Written by the Aquatics Reservoir Committee Team, Edited by John Odenkirk
Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir
Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir is a 635-acre impoundment in Gloucester County. The fishery provides valuable freshwater angling on the middle peninsula. Gloucester County Parks & Recreation operates Beaverdam Park just to the northwest of Gloucester, VA. The park provides a fishing pier, public boat ramp, boat rentals, and shoreline access. The 2020 electrofishing survey collected 127 Largemouth Bass for a catch rate of 76 fish/hr. This was a decline from 2019 (117 fish/hr.), but the 2020 survey was conducted on May 5th after a cold snap dropped water temperatures. The 2019 survey, conducted on April 10th, was a prime time to encounter a large proportion of the population starting to pair up for spawning. The 2020 survey most likely did not account for the vast majority of spawning fish. This lake is shallow and warms quickly during normal spring weather. Look for bass to tuck their beds in close proximity to shallow flooded timber. Collected bass were in good condition, and they continued to show favorable relative weights. The bass population continues to forage on Gizzard Shad and Bluegill. The survey revealed a strong year class of juvenile bass in the 6-8.5” range. The 2019 survey revealed the highest catch rate for the reservoir of preferred-sized bass (≥ 15 inches) with a CPUE of 50 fish/hr. The 2020 survey was not nearly as impressive with a CPUE of 16/hr. The bass population receives a great deal of pressure, and many tournaments are held each year. Anglers are encouraged to try new and different lures and patterns to entice these heavily pressured bass. The bass fishery produces some respectable fish, but recent surveys have failed to produce many fish over 6 pounds. The largest during the 2020 survey measured 19” and 4.5 pounds. The reservoir was stocked with F-1 bass fingerlings for the first time in 2020 in an attempt to increase overall size potential. This was the first stocking of a 6-year study that will track the survival and growth rates for many years. The White Perch and Black Crappie populations provide excitement during late winter to early spring. Anglers are encouraged to switch their effort from bass to perch and crappie. The 2020 trap net survey collected 456 crappie over two nights. The majority were from two cohorts with peaks of distribution centered on 8-9” and 10-11”. The survey revealed an overall decline in abundance of crappie over 12”. Fall surveys on the reservoir also showed two large year classes of White Perch making up the majority of the population. Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir has historically produced an abundance of citation-sized Yellow Perch, but there has been a decline in recent years. The 2020 electrofishing survey collected 377 Yellow Perch with only three fish over 8”. The fishery has seen a relatively recent change in dynamics from Yellow Perch abundance to a larger assortment of White Perch. These schooling fish, when found, can provide great action and can keep young anglers interested in fishing. Bluegill, Chain Pickerel and the occasional Channel Catfish will provide additional action. The Bluegill population is better than most Region 1, District 1 reservoirs, and the Redear Sunfish population revealed a high proportion of fish 8-10”.
Chickahominy Lake is a popular destination for anglers who enjoy fishing a 1,230-acre reservoir with plenty of habitat and cover. This continues to be a predator heavy system with an abundance of bass, Black Crappie, Chain Pickerel and Bowfin. The Blue Catfish population continues to increase. Fishing reports from Ed Allen’s reference numerous large Blue Catfish being caught over the past few years. Based on records taken at Ed Allen’s, 2020 was another incredible year for bass over 5 pounds, with an assortment in 7-10 pound range. The 2020 trap net survey showed a healthy Black Crappie population with an abundance of 11-13” fish. Schools of crappie will migrate shallow each spring – flats of Johnson and Lacey Creeks usually provide earliest action each spring. The 2020 spring electrofishing survey collected 154 bass for a catch rate of 66 fish/hr. This was a decline from 2019 (90 fish/hr.), but collection of 47 preferred-sized bass (≥ 15”) still provided a decent catch rate of 20/hr. (down from 30 fish/hr. in 2019). The two largest bass collected during the 2020 survey weighed 7.1 and 8.0 pounds. The two private boat ramps, Ed Allen’s and Eagles Landing, have numerous bass tournaments annually. Anglers putting enough time on the water can usually find the hot spots and catch quality limits. Chickahominy Lake continues to produce an abundance of 4 to 6 pound bowfin with a chance at a citation over 10 pounds. The bowfin population within Chickahominy Lake is one of the best in Virginia. The Bluegill and Redear Sunfish populations have been producing some larger fish, and these populations can be enjoyed by fly fishermen and anglers using light tackle. Chickahominy Lake provides a wide variety of fish species and an enjoyable day on the water.
