the slot has tripled and remained consistent. The lake continues to boast a strong bass population, with a total of 294 collected during spring 2023 samples. Within the population of “catchable” size bass (> 8”) 45% were >15”, and 5% were >20”. This means that, on average, 1 out of every 20 adult bass in the lake was 20” and up. Although Briery’s hay day is distant, it remains one of the best bass fisheries in the state. 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 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 two fishing trails and three ADA compliant piers. For more information on Briery Creek Lake visit the Briery Creek Lake page.

Sandy River Reservoir

For quite some time, Sandy River Reservoir has played second fiddle to its sister 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. Overall catch rates for bass declined noticeably in 2023 electrofishing samples which was largely explained by lower-than-normal catch rates of fish <12”. This change is likely a result of increased coverage of submerged aquatic vegetation, which can reduce catch rates for smaller fish during sampling. Catch rates of fish >12” was consistent. A total of 258 bass were collected in spring 2023. Within the population of “catchable” size bass (>8”), 58% were >15”, and 10% were >20”. This means that, on average, 1 out of every 10 catchable size bass in the lake was 20” and up. Sandy boasts a strong catfish population with over 3,500 Channel Catfish stocked annually to bolster the fishery. Sunfish and crappie are also abundant throughout the lake. Anglers should find success around beaver lodges and fallen trees which create ideal habitat. The fishing pier at Sandy also provides excellent opportunities for access during spring and summer. For more information, visit the Sandy River Reservoir page.

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. The overall trend in number of bass >15” in spring surveys has improved since 2012, but we did see a bit of decline in 2023. Abundance of bass >15” in 2023 was only slightly below average. Good densities of bass around 12” will help maintain a quality fishery in coming years. This fishery seems to have recovered to a consistent and quality level since 2015. Best fishing is on the upper end and lower end creek arms, especially during high water in spring when water gets into trees. Unfortunately, Alabama Bass have been illegally introduced by anglers into Buggs Island. We expect they will result in negative impacts to the reservoir largemouth fishery and to Smallmouth Bass fisheries in the Dan and Staunton Rivers. We will continue to monitor the spread of this invasive species in coming years. The catfish fishery has become dominated by a world-class Blue Catfish population with many fish 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 healthy with larger individuals from the 2018 year class available. This strong year class and higher stocking densities should maintain a fishery that will provide a lot of action in coming years. Net samples in 2023 suggested below average recruitment, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on this valuable fishery. During spring, Striped Bass are found in the upper lake and in the rivers above the lake as fish travel upstream to spawn. During summer, habitat (combination of temperature and dissolved oxygen) forces Striped Bass to occupy the lower end (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. Buggs Island Lake is also one of Virginia’s best places to catch crappie with fish over two pounds not uncommon. This is 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. Walleye catch rates have risen recently due to increased stocking in the Staunton River drainage. DWR wrapped up a four-year exploitation study in 2023 where we found consistent catch rates and a popular fishery. For more information on this fishery please visit the “Fishing Reports” link on our website and look at the Walleye Fishing Forecast. Other species available for Buggs anglers include Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, White Bass, White Perch, and Freshwater Drum. Drum densities have increased greatly in recent years.

Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake Largemouth Bass (LMB) population, based on DWR sampling, has been improving since 2015. Catch rates for bass of various size groups (≥ 8”, 15”, 20”), in 2018-2022 were all higher than the previous 10 year average. An experimental LMB 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 reason for increasing bass numbers was higher than average spawning success. To date, stocking has only added approximately 5% more bass to each year class (age group). However, there have been increases of LMB over 4 lbs. because of stocking, as 13% of tournament bass checked over 4 lbs. by DWR in 2021 were stocked. Tournament data collected in 2022-2023 have not yet been received from the lab. Stocking will continue for at least two more years and will be evaluated with electrofishing and tournament samples to determine if stocking benefits are worth investment. The Smallmouth Bass (SMB) population makes up less than 10% of black bass but still contributes to the fishery. This species has generally mirrored LMB trends with overall numbers steady and matching historical highs. Striped Bass (STB) fishing improved after 2016 for both numbers and sizes. The STB population was too high from 2010-2015 resulting in a depleted forage base and severely reduced growth. Consequently, the STB population needed restructuring. Poor stocking success and regulation changes reduced numbers, increased forage, and improved striper growth rates. However, the population is again getting too high, which has reduced forage and impacted growth. This means anglers should experience good fishing due to higher numbers and less available forage in 2024. The crappie population has been generally consistent for both numbers and sizes. The number collected in surveys was lower in 2018-2020 compared to the previous 6 years but higher in 2021-2023 than the long term average. Thus, anglers should find a good distribution of crappie 9-13”. The White Perch population increased dramatically from 2000-2016 and provided a popular fishery, but the population declined since 2016 due to reduced reproduction. Although White Perch are still present, there are currently fewer perch available. There has been a 90% reduction in White Perch numbers from 2016 to 2023. 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 bass are 13-17”, but there are fish up 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 varying water conditions from Smith Mountain Lake discharges. This reservoir has historically supported a fair Striped Bass population that has fluctuated in numbers and sizes due to variable recruitment. The current population is good and improving due to better recruitment. Experimental stockings since 2017 improved survival and have produced the best DWR catch rates 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 has declined to historical levels and is too low to provide a good fishery. The return of stocking only Walleye (no saugeye) into Leesville was to maintain genetic integrity since much of Virginia’s hatchery 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 recently resulting in a better fishery with good numbers of 8-11” crappie available. 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 opportunity. This reservoir can be difficult to fish due to quickly rising and falling water levels and lack of submerged structure. However, many anglers who spend the time to figure this lake out are rewarded with good fishing.

