Philpott Reservoir - Fishing Opportunities
Black bass (largemouth and smallmouth bass) are the most sought after species by anglers at Philpott Reservoir. According to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) electrofishing samples, the largemouth bass comprise the bulk of this fishery far outnumbering smallmouth bass. However, smallmouth bass are a very popular portion of the fishery and this reservoir does produce many quality smallies. VDGIF sampling indicates that the largemouth bass population has remained stable for several years with good numbers of bass in the 2-3 pound range but bass up to five pounds are common. The smallmouth bass population has declined since the early 1990's but still remains strong and is one of the best smallmouth bass reservoir fisheries in the region.
Good largemouth bass fishing can be found throughout the reservoir but smallmouth bass densities appear to be greater in the lower (dam) end, particularly along the main lake channel. Anglers should look for bass along jagged rock structures, weed bed edges (when available), structure on underwater flats, and around fallen trees. Clear water, especially in the lower half of the lake, can make fishing a challenge and anglers may need to go deeper in clear water. Night fishing can be productive in shallow water, as bass tend to come up shallower after dark.
Philpott Reservoir has one of the better walleye populations in Virginia. This fishery does not contain many large fish but does support good numbers. Most adult walleye average 17-21 inches. There is no or very limited natural reproduction of walleye so the population is sustained with approximately 144,000 annually stocked fingerlings. Walleye reach 18 inches at about three years of age and most male walleye grow very slowly after reaching this size. Female walleye typically grow well for another few years with some achieving larger sizes. Occasionally walleye are caught in the 6-8 pound range.
In March, walleye can often be found in less than 10 feet of water due to spawning activities, especially at night. Most walleye spawning concludes by the end of March and the first week of April. The headwaters of the reservoir above mile marker 12 up into Smith River, Runnett Bag Creek arm, and from mile marker 3 to the dam are all areas walleye consistently congregate during the spawn. After spawning, walleye begin to feed heavily for the next couple of months. Since water temperatures remain cool through April and most of May, walleye are attracted to shallow water at night to capitalize on the most abundant food sources. Sunfish species make up a portion of walleyes spring diet and these fish are concentrated in shallow water along the shoreline. Alewives are likely the most important part of the walleyes spring diet. Alewives spawn at night from late April through June near the reservoirs shoreline. The erratic spawning rituals of alewife are performed close to the waters surface, which makes them easy targets and an attraction for the hungry walleye.
Walleye are very light sensitive and prefer dark or shaded habitat. Consequently, anglers need to adjust their tactics accordingly. During daylight hours, many walleye can be found at depths of 5-10 feet if the water is stained or muddy but will remain deeper (15-25 ft) during the day if the water is clear.
The most productive walleye fishing is from April through August. Night fishing in May and June with floating or shallow running plugs cast to the shoreline can provide some of the hottest walleye action of the year. Walleye often frequent water less than 2 feet deep during these dark hours. During daylight hours, fish the shoreline contour but in deeper water than at night. As water temperatures increase in late spring and throughout the summer, walleye continually move deeper for cooler water and staging near the thermocline by mid summer. Anglers must fish deeper throughout the summer to capitalize on this fishery. A very important point to remember is fish deeper in clearer water during the day, regardless of season.
VDGIF is conducting a walleye tagging study at Philpott Reservoir. This study was developed to better manage the lake's walleye fishery. Information gathered from the study will give biologists important data concerning walleye catch and harvest rates by anglers. In addition, biologists will gain insight on walleye movement, survival, and population dynamics. A total of 1,579 walleye were tagged at Philpott Reservoir from 2002-2010. The tags are various colors and approximately three inches in length. Each tag is attached to the dorsal or abdominal area and extends along the exterior portion of the fish. Any tagged walleye caught by anglers should be easily recognized without dissection. Tagged fish do not have to be harvested to collect the reward. Cut or clip tags (do not pull tags loose) from fish you wish to release. Anglers are encouraged to submit any tags collected from walleye to the address printed on the tag. All tags will have a dollar value (reward amount) that ranges from $5-$50.
Black crappie are present in Philpott Reservoir but this lake does not contain high densities of crappie. While crappie abundance is not high when compared to many other Virginia reservoirs, the size structure is very good. The average size of crappie collected during VDGGIF sampling is 9-12 inches. Best areas to find crappie are in the upstream end and coves. Philpott Reservoir does not have the habitat and characteristics that can maintain a highly productive crappie fishery.
White catfish are the most abundant catfish at Philpott Reservoir. The highest densities of this species are in the lower regions of the reservoir primarily where the water stays very clear most of the year. Channel catfish are present but not very abundant in comparison to other Virginia reservoirs. Channel catfish can be found throughout the reservoir.