Written by the Aquatics Reservoir Committee Team, Edited by John Odenkirk
Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir
Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir is a 635-acre impoundment in Gloucester Count providing valuable angling opportunities on the middle peninsula. Gloucester County Parks & Rec. operates Beaverdam Park just northwest of Gloucester. The park provides a fishing pier, public boat ramp, boat rentals, and decent shoreline access. The 2021 electrofishing survey was not one of the more productive days on the water. The survey yielded 65 Largemouth Bass for a catch rate of 39/hr. This ranked much lower than in 2020 (76/hr.) and fell further behind 2019 (117/hr.). The last three years have shown variability related to water temperature. The 2021 survey was conducted on May 7th with water temperatures near 70 and did not account for the majority of spawning bass which had vacated the shallows. Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir has shallow shorelines that typically warm quickly. Look for bass beds in proximity to shallow flooded timber. Collected bass were in good condition and showed favorable relative weights. Bass forage heavily on Gizzard Shad here. The survey revealed a disappointing assemblage of juvenile bass considering the supplemental stocking that occurred in June 2020. The 2019 survey revealed the highest catch rate of preferred-sized bass (≥ 15 inches) with a CPUE of 50/hr., while the 2020 survey came back down to earth at 16/hr. The 2021 survey yielded a CPUE-P of 14.4/hr. The bass population receives a great deal of pressure from tournaments, so anglers are encouraged to try new and different lures and patterns to entice these heavily pressured fish. This fishery has the capacity to produce some respectable fish, but recent surveys have failed to yield many bass over 6 pounds. The largest seen during the 2020 survey was 4.5 pounds, while the 2021 survey only yielded a bass of 3.7 pounds. The reservoir was stocked with F-1 Largemouth Bass fingerlings in 2020 and 2021. These first two stockings of a 6-year study are being assessed for survival and contribution to the fishery. The eventual goal of the supplemental stockings is to increase the overall top-end size potential. The White Perch and Black Crappie populations continue to provide excitement during late winter to early spring. Anglers are encouraged to switch over from bass to perch and crappie. DWR staff plan to trap net the reservoir in 2022. The 2020 net survey collected 456 crappie over two nights, and most fish were from two year classes with peaks of distribution centered on 8-9” and 10-11”. The survey revealed a decline crappie >12”. This lake has historically produced an abundance of citation Yellow Perch, but there has been a decline recently. The 2021 electrofishing survey collected 141 perch, but only five were >8”. The community has seen a relatively recent shift from Yellow Perch to White Perch. These schooling fish can provide great action and can keep youngsters engaged. Bluegill and the occasional Channel Catfish round out the action. The Bluegill population has been producing some larger 6-8” fish and is better than most district reservoirs.
Chickahominy Lake 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 bass, Black Crappie, Chain Pickerel and Bowfin. Blue Catfish continue to increase, and anglers have begun to target them. Fishing reports from Ed Allen’s refer to numerous large blues over the last few years. The lake was not trap netted in 2021, but the 2020 net survey found the crappie population healthy with an abundance of fish 11-13”. Schools of crappie will migrate shallow late winter. The flats of Johnson and Lacey Creeks will provide the earliest action each spring. The 2021 spring electrofishing survey collected 191 Largemouth Bass for a catch rate of 64/hr. This was a minor decline from the 2020 (66/hr.). Both CPUEs were down from 2019 (90/hr.). Timing of surveys on Chickahominy Lake is critical to get a representative sample of larger fish. Some nice bass were collected in 2021, but the vast majority of larger females were missed due to warm weather during March. The survey yielded 65 preferred-sized bass (≥ 15”) for a catch rate of 21.7/hr. This was minor improvement from 2020 (20/hr.). The largest bass in the 2021 survey weighed 6.5 pounds. Some days, even the electrofishing boat has a difficult time boating a citation-sized bass! Two private boat ramps, Ed Allen’s and Eagles Landing, have numerous bass tournaments. Anglers who put enough time in can usually find hot spots and catch quality limits. Chickahominy Lake continues to produce an abundance of 4-6 pound Bowfin with a chance at a citation over 10 pounds. The Bowfin population is one of the best in Virginia. The Bluegill and Redear Sunfish populations have been producing larger fish that can be enjoyed by fly fishermen and spin anglers using light tackle. Anglers here will find a wide variety of species that can provide an enjoyable day on the water.