Lake Chesdin is a 3,100-acre impoundment located primarily along the Chesterfield and Dinwiddie County line. This popular destination continues to produce very respectable Largemouth Bass. The 2020 spring electrofishing survey yielded 388 bass for a catch rate of 129/hr. This was a slight increase from 2019 (116/hr.), and a large proportion were 16-20”. The collection of 185 preferred-sized bass (≥ 15”) provided a high catch rate of 62/hr. This catch rate placed Lake Chesdin in first place again for all public lakes in Region 1, District 1 and was an increase from 2019 (54 /hr.) but not as impressive as 2018 (71/hr.). Survey dates and ideal timing play a major role in catch rates of larger fish. Lake Chesdin has a surprisingly high abundance of large, male bass in the 4-5 pound range. Fall surveys on Chesdin revealed an even larger male bass that weighed 6.5 pounds. Relative weight data showed favorable values indicating adult bass are finding plenty of available forage. Relative weights were 102 and 107 for stock and memorable size fish. Abundant Gizzard Shad provide a great forage base, but they also make fishing a bit tricky for the average angler. Recent surveys continued to reveal an abundance of 3-5 pound bass which should make tournament anglers very happy. Bluegill are extremely abundant, but very few fish make it past 6”. Redear Sunfish are not nearly as abundant, but they are larger with fish reaching 9-11”. The crappie fishery consists of both Black and White Crappie. These populations have historically suffered from stock piling, but the capacity for quality fish remains. There have also been extremely large hybrids, a natural cross between a Black and White Crappie. The 2020 electrofishing survey revealed a higher than normal abundance of these hybrids. The crappie fishery has an increasing abundance of larger fish that have been able to forage on juvenile shad. Fall surveys revealed the presence of several Black Crappie that weighed in the 2 to 3 pound range. Anglers are encouraged to harvest crappie in the 8-9” range to thin out that segment of the population. Recent age and growth analysis revealed a high proportion of the crappie population to be driven by the 2017-year class. One of the better fishing opportunities on Lake Chesdin comes in the form of Channel Catfish. This fishery typically yields 4-6 pound fish. The Flathead Catfish population has increased size potential with anglers catching fish up to 33 pounds. Lake Chesdin also received saugeye (Sauger x Walleye cross) fingerlings in May 2013 and 2014 as well as Walleye fingerlings. DWR staff stocked roughly 150,000 Walleye in 2015, so anglers should still be able to find some action from that year class. The lake received 89,000 saugeye fingerlings in 2019, and subsequent surveys in fall 2020 revealed an abundance of young saugeye. Recent angler reports have revealed saugeye caught by crappie anglers in various areas of the lake. Anglers are reminded the minimum size limit for saugeye and Walleye is 18”, and the limit is 5/day in aggregate. Both Walleye and saugeye have taken to foraging upon abundant Gizzard Shad, and a few larger saugeye from the previous stocking are still available; as several state-record size fish were collected during late fall. The Chain Pickerel population has produced very healthy fish with many 2-4 pounds and an occasional trophy. Anglers should not expect to catch many large White or Yellow Perch, as both these populations have a difficult time growing and/or surviving to 9”.
