Smith Mountain Lake
Smith Mountain Lake is a 20,600-acre impoundment located near Roanoke in Bedford and Franklin counties. This reservoir is one of Virginia's premier fisheries, offering outstanding fishing and other recreational opportunities. The reservoir was constructed in the early 1960's and is owned by American Electric Power Company and is managed primarily for hydroelectric power generation. Most of the shoreline is developed with residential homes but other facilities catering to outdoor enthusiasts are found at various locations.
Smith Mountain Lake has a numerous boat ramps (public and private) and marinas scattered throughout the reservoir. Smith Mountain Lake State Park is a major attraction with all it has to offer. Some of the parks options are picnic areas, beach, campground, cabins, handicapped-accessible fishing pier, boat ramp, hiking trails, scenic views and a golf course located next to the park. A newly developed park in Franklin County also offers picnic areas, beach and handicapped-accessible fishing pier. Many lake visitors take advantage of the numerous houses available for rent around the lake for lodging accommodations. Combining the lakes proximity to Roanoke and Lynchburg with residential development, visitors should expect heavy boat traffic during the summer months. However, anglers will find little competition during the cooler months.
Black bass are the most sought after species by anglers at Smith Mountain Lake. Largemouth bass comprise the bulk of this fishery and far outnumber smallmouth bass. Smith Mountain Lake is consistently one of the top producers of bass citations in Virginia and has been hosting an ESPN Bassmaster Elite Series tournament for several years.
Largemouth bass fishing on this 20,600-acre lake is very good but this fishery receives a lot of pressure. Extensive electrofishing surveys (conducted by VDGIF fisheries biologists) each spring typically produce many largemouth bass in the 2-4 pound range. Surveys indicate the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass fishery has improved in recent years and is producing great fishing opportunities. The highest densities of largemouth bass in this reservoir is found upstream (heading away from the dam) of Hales Ford Bridge area in the Roanoke River arm and buoy B26 in the Blackwater River arm. Smallmouth bass are more prevalent in the lower portion of the reservoir. Although bass densities are generally higher in the upper ends of the reservoir, anglers usually find fishing more productive in the lower ends due to the lakes topography. Piers and boathouses provide extensive shoreline cover that anglers should take advantage of. Additionally, natural structure such as fallen trees, rock shoals, and points, are seasonally productive. Coves typically produce the best largemouth bass angling opportunities due to shallower water and less boating traffic. Most anglers, fishing during the summer, fish at night or very early in the morning to avoid heavy boat traffic. Most bass are found in 10-20 ft of water when the fish are not near the shoreline during the spawning season.
The striper fishery is also very notable with striped bass ranking as the second most popular sport fish at Smith Mountain Lake. Striped bass have been stocked into this reservoir since impoundment in 1963. Limited spawning habitat for striped bass prevents natural reproduction. Stocking is required to maintain the fishery unlike other species such as bass, crappie, catfish, sunfish and shad.
Stripers are distributed throughout the lake during most of the year but are concentrated in lower lake areas during the summer and early fall months. Coves are typically not very productive for striped bass during the summer months so anglers should concentrate their efforts on the main lake when water temperatures begin to rise. However, the backs of coves, which contain flowing streams, can be productive during the late fall, winter and early spring months. Look for schools of shad in these areas especially during warming trends when the streams are warmer than the reservoir. Striped bass anglers utilize a variety of fishing methods such as drifting live bait, trolling plugs and bucktail jigs, or casting top water lures. Anglers use live bait throughout the year, trolling is most popular during the warmer months, and casting top water or shallow running plugs is most productive in April – June at night. Most striped bass are caught between the dams and buoy 64 of the Roanoke Arm and up to buoy 40 of the Blackwater Arm. Although these are the general areas most striped bass are caught, these fish are very mobile and may change locations continuously depending on forage availability, water temperatures, and spawning.
Anglers should not practice catch-and-release for striped bass during the summer months. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries encourage striped bass anglers to quit fishing after catching their limit in the months of June-September (see Regulations section for split season regulations). Most of these fish released during the summer months will not survive! There is a slot limit for striped bass from October through May to maintain the trophy aspect of this fishery. This slot limit requires all striped bass caught between 26-36 inches to be released. Contact the VDGIF regional office in Forest, Virginia, for more details on how to practice effective catch-and-release for striped bass.
A striped bass tagging study was initiated in the fall of 2001 to provide biologists with information on striped bass catch rates, harvest rates, movement, survival, and population dynamics. The fish tags are yellow and approximately three inches in length. The tags are attached to the abdominal area of the fish and 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 all tags collected from striped bass to the address printed on the tag. There is a reward of $5-$50 for all returned tags. See the “News” section for more tagging study information.
This reservoir has limited crappie habitat. Although the lake produces many quality size crappies, anglers should not expect to consistently catch large numbers of crappie. The crappie population is less abundant than other large Virginia reservoirs but the quality of these fish is very good. Coves in the upper ends of the reservoir should be the most productive especially near fallen trees or brush piles.
Sunfish and catfish are also popular sport species at Smith Mountain Lake. Sunfish are abundant but competition with shad prevents good growth so most of these fish are small. Channel catfish are the most popular catfish species but flathead catfish have gained in popularity because their large size. Flathead catfish are doing very well in size and abundance. Anglers seeking flathead catfish should concentrate their efforts in the upper reaches of the Roanoke and Blackwater arms, especially in coves. Smith Mountain Lake is also stocked annually with musky fingerlings. This lake does not produce large numbers of muskies; however, a few fish are caught each year, primarily by bass and striper anglers.