Lake Chesdin is a 3,100-acre impoundment located in Chesterfield and Dinwiddie Counties. This popular destination continues to produce very respectable Largemouth Bass. The 2021 spring electrofishing survey yielded 428 bass for a catch rate of 122/hr. This was a slight decline from 2020 (129/hr.). A large proportion of fish were 16-20”. The collection of 232 preferred-sized bass (≥ 15”) provided a high catch rate of 66/hr. placing Chesdin in first place again for all district lakes. This was an increase from 2020 (62/hr.) but not as impressive as 2018 (71/hr.). Survey date and timing play a major role in catch rates and size structure. Lake Chesdin had a surprisingly high abundance of large males in the 4-5 pound range. High relative weights indicated bass were finding plenty of forage. Gizzard Shad provide a great forage base but also can make fishing a bit tricky for the average angler. Recent surveys continue to reveal an abundance of bass in the 3-5 pound range which should make tournament anglers happy. Lake Chesdin received supplemental F-1 bass stockings in 2020 and 2021 as part of a DWR program. Four additional years of stocking will be conducted in an attempt to improve top end size structure. DNA analysis from fin clips will allow for assessment of stocking success. Bluegill are extremely abundant, but very few make it past 6”. Redear Sunfish are not as abundant, but sizes are better with fish reaching 9-11”. The crappie fishery consists of both Black and White Crappie. The crappie community has historically suffered from stockpiling but has the capacity to produce quality fish with most whites holding in the upper third of the lake. Lake Chesdin’s crappie community has been producing some extremely large hybrids (natural cross between a black and white). A 3 pound fish was collected in fall 2021. This fishery has an increasing abundance of larger fish that have been foraging on juvenile shad. Anglers are encouraged to harvest crappie in the 8-9” range to thin out this segment. One of the better fishing opportunities on Chesdin comes from Channel Catfish with fish averaging 4-6 pounds. Flathead Catfish tend to grow larger with fish up to 33 pounds. The 2021 net survey yielded the highest catch rate of flatheads with most 8-12 pounds. Lake Chesdin received saugeye (Sauger x Walleye cross) fingerlings in 2013 and 2014 as well as Walleye in 2015, so anglers should be able to find sizeable fish. The lake also received saugeye in 2019, and surveys in 2020 revealed an abundance of saugeye from that stocking with fish 12-16”. Surveys in 2021 followed up on fast growing saugeye with females pushing 4-4.5 pounds in just 2.5 years. Crappie anglers have reported catching saugeye in various areas of the lake. Anglers are reminded the minimum size for saugeye and Walleye is 18” at 5/day in aggregate. Both fish have taken to foraging on Gizzard Shad with larger saugeye from previous stockings still available. DWR is waiting for someone to claim the open state-record for saugeye, as the minimum qualifying weight is 6 pounds. The Chain Pickerel population has produced some very healthy fish with many 2-4 pounds and an occasional trophy. Anglers should not expect many large White or Yellow Perch, as both have a difficult time growing past 9”.
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 stocking which provide trophy fishing potential. 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. An increasing number of kayak anglers have discovered this resource but should exercise caution on windy days. Community electrofishing is conducted every other year to assess the fishery and is next scheduled for 2022. The 2020 survey was different than past years, as Newport News was in the process of lowering the lake in preparation for dam repair. The pool was roughly 5’ below full at the time of sampling, and it’s currently down even more now. The survey did not reveal an abundance of bass with only 46 collected (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 even if the length distribution consisted of several year classes of juveniles. The largest bass was 17”. Anglers have reported better with catches in the 4-5 pound range. The abundant forage base of Blueback Herring provides a great source of nutrition for the assemblage of predators. The 2020 survey was consistent with past years showing an abundance of medium size Bluegill and Redear Sunfish. The reservoir has produced some trophy redear with most of these larger fish stacked up tightly during their spawn on the outside edges of flats. A night survey conducted in March 2021 yielded 34 Walleye (22/hr.) along with two saugeye. The two saugeye were older fish from the 2014 stocking that weighed 6 and 7+ pounds. The 2021 stocking of saugeye will hopefully provide action in the future. The night survey also yielded a fair abundance of 10-19” bass. 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.
