Western Branch Reservoir
This is one of five water supply reservoirs owned by the City of Norfolk that are open to fishing. Western Branch Reservoir and Lake Prince are located in Suffolk; Burnt Mills Reservoir is in Isle of Wight County; Lake Whitehurst is in Virginia Beach and Norfolk; and Lake Smith is in Virginia Beach. Boat permits are required to launch and fish in all five lakes (for fishing & boating permit information, see the More Information tab) . Either a daily or annual boat permit is required. These can be purchased at either the Lake Whitehurst fishing station on Shore Drive in Norfolk or at the Granby Municipal Building, 400 Granby Street, Norfolk. The permits are good on all five lakes.
At 1,265 acres, Western Branch is the largest of the Norfolk water supply lakes. With a maximum depth of 35 feet, it is also the deepest. The lake takes its name from the stream on which it was impounded in 1962, i.e. western branch of Nansemond River. The lake is horseshoe shaped with Lake Prince upstream on one arm and Lake Burnt Mills upstream on the other arm.
Western Branch provides anglers the opportunity to catch a wide variety of species. Of the 22 species for which the Department issues trophy fish awards (citations now called certificates of recognition), 13 are found here. Western Branch is one of the top waters in the state in trophy sunfish, white perch, yellow perch, and largemouth bass. The lake also has a healthy crappie population.
Most of the sunfish certificates are for redear sunfish or shellcrackers. Stocked by VDGIF in the 1970s, this sunfish has really done well in Western Branch. About 100 certificates are issued every year. Banner years were 1994 and 1995, when 824 and 302 certificates were issued, respectively. Redear are most frequently caught in April and May. Nightcrawlers are the favored bait. The "sunken islands" in the lower section of the lake are "hot spots."
Population sampling has shown that largemouth bass are abundant, especially in the 12 to 15 inch range. Angling for bass is probably best in the spring, but good numbers can be caught year-round. Generally about 40 bass certificates are issued each year. Banner years were 1995 and 1996, with 85 and 82 bass citations, respectively. Artificial bait is preferred.
Western Branch has been stocked with stripers every year since the mid-1970s. Based on population sampling, the lake's striper population is the best in the district. The largest striper recorded was 41.5 pounds (January 1995). Anglers use jigs, troll large lures such as Rapalas, Rebels, and Redfins, as well as with live bait such as shad. Fall and winter months are best for striper fishing; with good numbers caught in the spring below the spillways from Lakes Prince and Burnt Mills. During summer months, the stripers concentrate around the aerators where the oxygen level is maintained slightly higher than the rest of the lake.
Muskies have been stocked as a trophy fish. The number stocked has been low (generally one fish/acre/year) since the lake is not prime muskie habitat. However, some muskies have survived and grew to a large size. A 37.5-pounder was caught here in 1998.
White and yellow perch are available in good sizes and numbers, and numerous trophies are caught each year. White perch appear to be gaining in popularity with anglers, particularly during the winter months. Sampling at the lake indicates the white perch population is growing, so anglers can expect the good fishing to continue. The yellow perch population is not as strong since Western Branch does not have the abundant aquatic vegetation, which yellow perch require for spawning.
The lake has two places to launch boats: a dirt/gravel ramp is just below the Burnt Mills Dam off Route 603 (across from Kirk Lumber Co.) near Everetts, and two paved ramps are below the Lake Prince Dam on Route 605 near Providence Church. Bank fishing is prohibited. Gas motors up to 9.9 horsepower are allowed. The City of Norfolk has amended their codes to allow boats with outboard motors larger than 9.9 horse power to access the lake if the gas tanks are removed or the outboard is disabled (prop removed). Water skiing and sailing are prohibited. The ramps are open sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year and a Norfolk boat permit is required. The concession is closed.