Little Creek Reservoir
Little Creek Reservoir is a 947-acre water supply reservoir for the City of Newport News located in James City County just south of Toano. The reservoir provides a scenic location to fish for a variety of species. The fishery at Little Creek is enhanced by DWR stocking efforts. Annual stockings of Striped Bass and Walleye fingerlings provide trophy action. The reservoir’s relatively small watershed can be supplemented by water pumped in from Chickahominy Lake or from Diascund Reservoir. James City County operates a public park at the lake with a ramp, courtesy pier, fishing pier, and concession stand. The reservoir has numerous creek arms and coves along with steep shoreline drop-offs and clear water. There is often thick Hydrilla lining shorelines in most of the northern arms from June-November. The outside edges of this plant growth provide great locations to catch bass, Chain Pickerel, and sometimes Black Crappie. The use of outboard engines is prohibited, but trolling motors are allowed. Community electrofishing surveys are conducted on Little Creek Reservoir every other year to assess changes to the fishery. The 2020 survey was unusual compared with previous years. Newport News Waterworks was in the process of drawing down the reservoir in preparation for dam inspection and eventual repairs. The pool was roughly 5’ below normal, but the survey was still conducted in hopes of finding fish within close proximity to shoreline areas normally covered. The survey did not reveal a high abundance of Largemouth Bass with only 46 collected (23/hr.). Little Creek Reservoir has historically been a difficult place to collect bass during daytime surveys, and the reduced pool level added another complication. Collected bass were in good physical health even if the length distribution consisted of mostly juveniles. The largest bass was 17.4”. Anglers have reported better fish with catches of bass 4 to 6 pounds. 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 in showing an abundance of medium sized Bluegill and Redear Sunfish along with some trophy redear most of which stack up tightly during their spawn on outside edges of flats. The reservoir has potential to produce citation-sized Yellow Perch and Black Crappie. Anglers with high-end electronics are sometimes able to find schools of larger crappie and perch. An abundance of Chain Pickerel and large American Eel might provide additional action.
Diascund Reservoir is another water supply for the City of Newport News. This 1,110-acre impoundment is located within James City and New Kent Counties. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, with agreement from the City of Newport News and James City County, built a public boat ramp, courtesy pier, and parking lot off Route 603 near Lanexa. The reservoir has a number of large creek arms with plenty of contour and structure. Several small islands, numerous large points, and bridge crossings all add to the extreme variability of the topography. Submerged aquatic vegetation in the form of Hydrilla has spread to several shallow areas. The use of outboard engines is prohibited, but trolling motors are allowed. Anglers might want to make sure that they have a few, fully charged batteries if they plan to make long trips toward the upper reaches. The 2020 spring electrofishing survey occurred after water temperature dropped significantly, but 134 Largemouth Bass were collected for a CPUE of 67/hr. This was below past years, as the normal assortment of bass within close proximity to the shoreline was limited. The vast majority of bass were 13–17” with a high proportion in the 2 to 3 pound range. Very few bass over three pounds were collected. The largest measured 20”. Although the spring survey did not yield many Alabama Bass, a supplemental summer survey yielded a record 32 fish (CPUE = 14/hr.). A high proportion were 2-3 pounds with the largest 4 pounds. It is illegal for anglers to move Alabama Bass. Alabama Bass can only be in possession alive if an angler is actively fishing in a tournament on Diascund Reservoir. Diascund Reservoir has historically been associated with stunted sunfish populations. However, the 2020 survey did not reveal an abundance of sunfish which may have been due to cold water or impacts from an expanding Alabama Bass population. Two of the more attractive components to the fishery are the White Perch and Black Crappie populations, and there have been large specimens of each recently caught. Anglers are encouraged to show restraint relating to selective harvest, as this fishery could benefit from harvest of smaller crappie (8–10”) instead 14–16” fish. Although not nearly as abundant as in nearby Chickahominy Lake, the Bowfin population here provides excitement with a good opportunity to catch an 8–10 pound fish. Anglers can also find excitement with Longnose Gar that typically key in on schools of juvenile Gizzard Shad.
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 gave the current Largemouth Bass state record of 16 pounds 4 ounces a scare. Since then, the trophy bass potential has declined slightly as a result 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 the 16-24” protected slot limit, abundance of bass in that size range tripled. In fact, 2019 samples yielded the highest catch rates of bass over 15” and bass over 20” ever observed on the lake. Those numbers declined slightly in 2020 but are still well above levels observed in the mid-2000’s. A total of 13 Largemouth Bass over 20” were collected during 2020 sampling efforts indicating the lake is still producing strong numbers of memorable fish. It’s uncertain if Briery will ever return to its previous trophy bass status. Intensive forage stocking of 1-3” Bluegill in the lake annually since 2015 has resulted in a 20% increase in forage abundance. Hopefully this will translate to faster growing and 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 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 the 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 panfish will find ample opportunities along the lake’s two fishing trails and three ADA compliant fishing piers. For more information visit the Briery Creek Lake page.