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 a number of 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 the topography. Submersed aquatic vegetation (primarily Hydrilla) has spread to several areas. The use of outboard engines is prohibited, but trolling motors are permitted. Anglers might want a few fully charged batteries if they plan to make long trips toward the upper end. The 2021 spring survey collected 173 Largemouth Bass for a CPUE of 86/hr. This was a favorable increase from 2020 (67/hr.). The vast majority of bass were 13-17” with a high proportion 2-2.5 pounds. There were some bass in the 3-4.5 pound range, and the largest was 20” and 5.2 pounds. This survey also yielded 14 Alabama Bass (7/hr.) of which the largest was 20” and 3.4 pounds. It is illegal for anglers to move Alabama Bass from Diascund Reservoir and can only be held alive (in possession) if actively fishing a tournament. Both Bluegill and Redear Sunfish have historically been stunted providing a wealth of action from 3-5” fish. The 2021 survey revealed similar results with few fish over 6”. Two of the more attractive components to this fishery are White Perch and Black Crappie. The crappie fishery could benefit from harvest of 8-10” fish instead of larger ones. 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.
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 state record of 16 pounds 4 ounces a scare. Since then, trophy bass potential has declined slightly as a result of several factors including reservoir aging, bass virus, and the introduction of Hydrilla. However, Briery Creek still boasts a unique combination of size and number of Largemouth Bass. Since implementation of a 16-24” slot limit, abundance of bass in the slot has tripled and remained consistent. In fact, samples from 2019 yielded the highest catch rates for bass > 15” and bass > 20” ever observed on the lake. Those numbers declined slightly in 2020 and 2021 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, indicating the lake is still producing good numbers of memorable bass. Intensive forage stocking of 1-3” Bluegill annually since 2015 has resulted in a 20% increase in forage abundance. Hopefully, this will translate to faster growth 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 to spawning flats in early to mid-spring. Later in the 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 sunfish and crappie will find ample opportunities along two fishing trails and three ADA compliant piers. More information on Briery Creek Lake.
Sandy River Reservoir
For quite some time, Sandy River Reservoir has played second fiddle to its sister lake, Briery Creek, just down the road. Sandy offers the same caliber Largemouth Bass fishery as Briery but without standing timber which complicates navigation. Collections by biologists in 2019 yielded the highest catch rates of Largemouth Bass > 20” ever. Catch rates for fish > 20” declined slightly in 2020 and again in 2021, although 2021 samples still yielded 13 bass > 20”. Large bass can be found throughout the lake. Fishing shoreline areas is likely most productive in spring around the 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 boasts impressive catfish, sunfish, and crappie fisheries. DWR stocks over 3,500 Channel Catfish annually to bolster this population. Anglers should find success around beaver lodges and fallen trees which create ideal habitat for sunfish and crappie. The pier at Sandy also provides excellent opportunities for crappie and sunfish anglers during spring months. More information on Sandy River Reservoir.