Philpott Reservoir

Fishing Philpott Reservoir in 2024 should provide anglers with good recreational opportunities. Philpott supports a variety of sportfish with the most popular being Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Walleye, and various species of sunfish. Surveys from 2023 showed a strong Largemouth Bass population with abundant numbers of 12-16” fish (0.5–2.5 pounds). Smallmouth Bass were less abundant, but anglers do target them with success. The fishery supports small scale tournaments weekly during most of the year. Within the past seven years, Alabama Bass were illegally introduced, and they’ve been showing up in surveys and tournaments. Informational signs about Alabama Bass and how to identify them are posted at 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.

Carvin’s Cove

Carvin’s Cove should provide anglers with decent action and a diversity of fish in 2024. This 630-acre impoundment in Roanoke and Botetourt Counties, owned by the Western Virginia Water Authority, is managed primarily for municipal water supply for Roanoke. Lake pool was down 11’ because of drought in 2023, but recent rains are refilling the lake. The most popular sportfish are Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, hybrid Striped Bass, Black Crappie, catfish, and sunfish. Largemouth Bass are abundant with good numbers to 16”. Smallmouth Bass are present, but in lower numbers and typically deeper. Hybrid Striped Bass were stocked in 2013-2015 & 2017-2023, and Striped Bass were stocked in 2017 to diversify fishing opportunities. Anglers fishing for sunfish can find a variety of smaller species including Redear, Redbreast, and Pumpkinseed, but Bluegill are dominant. Most Bluegill are small with sizes ranging from 3-7”.

Region 3 (Southwest Virginia)

Claytor Lake

Black Bass spring electrofishing catch rates were down across the board in 2023 at Claytor Lake likely due to colder water temperatures when sampling. The State Park area contained the highest abundances of Smallmouth Bass (8 fish/hour) followed by Peak Creek with 6/hour. Although Spotted Bass (SPB) catch rates were down, there are still plenty of fish. Spring surveys collected an average of 40 SPB/hour compared to 2022 (56/hour). Many SPB collected in 2023 were well > 11”. Alabama Bass are now well established, so no size or creel limits apply to SPB, since they are nearly impossible to differentiate without a genetic test. Largemouth Bass (LMB) catch rates were relatively similar between 2022 and 2023 with 2022 at 27/hour vs. 2023 at 22/hour. Best areas to target LMB are shallow coves like Peak Creek, State Park, Macks Creek, or Clapboard Hollow during warmer months. Claytor Lake is also a very popular reservoir to target large catfish (both Flathead and Channel Catfish). Anglers fish at night during warmer months using cut bait, hot dogs, cheese, or other fragrant baits. It is not uncommon to see 10-15 lb. channels and up to 40 lb. flatheads. Both Striped Bass and hybrid Striped Bass continue to be popular. However hotter, dryer summers have led to a “summer squeeze” of habitat for stripers resulting in major fish kills of fish >20”. Unfortunately, this persistent problem isn’t going away any time soon. Unsuitable habitat has also impacted striper growth, and fall net data suggest fewer fish are growing > 32” compared to 20 years ago. Additionally, data show a negative trend in fish condition over past decades likely due to unsuitable summer habitat. Hybrid Striped Bass have a higher temperature tolerance and therefore are not majorly impacted by “summer squeeze”. Sunfish and Black Crappie also provide fun opportunities. Target structures like downed treetops or Christmas tree reefs. The Walleye population has been improving with years of constant stocking near Allisonia. Fish run up to Allisonia during spawning in late February/ early March before moving back into deeper sections of the lake. Below Claytor Dam is also a great spot to target Walleye during the spawn.