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, but without the standing timber which complicates navigation. Collections by biologists in 2019 yielded the highest catch rates of Largemouth Bass over 20” ever observed on the lake, with 19 fish over 20” collected. Catch rates from 2020 samples declined slightly but were still strong, boasting the highest proportion of total bass collected greater than 15” ever observed on the lake. Large bass can be found throughout the lake, but fishing shoreline areas is likely most productive in spring before and after spawn. During summer, anglers should fish deeper water (8-12’) during the day off points and ledges. Anglers who take notice of shad activity and adjust their methods accordingly are often very successful. Sandy also has impressive catfish, sunfish, and crappie fisheries. DWR stocks over 3,500 Channel Catfish annually to bolster the catfish population. Anglers should find success around beaver lodges and fallen trees which create ideal habitat for panfish. The fishing pier at Sandy also provides excellent opportunities for crappie and sunfish anglers during spring months. 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 of the system. DWR samples have shown that survival has improved since the impacts of LMBv (bass virus) were felt in 2009 -2012, and the number of bass over 15” in spring surveys has steadily improved. Catch of bass over 15” in 2020 was the second highest since 2001. Additionally, several bass in the 16-20” range have been sampled recently, and 2020 was no exception. Abundance of young bass has been high three out of the last five years which should translate into excellent fishing for the next 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 lake and lower end creek arms, especially during high water events in spring when water floods trees. The catfish fishery has become dominated by a world-class Blue Catfish population with many fish from 5-30 lbs. Many larger fish are also caught, and Buggs Island boasts the world record Blue Catfish at 143 pounds caught in 2011. The Striped Bass population is recovering well with high densities of fish 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 of the lake and in the river above the lake as fish travel upstream to spawn. During summer, habitat (combination of temperature and dissolved oxygen) forces Striped Bass to occupy the lower end of the lake (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 the 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, but this population declined slightly over the past five years. To help the fishery recover to its former glory, we have implemented a regulation where crappie must be a minimum of 9” (bag of 25/day). 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. NOTE: If you capture a Walleye with a yellow tag, please return it to the address on the tag with a note on the catch location, date, if you were fishing for Walleye, and if you kept or released the fish; and we’ll send you a $25 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 has been improving since 2015. Overall adult bass abundance increased 16%, while fish over 15” increased 19%, and bass over 18” increased 38% between 2015 and 2020. An experimental bass stocking program was initiated in 2015 to determine if remedial stockings of Largemouth Bass in Virginia’s larger lakes can improve populations. While the enhanced population coincides with stocking, the primary reasons for the increase were improved forage and recently good natural spawns. Sampling in 2018 showed stocked bass only added 6% to year classes when stocking occurred and only 0.03% to the entire adult population after three years of stocking. With three additional years of stocking, extensive sampling will be conducted again in the spring of 2021 to evaluate growth and determine contribution to the population for bass stocked 2015-2020. Largemouth Bass stocking will continue for at least several more years and will continue to be evaluated with electrofishing and tournament data to determine if stocking benefits are worth investment. The Smallmouth Bass population makes up less than ten percent of the black bass community but still contributes to the fishery. This species generally mirrors largemouth trends with overall numbers steadily increasing since 2014, matching historical highs in 2019. Striped Bass fishing improved in 2020 for both numbers and sizes, with anticipated stable to slightly increasing numbers in 2021. The striper population was too high from 2010-2015 resulting in a depleted forage base (shad) and severely reduced striper growth. Consequently, the striper population needed restructuring. Reduced stocking survival for multiple years and regulation changes reduced overall numbers of stripers but improved forage and growth. The population appears to be rebuilding with better stocking survival in 2017-2020 and good growth. The crappie population has been generally consistent the past three years for both numbers and sizes. However, the number of crappie collected in DWR sampling over 9” declined 36% for 2018-2020 compared to previous years. Crappie size structure has remained similar to historical levels. Anglers should find a good distribution of fish 8-13”. Channel and Flathead Catfish populations should be similar to the past few years.