Buggs Island (Kerr Reservoir)
Buggs Island (Kerr Reservoir) is located in south-central Virginia and north-central North Carolina. Largemouth Bass in the 2–4 pound range are still common; however, density of those over four pounds has declined somewhat mainly due to reduced productivity of the system. Samples have shown survival has improved since impacts of LMBv were felt 2009 -2012, and number of bass over 15” in spring surveys has steadily improved since 2012. Abundance of bass over 15” in 2021 was above average, and numerous bass below 12” were sampled which should provide quality fishing in coming years. Additionally, several bass in the 16-20” range have been sampled the past five years, and 2021 was no exception. 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 in the lower creek arms, especially during high water in spring. 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 state and world record Blue Catfish at 143 pounds caught in 2011. The Striped Bass population is recovering well with high densities of stripers from the 2018 year class. This strong year class and higher stocking densities should maintain a fishery that will provide a lot of action in coming years. In 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. Buggs Island is also one of Virginia’s best places to catch crappie with fish over two pounds not uncommon. Fishing for crappie is typically best from February through April (pre-spawn and spawn); however, many anglers enjoy high catch rates year-round. Buffalo, Grassy, Bluestone, and Butcher Creeks are very productive for crappie. Other species available for Buggs anglers include Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Walleye, White Bass, White Perch, and Freshwater Drum. Drum densities have increased greatly in recent years. NOTE: Walleye catch rates are on the rise the last two years due to increased stocking in the Staunton River drainage. If you capture a Walleye with a yellow tag, please return it to the address on the tag with a note on the general location where you caught it, when you caught it, if you were fishing for Walleye, and if you kept or released the fish; and we’ll send you a $25 reward. These fish were tagged in the Staunton River beginning winter 2020 as part of an angler exploitation study.
Smith Mountain Lake
The Smith Mountain Lake Largemouth Bass population, based on DWR sampling, has been improving since 2015. Adult bass (≥ 8”) increased 13%, bass at least 15” increased 8%, and bass at least 18” increased 27% from 2015 to 2021. An experimental Largemouth Bass stocking program was initiated in 2015 to determine if supplemental stocking of F1 bass in Virginia’s larger lakes can improve populations. While the increasing bass population coincides with stocking, the primary reasons for the overall increase bass is likely improved forage and good spawning success. Sampling in 2018 showed stocked bass only added 6% to years when stocking occurred and only 0.03% to the entire adult population after three years of stocking. Extensive sampling was conducted again in spring 2021 to evaluate contribution to the population for bass stocked the previous six years. Tournament bass > 4 pounds were 13% stocked. Stocking will continue for at least several more years and will continue to be evaluated with electrofishing and tournament samples to determine if stocking benefits are worth the investment. The Smallmouth Bass population makes up less than 10% of black bass but still contributes to the fishery. This species has generally mirrored largemouth trends closely with overall numbers steadily increasing matching historical highs in 2019. However, the number of smallmouth collected in 2020 and 2021 declined from previous years. Striped Bass fishing improved since 2016 for both number and sizes and has been stable the past two years. The striper population was too high from 2010-2015 resulting in a depleted forage base and severely reduced growth. Consequently, the striper population needed restructuring. Reduced stocking success and regulation changes reduced overall numbers of stripers, but that improved the forage and growth rates. Improved growth has allowed Striped Bass to grow better, and the catch of fish > 30” has doubled since 2016. The crappie population has been generally consistent for both number and size. The number of crappie collected in DWR sampling did decline in 2018-2020 compared to the previous 6 years. The decline appeared to be from poor year classes but it has since recovered to historical highs. Anglers should find a good distribution of fish 8-13”. Channel and Flathead Catfish should be similar to the past few years.
The Leesville Lake Largemouth Bass population has been stable for many years. Most fish are 13-17”, but there are bass to 22”. Electrofishing catch rates of bass >15” are similar to neighboring Smith Mountain Lake. The best areas are from the dam to mile marker 6, as most of the upper lake has poor habitat due to high discharge from Smith Mountain Lake. This reservoir has historically supported a fair Striped Bass population that has fluctuated for both number and size due to variable recruitment. The current population is fair but improving due to better recent recruitment. Experimental stockings the past few years have shown promise for more consistent survival. Leesville Lake has historically produced a marginal Walleye population, but experimental saugeye stockings 2013-2015 worked better. However, only Walleye were stocked since 2016, and this fishery declined to a level similar to historical populations. The return of stocking only Walleye (no saugeye) into Leesville was to maintain genetic integrity since most 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 size but low numbers for the past 20 years, limiting the fishery. There has been much better recruitment the past few years resulting in a better fishery for 8-11” fish. It is unclear why the drastic change after 20 years, so it is uncertain if this population will continue to sustain current numbers or will return to historical levels. White Perch are also abundant and provide another option. This reservoir can be difficult to fish due to quickly rising and falling water and lack of submerged structure. However, many anglers who spend the time are rewarded with good fishing.
