2017 Top Places for Bass Fishing in Virginia
by Mark Fike at Game and Fish Magazine | April 4th, 2014
Bass anglers have faced several issues over the past few years with regards to the health of their favorite fishery, including the discovery of largemouth bass virus, the unknown impact Northern snakeheads would have on bass and various droughts or wet years. Despite these events, largemouth bass fishing remains very good in all regions of the state
Here’s what to expect for bass fishing in Virginia.
I spoke with Eric Brittle, who is the fisheries biologist in charge of the waters in the Tidewater Region. While the Chickahominy River is still king in terms of largemouth bass fishing on tidal rivers (even rivaling or surpassing some lakes), his recommendation was the James River for largemouth bass anglers.
“I would recommend early spring or fall fishing in the backwater areas upstream of the I-295 (Varina) Bridge. There are some very good bass in that area. Look for sunken barges and woody debris. Another good area is Herring and Powell’s Creek.”
Brittle suggested that anglers target drop offs and emerging grass beds with swimbaits in these areas during the spring. During the spring the bass and other predators are keyed in on baitfish. With the spring run of herring, shad and white perch, there are plenty of fish for bass to feed on if they are hungry enough. Baits in these color patterns are deadly.
Sampling of the river shows that the bass fishery is in good shape and the size structure is very healthy, with plenty of fish in the 3- to 4-pound range available and a few larger fish in the mix too.
Lake Chesdin is also a great water to fish for largemouth. Scott Herrmann recently took over the lake sampling. Here is what he found with us.
“The 2013 electrofishing survey revealed an increased presence of largemouth bass in the 3- to 4-pound range with a decent abundance of bass around 5 pounds in size. We were able to collect a few 6-pound bass and the largest bass weighed 7 pounds. The majority of the larger bass came from the northern side of the lake where they were in a pre-spawn pattern with a lot of the larger bass hanging around the coves just up from the Seven Springs Marina’s ramp.”
Herrmann went on to state that the abundance of gizzard shad in the lake measuring 6-8 inches are great forage for them. There are lots of stunted bluegill in the lake too, so the bass eat well. Visitors to Chesdin may find it tough to fish until the lock onto the pattern. Sometimes when there is so much forage the bass can be picky and a challenge to catch. Fish slowly and methodically. Take the time to chat with other anglers to see what is working well for them.
Green fish enthusiasts know very well that the Southside region has four huge bass factories and many smaller impoundments to choose from. For that reason this region is tough to fish simply because there are so many choices. Briery Creek Reservoir, Sandy River Reservoir, Buggs Island and Smith Mountain Lake are the big four.
Dan Michaelson, VDGIF fisheries biologist, was willing to provide information on what his early spring sampling efforts showed. Anglers who fish Briery will find that early spring fishing is best on the upper end in the shallows near the Rt. 701 ramp and the cover adjacent to the old Rt. 705 roadbed. Fish average 3 to 4 pounds but anglers still see fish up to 9 pounds with the potential for a true lifetime trophy.
At present, the Sandy River Reservoir fishery is slightly better than Briery’s, but not by much. Both reservoirs have had largemouth bass virus in them but the fisheries remain strong. Average bass size is the same in Sandy River Reservoir at Briery.
Standing timber in Marrowbone Creek is a great place to start fishing in March or April. Beaver huts are not just good for crappie but also for bass. Use plastics on points and around structure. As with many spring fisheries, shad colors are very effective. During a cool spring try fishing with spoons jigged near the channel edge.
The nice thing about Briery and Sandy River is that the fishing can be good all day long during the early spring. Both Briery and Sandy River allow up to 10hp motors. Briery Creek regulations reflect that no bass between 16 and 24 inches may be kept. Only one fish over 24 inches may be kept. At Sandy River there is a 14- to 20-inch slot limit (and only 2 fish over 20 inches may be kept).
Buggs Island Reservoir is always in our write up, and for good reason. Over half the fishing effort at Buggs is for largemouth. Largemouth bass virus hit the reservoir somewhat hard and reduced the number of larger fish, but reproduction rates are very good and it is already improving. Spring fishing is good in the shallows of any of the numerous feeder creeks. Remember that there is a modified slot limit. There is a five-fish bag limit with three of the five required to be over 14 inches.
Smith Mountain Lake anglers will find that 9 of 10 bass caught are largemouth. The average size of bass at the sprawling 20,600-acre lake is 2 to 4 pounds. The better bass angling is usually upstream near the Roanoke River and Blackwater River. The one problem is that these areas are steeper, require more finesse to fish and more work to find the “zone,” while downstream the banks and topography is more forgiving and shallower. Coves are the place to be in the spring when spawning is occurring in the shallower areas. Five bass may be kept per day but only two bass may be less than 14 inches.
