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Smith Mountain Lake - Fishing Opportunities

Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass

Black bass (largemouth and smallmouth 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. 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 with an occasional fish up to eight pounds. VDGIF electrofishing surveys indicate the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass fishery has improved since 2003, matching reservoir highs of the mid 1990's. Smith Mountain Lake hosted ESPN's Bassmaster Elite Series tournament trail for several years demonstrating that this reservoir supports a very good fishery.

The highest densities of black bass in this reservoir are 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. 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 lake's flatter topography and clearer water. Piers and boathouses provide extensive shoreline cover that anglers should take advantage of. Fishing around and under boat docks/piers from the water is legal but remember to be courteous to dock owners. Additionally, natural structure such as fallen trees, rock shoals, submerged brush piles, and points are seasonally productive. Coves typically produce the best largemouth bass angling opportunities due to shallower water and less boating traffic. However, most bass are pushed into deeper water during the warm summer months making shallow coves less productive. Most bass are found in 10-30 ft of water when not near the shoreline during the spawning season. To avoid the heavy boat traffic in the summer, many anglers concentrate their efforts at night or very early in the morning.

Striped Bass

Smith Mountain Lake has gained national attention for its striped bass fishery which is 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 successful natural reproduction. Stocking is required to maintain the fishery unlike other species such as bass, crappie, catfish, and shad.

The number of striped bass in the population increased beginning in the late 1990's due to increased stocking rates and improved stocking survival. However, the Smith Mountain Lake striped bass fishery experienced a major setback in 2003. A parasitic copepod (Achtheres) infestation of striped bass began in the fall of 2002 and the shad population was severely reduced for several months due to a shad winterkill in 2003. As a result, a major striped bass kill occurred in the spring of 2003 for a minimum of two months. Based on observations during the fish kill, gill net data, VDGIF citation program data, and angler diary data; the fish kill eliminated most of the striped bass over 10 pounds. The number of bigger striped bass has improved since the fish kill in 2003 but most of the larger fish are still limited to 10-16 pounds. However, there are a few striped bass available up to 20 pounds. A new slot limit, designed to expedite the recovery and improve the number of trophy stripers in the reservoir, was instituted in 2006 and modified in 2012. It is unknown at this time what the long-term impacts of this parasite will have on the striped bass population at Smith Mountain Lake.

Striped bass 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 and the upper reaches of the reservoir are typically not very productive for striped bass during the summer and early fall months so anglers should concentrate their efforts on the lower main lake beginning in late June or early July. Striped bass anglers utilize a variety of fishing methods such as drifting or slow trolling live shad, trolling plugs and bucktail jigs, or casting top water lures and swim baits. Anglers use live shad 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 dam and buoy R80 of the Roanoke Arm and up to buoy B44 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. If you encounter a school of small stripers in the summer that are not an acceptable size for harvest, leave the immediate area and search for larger fish. In addition, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries encourage striped bass anglers to quit fishing after catching their 2-fish limit in the months of July-September. Most of the striped bass released during the summer months will not survive!

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 and near the dorsal fin 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 with the following information: date fish was caught, marker number nearest to location of capture, length of fish, and was the fish harvested or released. Tag rewards are assigned to specific tags and not to any particular fish size. All returned tags will be worth one of the following amounts: $5, $10, $20, $35, or $50.

Crappie

This reservoir has limited crappie habitat. Although the lake produces many quality size crappie, anglers should not expect to consistently catch large numbers of crappie. The crappie population is less abundant than most other large Virginia reservoirs but the quality of these fish is very good. Coves and the upper ends of the reservoir should be the most productive especially near fallen trees, brush piles and docks with structure. However, some crappie anglers have invested considerable time and effort for this species and are consistently successful. Crappie anglers are generally the most productive in March-May and October-November.

Catfish

The catfish fishery is comprised primarily of channel catfish, flathead catfish, and white catfish. Flathead and channel catfish are most abundant in the upper reaches of the Roanoke and Blackwater arms and white catfish are found primarily in the lower end of the reservoir.

Additional Species

Sunfish 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. Smith Mountain Lake is also stocked occasionally with musky fingerlings in the upper Roanoke arm (R37-R87) but anglers fishing for other species catch most muskies incidentally. White perch and yellow perch are also present and can be found almost anywhere in the reservoir.