Fishing Philpott Reservoir in 2022 should provide anglers with great recreation. Philpott supports a variety of sport fish, but the most popular are Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, crappie, Walleye and various species of sunfish. Surveys from 2021 depicted a strong Largemouth Bass population with abundant numbers of 12-18” fish (1-3 pounds). Smallmouth Bass were less abundant, but anglers target them with success. The bass fishery is strong enough to support small scale tournaments weekly from spring-fall. Within the past five years, Alabama Bass were illegally introduced to the reservoir, and biologists have collected them up to 18”. Informational signs about this invasive fish are posted at access points. 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 sunfish.
Carvins Cove should offer anglers good fishing in 2022 for a variety of fish. This 630-acre impoundment located in Roanoke and Botetourt Counties is owned by the Western Virginia Water Authority and managed primarily for municipal water supply for the City of Roanoke. The most popular sportfish are Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, hybrid Striped Bass, Black Crappie, catfish, and sunfish. Largemouth Bass are abundant with good numbers of fish up to 17”. Smallmouth Bass are present but in lower numbers and are typically caught in deeper water. Hybrid Striped Bass were stocked in 2013-2015 and 2017-2021, and pure Striped Bass were stocked in 2017 to diversify fishing opportunities. Anglers fishing for sunfish can find a variety of smaller sunfish including Redear, Redbreast, and Pumpkinseed, but Bluegill dominate. Most Bluegill are small with sizes ranging from 3-9”, but most are 4-6”.
With the possibility of catching Smallmouth, Largemouth, and Spotted Bass, Claytor Lake is popular with nearly 67% of lake anglers fishing for these three species of black bass. Spotted Bass are the most abundant, so they are more frequently caught. During the electrofishing sample in spring 2021, 41% of largemouth collected >8” were also over 15”. Anglers can find Largemouth Bass in coves, but the best places are Peak Creek, Clapboard Hollow, and large coves in the lower end. Claytor is considered a good smallmouth lake with anglers targeting large fish during winter. Good areas are the shoreline across from the mouth of Dublin Hollow, the shoreline between Spooky Hollow and Texas Hollow, and in Dublin Hollow. Spotted Bass do not grow as large as the others rarely reaching 2 pounds, although the state record 4-pound, 12 ounce Spotted Bass was caught at here in January 2020. Alabama Bass are also 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. Anglers can keep unlimited numbers of Spotted Bass of any size. While there is no minimum for largemouth, the Smallmouth Bass minimum size is 14”. The combined daily creel limit for Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass is 5. In the 2017 angler survey, Channel and Flathead Catfish fishing effort climbed to nearly 13%, making catfish angling the second biggest fishery here. Flathead Catfish up to 30 pounds, and Channel Catfish up to 15 pounds can be caught. Both of these species are throughout the lake, but Channel Catfish are more abundant in the upper third. Anglers primarily target catfish from April to June, with a second bump in effort in early fall. Catch rates are good, with an average of 1.2/hr. Channel Catfish were the fourth most harvested fish with an estimated 2,692 fish. Striped Bass and hybrid Striped Bass are the third biggest fishery with nearly 6% of anglers fishing for these. Poor habitat (low oxygen at preferred temperature) in summer 2016 caused a striper kill, but the population has started to rebound. Bait populations (Alewife and Gizzard Shad) are abundant, which creates good feeding conditions for Striped and hybrid Striped Bass, and water temperatures below 70 degrees produce the best fishing. While most anglers troll or float live Gizzard Shad and Alewife, many are taken with topwater baits (Redfins, Rapalas, etc.) and bucktails in spring and fall. Trolling bucktails and umbrella rigs in 20-60’ of water can produce. Since they tolerate higher temperatures, hybrids often chase schools of shad at the surface at night in summer. Claytor Lake is a top destination for hybrids in Virginia, holding the state record with a 15 pound, 13 ounce fish caught by Don Jessie in March 2016. With consistent Walleye stocking in recent years, this fishery is improving, with 5% of anglers targeting them. The improved population is a result of VDWR fisheries biologists restoring New River