Most years we update readers on Claytor Lake in our bass roundup. Claytor is certainly worth your time for bass fishing. However, Rural Retreat Lake, although small, is a notable water that is well worth a day off work. John Copeland, VDGIF fisheries biologist, was kind enough to chat with me about the lake.
His preliminary data on the lake showed that the bass fishery is in as good a shape as it has ever been, with bass up to 21 inches in length sampled. Copeland said the average bass was 12 to 14 inches long and the 18-inch minimum size limit for the one bass bag limit was helping to keep a consistent number of bass in the lake. Copeland also noted that he found alewife in the lake. Evidently someone decided to liberate some and now they are there for good. The bass will fatten up on them and the numerous small crappie in the lake.
While sampling, Copeland noted that the east shoreline in the spring was quite good from the upper end down to the dam. The vegetation along this area tends to hold the fish well. Now that shad are in the lake, try plastic jerk baits, crank baits and spinnerbaits in shad colors or crappie colors.
Lake Frederick and the slow pools of the Shenandoah River are likely the best largemouth bass fisheries in the region. Lake Frederick largemouth bass average 2 to 4 pounds, with fish available to 10 pounds. Many mountain region lakes cannot make that boast. However, the good nutrient supply to the lake and the fact the lake has so much cover in the form of vegetation make it tough for anglers to catch bass. Add to the mix that the lake is usually very clear and readers can see why fishing is challenging.
Successful anglers often use natural colored baits, make long casts, are stealthy in their approach and fish on days that few anglers fish. Try midweek and pass on the weekends if possible. There is a lot of pressure on the lake. However, the rewards are quite good when you do catch a bass there. At press time there were no shad in the lake. Bass in this lake eat bluegill and crappie.
Anglers wanting to river fish will be delighted to know that the pools of the Shenandoah River offer some fantastic largemouth fishing. The main stem of the river is home to bass up to 7 pounds with some very chunky fish averaging near 3 pounds for anglers to target. Crayfish, minnows or lures mimicking these two popular baits will work very well. Don’t overlook using jigs and plastics to entice hungry bass from the woody blow downs along the bank.
The South Fork of the river is also very good largemouth territory. Float the “power pools” and fish the woody debris as noted above. Few anglers target largemouth in the river — which is a shame since they are common residents.
Lake Anna has long been a consistent bass factory in the northern piedmont. During the spring the mid-lake area tends to draw the most action around Rose Valley, Ware Creek, Ware Cove and Plentiful Creek. John Odenkirk of VDGIF was kind enough to share with us this info from the VDGIF’s annual sampling. In fact, he suggested that anglers target coves near “The Splits” on the Pamunkey side by fishing the edges of emerging water willow where it begins to drop off. Fish often average 17 to 18 inches in this area.
Keep in mind that the lower lake typically warms sooner than the upper end, but there are more nutrients in the upper end of the lake. As with other waters in this write up, anglers cannot go wrong with herring- or shad-colored lures pitched into structure or near vegetation during the spring. On really warm late March or early April days approach shallows quietly with polarized glasses and sight fish. Some really large fish can be caught this way.
The Rappahannock River has been on the mend for years and finally biologists feel it is starting to heal. Recent sampling in the fall showed fish to average 15 to 16 inches, and they are chunky too.
The sampling efforts from Fredericksburg to Port Royal showed that more fish were seen over 15 inches than biologists have ever seen before. Large woody blowdowns in conjunction with feeder creeks seems to be the right combination. Fish up to 6 pounds may be caught with the occasional smallmouth taken, too.
Odenkirk noted that fall sampling turned up a record catch rate overall and now approaches some of the numbers they have seen on the Potomac River.
Jonathan Sanders of Sanders Marine Service loves to bass fish in his off time. He suggests that anglers use 7-inch Zoom worms in RedShad with a bullet weight around the dock walls, old barge walls and big tree stumps and blow downs. The mouths of creeks are really good too.
“Fish slow during the spring and position your boat in 8 to 10 feet of water when casting to the structure. Points in that same depth are also good bets. Look for the warmest water in the spring to find the most active fish. A white spinnerbait is also a good lure to have on a second rod. Fish it in 5-6 feet of water along the walls.”
Don’t overlook the upper river for largemouth bass, either. Since the breech of the dam many largemouth bass have moved upriver and have taken up residence in the slower pools. Bass are really fat and healthy in these pools as they feed on shad fry, redbreast sunfish, suckers, and crayfish.
If you can drift the pools in a kayak or canoe and make longer casts with crayfish cranks, tubes or jigs rigged with crayfish you are very likely to score. The bottom is littered with boulders and random logs or blowdowns. Fish small-diameter line and keep noise to a minimum. The Imposter Jig by Arson Jigs is a dynamite bass jig to try in these slow pools.
Bass fishing in the Old Dominion continues to be quite good and in many areas is. Remember, you can’t catch fish sitting at home.