South Holston Lake

Anglers pursing both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass at South Holston Lake in 2024 should have an exceptional season. Sampling by VDWR biologists in 2023 documented above average Largemouth Bass abundance. Twenty percent of all Largemouth Bass collected were > 15”, and 10% of Smallmouth Bass measured at least 14”. Past creel survey data indicate anglers target Smallmouth Bass in cooler months and Largemouth Bass in warmer months, as habitat use and catchability change. Anglers fishing during winter focus on trophy Smallmouth Bass with Livescope sonar technology and jigging in water ranging from 25-60’. As spring arrives, anglers focus on rocky points for Smallmouth Bass and shoreline large woody debris for Largemouth Bass with some habitat overlap of the two species. Walleye fishing remains the best in the Commonwealth with increasing fishing success despite a missing 2016 year class. Biologists collected 59 Walleye during fall 2023 net surveys, and most adult fish were over 20” and legal. Female Walleye can reach 30” and 10 pounds, while most males top out around 25” and 5-6 pounds. Anglers can expect good Walleye fishing during the spring run (February through March) on the South Fork Holston River as fish move upriver towards Alvarado to spawn. 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. The excitement of casting to the shoreline and hooking a large Walleye on the bank is hard to beat. 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 2023, as 153 fish were collected during spring and fall surveys. Of those, 93% were legal (>10”). Black Crappie in the 12-17” range were abundant, and as a result; prospects for anglers pursuing crappie look good in 2024. Winter fishing for Black Crappie remains quite popular as anglers focus on creek channels (15-20’) in the upper lake. Springtime crappie fishing is more traditional and consists of fishing structure in 4-10’ around points and coves or concentrating on creek channels. Biologists continue to work on adding fish habitat (brush piles, polypipe trees, 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. 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 2024, especially for Largemouth Bass. Sampling in spring 2023 revealed good numbers of fish and good size structure. Bass in the 2023 sample ranged from 2–20” with an average of 14”. Ninety-four percent of the adult (≥8”) Largemouth Bass were over 12”, and 55% 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 2024, but with stockings reaching or exceeding stocking recommendation; there are several age classes that should be reaching harvestable size. 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 (number/net night) in 2023 (11.1) represented a 33% increase in abundance compared to 2022 (7.4). The higher catch rate was carried by younger fish moving into harvestable size. Flannagan will continue to miss cohorts from 2018 and 2016 which would have been Age-5 and 7 in 2023 and have historically made up a substantial proportion of larger fish in samples. Their absence is reflected in the lower abundance of larger fish. Fortunately, Walleye were stocked consistently outside 2016, 2018, 2021, and this consistent stocking has led to many younger fish nearing harvestable size. Walleye observed in 2023 samples ranged from 16–25” with an average of 21”, and saugeye were 13-19” with an average of 15”. Fifty-seven percent Walleye and saugeye adults were ≥18”, and 38% >20”. So, although overall number of was down, the majority of fish are legal and should provide good opportunity. Many anglers target Walleye on the Cranesnest and Pound River arms during spawning in March and April; however, anglers can also be very successful throwing top-water lures at night 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 hybrids were stocked in 2023.  The abundance of hybrids in December 2023 net samples was average, but the majority of fish were >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. Alewife are shallow and in-shore during late spring and move to the thermocline when the reservoir stratifies in summer. Anglers should target the depth of the Alewife when fishing for bass, crappie, Yellow Perch, or trout. Moomaw is home to both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, and the largemouth population has remained consistent. Expect a fair number of 12–18” fish in 2024. In 2023, catch rate of preferred size (>15”) largemouth was 4.4/hr. and memorable size (> 20”) was 0. Over the years, Moomaw has provided better habitat for Smallmouth Bass. In spring 2023 surveys, catch rate of preferred size (>14”) smallmouth was 30.2 and memorable size (>17”) was 4.9/hr. of electrofishing. Both of these numbers increased from 2021 and 2022. Black bass anglers should add Lake Moomaw to their list of lakes to visit in 2024, particularly if anglers prefer lake fishing for Smallmouth Bass. Those targeting Largemouth Bass should focus on the upper end of the lake. Depending on the year, the deeper, cold waters of Moomaw have potential to provide suitable trout habitat. Brown and Rainbow Trout are stocked as fingerlings annually. The Brown Trout population mainly consists of three cohorts (age of fish) when habitat suitability is present over multiple years. Anglers can distinguish these cohorts by size-range. Brown Trout are stocked Nov-Feb at 6–7” and grow to 12–13” by summer (age 1). The next size is 16–20” (age 2), while the third produces fish >20” (age 3 or 4). 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. Biologists are working diligently to explain reasons for low numbers in the mid to late 2010’s. DWR experimented with stocking “steelhead” Rainbow Trout from 2009 – 2017. Steelhead did not survive as well as McConaughy Rainbow Trout previously stocked, but McConaughy became unavailable due to fish disease concerns. McConaughy also do not survive and recruit as well as historically stocked Brown Trout. Sterile (triploid) Brown Trout were stocked as a substitute for “diploid” Browns in the mid- 2010’s. The expectation was for “triploid” trout to grow faster and reach larger size. This was predicted because these fish do not produce eggs and put more energy toward growth. However, survival or angler catchability of “triploid” trout may be lower than diploids traditionally stocked. DWR has returned to stocking diploid Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout at historic densities when hatchery production allows. DWR’s sampling catch of Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout was average in July 2023. Angler reports improved in 2023. Traditional stocking of Brown and Rainbow Trout continued in the fall of 2022 and 2023, although at a lower rate due to drought conditions at hatcheries. Anglers may experience a slight decrease in catch rates for trout through 2024. Brown Trout angler catch >14” should be similar to recent years. However, small trout may not be as numerous. While black bass and trout are the mainstay fisheries in Moomaw, anglers should also find favorable populations of Black Crappie, Bluegill, Chain Pickerel, Yellow Perch, and Channel Catfish. Channel Catfish anglers should focus on August – October after the spawn. In 2023 DWR’s hatcheries were very successful hatching and raising Walleye, so extra Walleye were stocked in April 2023. Anglers should begin catching walleye in the 12” range in early 2024. Walleye will only be stocked when surplus is available, which is not often. Anglers are encouraged to check out fish habitat “reefs” recently created by DWR.