strain Walleye to the New River upstream from Claytor Lake. During fall, winter, and summer, look for schools in the same areas where stripers hang out. During the spring run from February to May, look for Walleye where the New River enters the lake near Allisonia. A new size and creel limit is in place from Claytor Lake Dam upstream to Buck Dam on the New River in Carroll County year round (formerly a seasonal size and creel limit). No Walleye 19-28” may be kept, and anglers are limited to 2 per day. Size and creel limits are designed to protect large females while allowing some harvest of more abundant males. Anglers report catching a number of trophy Yellow Perch (> 1 pound, 4 ounces or 12”) each year. The Black Crappie population is not large compared to other lakes, but they typically average nearly a pound. Bluegill are numerous throughout the lake providing action when other species are not biting. With catches of 20 to 30 pound Common Carp possible, anglers from as far away as England come to fish here.
South Holston Lake
Bass anglers fishing South Holston Lake in 2022 should have an exceptional season. Sampling by VDWR biologists in 2021 documented Largemouth Bass abundance at record levels. Thirty percent of all Largemouth Bass collected were > 15”, and 45% of Smallmouth Bass measured at least 14”. This is good news for bass anglers in 2022! 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; however, fishing success has declined recently possibly due to increasing pressure and a missing 2016 year class due to hatchery issues. Biologists collected 31 Walleye during fall 2021, and 45% were over 20” and legal. Anglers can expect good catches during the spring run on the South Fork Holston River. The post spawn topwater bite at night in the lower lake during April and May will yield the best Walleye fishing Virginia has to offer. Summer trolling for Walleye and Channel Catfish in the main lake is productive and growing in popularity. Anglers should remain flexible during summer; and if trolling is not productive, they should shift to targeting shorelines at night with lures. South Holston offers the best crappie fishing of all lakes in southwest Virginia. Black Crappie were abundant during 2021, as 295 fish were collected during spring and fall surveys. Of those, 94% were legal (>10”). Black Crappie in the 12-17” range were abundant, and as a result; prospects for anglers pursuing crappie looks good in 2022. Biologists continue to work on adding fish habitat (brush piles and pallet teepees) in designated areas to improve spawning and add survival. Bluegill are always plentiful in South Holston and will provide excellent fishing opportunities in summer when fishing success for other species slows in warmer water. 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, but 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 in 2021, especially for Largemouth Bass. Sampling in spring 2021 revealed good numbers and good size structure. Bass in this sample ranged from 3–24” with an average of 14”. Eighty-three percent were over 12”, and 44% exceeded 15”. Largemouth Bass ≥20 inches accounted for 5% 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 per day. Fishing for Walleye may continue to be somewhat challenging in 2021, but there are good numbers of 18 to 20” fish. VDWR biologists use the catch rate of Walleye in annual gill net samples as a measure of relative abundance. The combined catch rate of Walleye and saugeye (measured as the number collected per net set overnight) in 2021 (9.5 /net night) represented a 33% increase compared to 2020 (6.4 /net night). However, it is still a 21% decline from 2019 (12.0 /net night). This was the second time since 2012 Walleye catch rates dropped below the management target of 10/net night. This decline can largely be attributed to missed stocked cohorts in 2016 and 2018 from insufficient hatchery production. These cohorts would have been Age-5 and Age-3 in 2021 which have historically made up a substantial proportion of the sample, so their absence was reflected in the lower abundance observed. Fortunately, Walleye were stocked in Flannagan in 2019 and 2020 which should help the population rebound soon. However, in 2021 Walleye were stocked at a reduced rate, once again due to insufficient hatchery production. Walleye observed in the 2021 sample were 15–27” with an average of nearly 20”. Eighty-seven percent of adults were ≥18 inches, and 32% exceeded 20”. So, although the number of Walleye and Saugeye were down, the majority of fish out there are legal (over 18”). Many anglers target Walleye