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Lake Nelson

Lake Nelson is a 40-acre impoundment located in Nelson County, Virginia. This reservoir is owned by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and is managed primarily for fisheries related activities. Facilities available at this reservoir are a boat ramp, parking area and portable toilets which are available March-September. Bank anglers can utilize a large mowed area adjoining the parking lot, the dam and a narrow strip of DWR property that extends around the entire shoreline. The boundaries are marked with T-posts and DWR property extends from the T-posts to the lake. The lake is open 24 hours a day. Outboard motors use is prohibited but electric motors are permitted.

The reservoir was impounded in 1958 and was stocked with various species of fish such as largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, channel catfish, and crappie. The most popular sportfish species are largemouth bass, black crappie, and sunfish. Grass carp were also introduced to control aquatic vegetation. Any grass carp caught should be immediately released unharmed.

Access Permit Requirement

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) requires an Access Permit for visitors to department-owned Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and public fishing lakes, who are age 17 and older, unless they possess a valid Virginia hunting, freshwater fishing, or trapping license, or a current Virginia boat registration. Learn more about the Access Permit.

Maps & Directions

Lake Nelson can be accessed from Route 29 near Colleen (Nelson County), then take Route 655 about 2.8 miles to Arrington; go through Arrington, then left on Route 812, go about 2.2 miles and watch for the sign. Turn left and follow the road to the lake.



Lake Nelson has an abundant fish population but does not produce high numbers of larger bass. Management is designed to sustain an abundant bass population, provide a good sunfish fishery, and maintain limited crappie and catfish opportunities. Grass carp are occasionally stocked to control aquatic vegetation. Any grass carp caught must be immediately released unharmed. This lake is fertilized each year to improve the production of algae and plankton which is utilized by small fish and later by larger predators. Ultimately, fertilization increases the overall amount of food and the number of fish in the reservoir.

Largemouth bass

Largemouth bass are abundant but most of these fish are less than 14 inches. Largemouth bass are regulated with a 14-18 inch protected slot limit. All bass caught between 14 and 18 inches should be immediately released unharmed. The size limit was recently changed from a 15 inch minimum to reduce the number of small stunted bass while protecting the limited number of larger bass in the lake.


The crappie population continues to fluctuate due to cyclic reproduction. With this in mind, anglers may not know what to expect from year to year until they try their favorite crappie holes each spring. Current crappie numbers are fair but this population experiences high harvest rates and most crappie are removed when they reach the 9-inch minimum length limit. Anglers looking for crappie should check any type of shoreline structure such as beaver lodges, fallen trees, or brush piles in the spring and deeper water during other months.


Bluegill and redear sunfish in Lake Nelson are more abundant than most other lakes in the district. While bluegill are the dominant sunfish species, redear are also present in good numbers and tend to be slightly larger. Anglers can expect to catch good numbers of sunfish up to 8 inches. Beginning in late April and early May, sunfish begin to move shallow for spawning. Live bait such as crickets and worms work great but the fly rod can also be very successful.


There is a limited catfish fishery at Lake Nelson since there is no natural reproduction and the population is dependent on the stocking program. Approximately 600 channel catfish are stocked annually to sustain the catfish fishery.

See the most recent Biologist Report below for more details and fish population trends.

Biologist Reports


Largemouth Bass

  • 5 fish per day creel limit
  • 15 inch minimum size limit

Grass Carp

  • All grass carp caught must be immediately released, unharmed.


  • 25 per day in aggregate
  • No length limits


  • 25 per day
  • No crappie less than 9 inches

Channel Catfish

  • 5 per day
  • No catfish less than 15 inches

All Other Species

  • Statewide Regulations Apply

Other Regulations

Outboard motor use is prohibited – electric motors only.

Prohibited activities

  • swimming
  • camping
  • open air fires
  • trotlines
  • littering
  • sailboats
  • alcohol
  • fishing tournaments involving prizes

Open 24 hours per day.


New Size Limit for Largemouth Bass in 2009: Biologists attempted to improve the number of larger bass with 14-22 inch slot limit initiated in 2001. This regulation did not work as expected since too many bass were harvested prior to reaching the slot limit. Consequently, the slot limit was changed to a 15-inch minimum size limit in 2009 to increase the population by protecting additional smaller bass.

New Size Limit for Crappie in 2009: Crappie at this lake are harvested at high levels and good year classes are traditionally removed quickly which causes high variability in the fishery since crappie do not spawn consistently each year. In order to extend the crappie population after poor year classes, a 9-inch minimum size limit will reduce the harvest of smaller crappie for additional fishing opportunities after poor reproduction years.

New regulations for Channel Catfish 2009: Channel catfish do not reproduce at Lake Nelson and the population is sustained by stocking approximately 600 catfish per year. Regulations have been changed to a 15-inch minimum and 5 fish per day creel limit. The new regulations will allow for additional growth of stocked catfish before harvest and prevent anglers from harvesting the limited number (600 catfish per year) of small fish shortly after stocking.

Lake Fertilization Program: A lake fertilization project was initiated at Lake Nelson in the spring of 2008. This project is designed to improve the production of algae and plankton which is utilized by small fish and later by larger predators. The fertilization project should improve the number and quality of fish in the reservoir.

Tips for Proper Care and Handling of Trophy Bass: Some anglers are fortunate enough to catch a trophy largemouth bass. Often times, anglers will keep their trophy in a livewell and travel to one of the local stores to have their fish weighed on certified scales. Still others may keep their catch in a livewell in hopes of catching a bigger fish later that day. Anglers not wishing to have their trophy mounted will release their fish at the end of their fishing day. However, this does not guarantee that the trophy will survive. Anglers may take precautionary measures to decrease the likelihood of delayed mortality of released fish.

  • Land the fish as soon as possible. Playing a fish to exhaustion diminishes its chance of survival. Having the proper fishing tackle is important.
  • Avoid excessive handling when landing a fish, removing the hook, taking pictures, measuring, etc. Always make sure that your hands are wet before handling fish.
  • If you plan on weighing a fish at one of the local businesses, do so immediately after catching it. The sooner you release the fish back into the lake, the better its chance of survival. Also, holding a fish in a livewell all day and then releasing it greatly diminishes its chance of survival, especially during warmer months.
  • To handle trophy fish, wet your hands, then use your thumb to clamp down on the bottom lip and support the fish’s weight by placing the off-hand under the fish (toward the tail). Do not hold the fish in a horizontal position just by the lower lip.
  • Fish should not be out of the water for more than 60 seconds.
  • Water temperatures of 75F and warmer are more stressful on fish. Run livewell aerators continuously and add ice, salt, and bacterial fungal retardant if necessary.

Facilities, Amenities, and Nearby Attractions

Lake Nelson can be accessed from Route 29 near Colleen (Nelson County), then take Route 655 about 2.8 miles to Arrington; go through Arrington, then left on Route 812, go about 2.2 miles and watch for the sign. Turn left and follow the road to the lake.

Facilities include parking lot with mowed bank fishing area and a boat ramp. The Department of Wildlife Resources also owns a strip of land around the entire perimeter of the lake which is marked with metal T-posts and the DWR property extends from the T-posts to the lake. Visitors are permitted to use this area for fishing and wildlife viewing.

Lake information and regulations are posted on a sign next to the boat ramp.

More Information

For more information on Lake Nelson, please contact:

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources
1132 Thomas Jefferson Road
Forest, VA 24551