The Leesville Lake Largemouth Bass population has been stable for many years. Most fish are 13-16”, but there are a fair number of fish up to 21”. Catch rates of bass over 15” via electrofishing were similar to neighboring Smith Mountain Lake. Best fishing areas are between the dam and mile marker 6. Most of the upper lake has poor largemouth habitat due to high flows and colder temperatures from Smith Mountain Lake. This reservoir historically supported a fair Striped Bass population that fluctuated for both numbers and sizes due to variable recruitment. The current population is still fair but declining due to a dwindling 2010 year class (a record) that sustained the fishery since 2013. Limited recruitment occurred after 2010. However, recent new experimental stockings have shown promise for more consistent stocking success. Leesville has historically sustained a marginal Walleye population, but experimental saugeye stockings 2013-2015 produced much better survival. There are limited numbers of saugeye available, and the Walleye population is similar to historical numbers. Saugeye are a cross between Walleye and sauger but seem almost identical to Walleye in appearance and behavior. Catfish are abundant with the most common species being Channel and Blue Catfish. There are limited numbers of White and Flathead Catfish available, but these species make up a smaller portion of the catfish community. The crappie fishery is fair with good sizes but low numbers. 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 is a 2,880-acre impoundment located near Martinsville, Virginia situated in the mountains of Patrick and Henry counties. Owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who manage it primarily for flood control and hydroelectric power generation, there is no residential development along its shoreline, but there are numerous boat landings, picnic areas, campgrounds, and hiking trails scattered around the lake. Fisheries resources are managed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and the reservoir supports a variety of sport fish. The most popular sport fishes are Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, crappie, Walleye and various species of sunfish. Fisheries surveys from 2020 showed a strong largemouth population with abundant numbers of 13-16” bass (1-2.5 pounds). Smallmouth Bass are less abundant, but anglers do target them with success. The bass fishery is abundant enough to support small scale bass tournaments weekly during the spring-fall seasons. The Walleye fishery continues to be stable, supported by annual stocking, and the fishery continues to produce good numbers of walleye > 18”. Anglers can also catch decent numbers of Black Crappie and other sunfish. Fishing Philpott Reservoir in 2021 should provide anglers with great recreational opportunities.
With the possibility of catching Smallmouth, Largemouth, and Spotted Bass, the Claytor Lake bass fishery is popular, with nearly 67 percent of lake anglers fishing for these three species of black bass. Spotted Bass are the most abundant black bass in Claytor Lake, so they are more frequently caught than the others. During the last Claytor Lake electrofishing sample in spring 2020, 37% of Largemouth Bass collected over 8” (adults) were also over 15”. Anglers can find Largemouth Bass in coves throughout the lake, but the best places are Peak Creek, Clapboard Hollow, and large coves in the lower lake. Claytor Lake is considered a good Smallmouth Bass lake, with anglers targeting large fish during winter. Good areas for smallmouth are the shoreline across from the mouth of Dublin Hollow, the shoreline between Spooky Hollow and Texas Hollow, and in Dublin Hollow. Spotted Bass in Claytor Lake do not grow as large as the other two, rarely reaching 2 pounds, although the state record 4-pound, 12 ounce Spotted Bass was caught at Claytor Lake on January 1, 2020. Alabama Bass are found in Claytor Lake. Since Alabama Bass are not easily distinguished from Spotted Bass, size and creel limits on Spotted Bass are no longer in place at Claytor Lake. Anglers can now keep unlimited numbers of Spotted Bass of any size. While there is no minimum size limit for Largemouth Bass, the Smallmouth Bass minimum size limit is 14”. The combined daily creel limit for Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass is 5. In the 2017 angler survey at Claytor Lake, Channel Catfish and Flathead Catfish fishing effort climbed to nearly 13%, making catfish angling the second biggest fishery here. Flathead Catfish up to 30 pounds and Channel Catfish up to 15 pounds can be caught. Both can be caught 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 fishing effort in September and October. Catch rates are good, with an average of 1.2 caught per hour. Channel Catfish were the fourth most harvested fish in the 2017 Claytor Lake angler survey, with a total estimated catch of 5,801 fish and estimated annual harvest of 2,692 fish. Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fishing is the third biggest fishery at Claytor Lake, with nearly 6% of anglers fishing for these. Poor habitat conditions (low dissolved oxygen at preferred temperature at depth) for Striped Bass in summer 2016 caused a kill, but the population has started to rebound. Claytor Lake bait populations (Alewife and Gizzard Shad) are abundant which creates good feeding conditions for Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass. Water temperatures below 70 degrees produce the best Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fishing. While most anglers troll or float live Gizzard Shad and Alewife for stripers and hybrids, many are taken with topwater baits (Redfins, Rapalas, etc.) and bucktails in the spring and fall. Trolling bucktails and umbrella rigs in 20-60’ can produce good catches. Since they can tolerate higher water temperatures, hybrids often chase schools of shad at the lake’s surface on summer nights. Claytor Lake is the top destination for hybrids in Virginia, holding the state record with a 15 pound, 13 ounce fish caught by Don Jessie on March 16, 2016. With consistent Walleye stocking in recent years, the Claytor Lake Walleye fishery is improving, with 5% of anglers targeting Walleye here. The improved Walleye population is a result of VDWR biologists restoring New River strain Walleye to the river upstream of the lake. During fall, winter, and summer months, look for schools of these fish in the same areas where stripers hang out. During spring spawning from February to May, look for Walleye where the New River enters the lake near Allisonia. A new size and creel limit is now 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 to 28 inches may be kept and anglers are limited to 2 Walleye per day year round. This size and creel limit is designed to protect large female spawning Walleye in Claytor Lake and the New River while allowing some harvest of more abundant male Walleye. Anglers report catching a number of citation Yellow Perch (more than 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 fishing 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 at Claytor Lake.
South Holston Lake
Bass anglers fishing South Holston Lake in 2021 should have an exceptional season. Sampling by VDWR biologists in 2020 documented Largemouth Bass abundance remains at record levels. Fifty-five percent of all the Largemouth Bass collected measured over 15”, and 64% of Smallmouth Bass measured at least 14”. This is good news for bass anglers in 2021! Recent creel survey data indicate anglers target Smallmouth Bass in cooler months and Largemouth Bass in warmer months, as habitat use and catchability changes. Walleye fishing remains the best in the Commonwealth of Virginia; however, fishing success has declined in recent years possibly due to increasing fishing pressure and a missing 2016 year class due to hatchery production issues. Biologists collected 62 Walleye during fall sampling in 2020. Of these, 23% were over 20” and legal. Anglers can expect good catches during the spring river run on the South Fork Holston River. The post spawn top water 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 the lakes in southwest Virginia. Biologists found Black Crappie abundant during the 2020, as 122 fish were collected during spring and fall surveys. Of those, 94% were of legal (10”). Black Crappie in the 12-17” size range were abundant, and as a result; prospects for anglers pursuing crappie looks good in 2021. Biologists continue to work on adding fish habitat (brush piles and pallet teepees) in designated areas to improve spawning and add cover for young crappie. Bluegill are always plentiful in South Holston and will provide excellent fishing opportunities in summer when fishing success for other species slows as water temperatures increase. Anglers can find good numbers of quality size Bluegill concentrated in the backs of coves near wood structure. Anglers may even catch the occasional White Bass in South Holston. The Department has been working with TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) to add White Bass back into the lake, and these fish cannot be harvested (catch and release only). For more fishing information on South Holston Lake go to the South Holston Lake page or the TWRA website.