on the Cranesnest and Pound River arms during spawning in March and April. However, anglers can also be 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 2021. The abundance of hybrids in December 2021 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. Alewive are shallow and in-shore during late spring and then move to the thermocline when the reservoir stratifies in summer. Anglers should target Alewife depth when fishing for bass, crappie, or trout. Moomaw has both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass. The largemouth population has remained consistent, and good numbers of 12–18” fish should be available in 2022. In 2021, the catch rate of preferred size (> 15”) largemouth was 14.3/hr. and memorable size (> 20”) was 0.4/hr. of electrofishing. As Lake Moomaw has “aged”, it has provided better habitat for Smallmouth Bass. Smallmouth now outnumber largemouth in many areas. In 2021, the catch rate of preferred size (> 14”) smallmouth was 17.8/hr. and memorable size (> 17”) was 5.2/hr. Serious black bass anglers should add Moomaw to their “must- fish” list in 2022. Those targeting Largemouth Bass should focus on areas between Bolar Marina boat ramp and Rt. 603 Bridge at the upper end. Depending on the year, the deep, cold waters of Moomaw have potential to provide suitable trout habitat. Brown and Rainbow Trout are stocked as fingerlings annually. The Brown Trout fishery usually consists of three cohorts (separate annual stockings) when habitat suitability is present over multiple years. Anglers can distinguish these cohorts by size. Brown Trout stocked in Nov–Feb at 6–7” grow to 12–13” in six months. The second cohort is in the 16–20” range, 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, and biologists are working diligently to explain this decline. Currently an aging reservoir and limited summer habitat availability is a concern. Additionally, DWR experimented with stocking “steelhead” Rainbow Trout from 2009 – 2017. Steelhead appear to have not done as well as McConaughy Rainbow Trout that were previously stocked. McConaughy also do not survive and recruit to the fishery as well as Brown Trout. Sterile (triploid) Brown Trout have been stocked as a substitute for “diploid” browns in past. The expectation was for triploid trout to grow faster and reach larger size, as these fish do not produce eggs and put more energy toward growth. However, survival of triploids may be lower than diploids traditionally stocked. DWR has returned to stocking diploid Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout at historic densities. Anglers can expect to experience similar catch rates for trout in 2022 as they saw in recent years. DWR is working to determine the future ability of trout to survive in this aging reservoir. While black bass and trout are the mainstay fisheries, anglers should also find favorable populations of Black Crappie, Bluegill, Chain Pickerel, and Channel Catfish. Channel Catfish anglers should focus on August, September and October post spawn. 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 2021 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. Survival of both was excellent in 2021 based on gill net catch rate. This new format should result in consistent recruitment and abundance of legal fish (nearly 200,000 stocked annually). Several cohorts have moved into the fishery following several poor years and should continue to provide increases in “typical” Anna keeper stripers 20-25”. There are now five 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 still riding a “big-fish” cycle. Crappie fishing should remain good in 2022.
Occoquan Reservoir stunned biologists in spring 2020 by producing an extraordinary Largemouth Bass catch rate of 94/hr. for fish over 15” and 11/hr. for fish over 20”. These are the highest levels ever documented in the northern district in any water. Overall bass catch rate was 156/hr., so any bass angler even close to northern Virginia should plan at least one trip in 2022 to either Fountainhead Park on the Fairfax side or Lake Ridge Park on the Prince William side (or both). There are copious water willow beds along many shorelines and lots of submerged timber in this 2100-acre reservoir. A robust forage base of Gizzard Shad, Alewife, White Perch and Bluegill support predators here. Illegally stocked snakeheads can also be found in willow beds, and their abundance seems to be slowly increasing. Known as a good crappie lake as well, both White and Black Crappie populations are strong. There are still some Flathead Catfish, although they are not abundant.