Lake Anna

Population metrics describing abundance and size structure of Lake Anna Largemouth Bass in 2023 remained at near record levels for the fourth consecutive year, and fishing should be fantastic here in 2024. This suggests there are currently as many (or more) bass in the lake as there have been for over 25 years with a commensurate number of larger fish. Total catch rate was 115 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 three years will occur in efforts to determine if abundance or size structure can be enhanced (total of six stocking years at three rates). Fin clips collected from mid-lake sampled bass (n=228) submitted to Auburn University for genetic testing in 2023 revealed 20% were stocked F1s (45 of 221 readable samples). 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 has been good lately. 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 seven 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 is in a bit of a “down cycle”, but large fish are still present in good numbers. Saugeye have been stocked the past few years, and survival and growth have exceeded expectations, so there are currently plenty of beautiful, legal saugeye available.

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 2024 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. Biologists plan to survey this lake in spring 2024.

Lake Mooney

Lake Mooney is a 520-acre water supply reservoir opened to public fishing on July 1, 2017.  The lake experienced protracted filling, finally reaching full pool in early 2016. The lake’s name (originally Rocky Pen Reservoir for its impounded stream) was changed to honor the late Stafford Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jason Mooney.  The reservoir is steep sided and deep with moderate residential development along shorelines and features abundant submersed brush and rocky outcrops.  Several fish habitat structures were constructed in 2015.  Initially, the fish community was “predator heavy” with a bass population composted of overabundant smaller fish. However, the fishery has matured; and the lake is now known as a destination for quality bass. The submersed plant Hydrilla has been prevalent recently, and limited Grass Carp stockings have been made to control, but not eliminate, this habitat feature. Mooney is probably the most difficult lake for biologists to sample without bias due to low conductivity and clear water which results in fish avoidance. This explains why 2023 electrofishing catch of bass >15” was only 7/hr., and catch of bass >20” was 1/hr. Bass forage here on various sunfish species and Alewife. The Black Crappie population is dominated by small fish, but there is a very good Channel Catfish population, and Blue Catfish are present after being illegally stocked. Walleye, stocked for the first time in 2023, were found to be growing well after one growing season at nearly 12”.