Flannagan Reservoir should provide anglers with good bass fishing opportunities in 2021, especially for Largemouth Bass. Sampling in spring 2020 revealed good numbers of fish and good size structure. Bass in the 2020 sample ranged from 3–23” with an average of 14”. Eighty-one percent of the Largemouth Bass were over 12”, and 49% exceeded 15”. Largemouth Bass ≥20 inches accounted for 2% of the sample. Smallmouth Bass are less abundant, and anglers targeting this species should focus on the lower lake portions. 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 fish per day. Fishing for Walleye on may continue to be somewhat challenging in 2021. 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 2020 (6.4 /net night) represented a 47% decline in relative abundance compared to 2019 (12.0 /net night). This was the first time since 2012 Walleye catch rate dropped below the management target of 10/net night. This decline can largely be attributed to missed stocking cohorts in 2016 and 2018 resulting from insufficient hatchery production. These cohorts would have been Age-4 and Age-2 in the 2020 which have historically made up a substantial proportion of the sample, so their absence is reflected in the lower relative abundance observed. Fortunately, Walleye were stocked in Flannagan in 2019 and 2020 which should help the population rebound soon. Walleye observed in the 2020 sample were 13–25” with an average of nearly 20”. Seventy percent of adults were ≥18 inches, and 37% exceeded 20”. So although the number of Walleye and Saugeye were down, the majority of fish out there are legal (over 18”) and should provide a good opportunity for a fish dinner. 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 hybrid. Approximately 17,000 hybrid fingerlings were stocked in 2020. The abundance of hybrids in December 2020 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.
The main forage base in Lake Moomaw consists of Gizzard Shad and Alewife. Alewives are shallow and in-shore during late spring then move to the thermocline when the reservoir stratifies in summer. Anglers should target the depth of the Alewife when fishing for bass, crappie, or trout. Moomaw is home to both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass. The largemouth population has remained consistent over the years, and good numbers of 12-18” fish should be available in 2021. As Lake Moomaw has “aged” over the years, it has actually become better habitat for smallmouth. Smallmouth Bass now outnumber largemouth in many areas. Serious black bass anglers should add Lake Moomaw to their “must- fish” list in 2021. The deep, cold waters of Moomaw also provide excellent year-round trout habitat. Brown and Rainbow Trout are stocked as fingerlings annually. The Brown Trout fishery mainly consists of three cohorts (separate annual stockings), and anglers distinguish these by size. Brown Trout stocked in November–February at 6–7” grow to 12–13” in six months. The second cohort are 16–20”, and the third cohort produces fish >20”. Historically, rainbows have never been as abundant as Brown Trout, but growth rates are similar. Unfortunately, the trout fishery has declined dramatically in recent years. Biologists are working diligently to explain the reasons for this decline. 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. In addition, sterile (triploid) Brown Trout have been stocked as a substitute for “diploid” browns the past few years. 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 of “triploid” trout may be lower than “diploid” trout that were traditionally stocked. DWR has returned to stocking “diploid” Brown Trout and McConaughy Rainbow Trout at historic densities. However, anglers can expect to experience similar catch rates for trout in 2021 as they saw in 2019 and 2020. It may be another year before the trout fishery recovers. While black bass and trout are the mainstay fisheries in Lake Moomaw, anglers should also find favorable populations of Black Crappie, Bluegill, Chain Pickerel, and Channel Catfish. 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.
Population metrics describing abundance and size structure of Lake Anna Largemouth Bass in 2020 were nearly all at record levels (again). 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 119 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 five years will occur in efforts to determine if abundance or size structure can be enhanced. 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. Thanks to surplus production, 2020 stocking rate for Striped Bass was nearly 20/acre and survival was excellent based on gill net catch rate. This new format should result in consistent recruitment and abundance of legal fish (at least 200,000 stocked annually). Several cohorts (mainly the 2017 year class) have moved into the fishery following several poor years and should provide increases in “typical” Anna keeper stripers 20-25”. There are now four 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 riding a “big-fish” cycle. There was a near-record number of crappie over 12” in 2020 samples, but numbers of very large fish were down. Crappie fishing should still be good in 2021 – maybe better for numbers, but probably not as many slabs as recent years.
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 2021 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.