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 November through May to maintain the trophy aspect of this fishery. This slot limit requires all striped bass caught between 30-40 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 or near the dorsal fin 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.

Additional information on lodging, marinas, and other attractions can be obtained from the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce or the Smith Mountain Lake Visitor Center.

Maps & Directions

See Boat Access Sites below:

Maps are available at local marinas, sporting good stores, area retailers and from commercial suppliers listed below.

GMCO Maps and Charts provide very detailed maps of Smith Mountain Lake that would be helpful for all anglers. Maps produced by GMCO provide information such as depth contours, marker numbers and locations, underwater structure, striper fishing areas, ramps, marinas, road numbers, and more.

GMCO maps can be ordered by phone or through the Internet.
Web site: http://shop.gmcomaps.com
Telephone: 1-888-420-6277

Fishing Hotspots Maps is another option. These maps can be ordered by phone or through the Internet.
Web site: http://www.Fishing Hotspots Map.com/
Telephone: 1-800-ALL MAPS

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.

Biologist Reports

Regulations

Black Bass (Largemouth, Smallmouth, Spotted)

  • 5 per day, including two bass less than 14 inches
  • Only 2 less than 14 inches

Striped Bass

June 1 – October 31

  • 2 per day
  • No length limit

November 1 – May 31

  • 2 per day
  • 30 inch – 40 inch protective slot limit (all striped bass caught between 30 and 40 inches must be immediately released unharmed, fish under 30 inches and over 40 inches may be creeled)

Bluegill / Sunfish

  • No length limits
  • 50 per day in the aggregate

Channel Catfish (Channel, Flathead and White)

  • No length limits
  • 20 per day

Crappie

  • No length limits
  • 25 per day

Muskellunge

  • 30 inch minimum limit
  • 2 per day

White Perch

  • No length limit
  • No creel limit

Other Nongame Fish

  • No length limits
  • 20 per day

Facilities

Numerous public and private boat ramps, marinas, lodging facilities, and campgrounds are scattered around the lake. In addition, there are nice handicapped-accessible fishing piers located at the Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Franklin County Park, Oak Grove public access facility, Scruggs public access facility, and Penhook public access facility. Additional information on lodging, marinas, and other attractions can be obtained from the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce or the Smith Mountain Lake Visitor Center.

News

New striped bass regulations beginning January 1, 2015

June 1 – October 31

No Size Limit, two fish per day creel limit

November 1 – May 31

30 – 40 inch protective slot limit (all striped bass caught between 30 and 40 inches must be immediately released unharmed, fish under 30 inches and over 40 inches may be creeled), two fish per day creel limit.

There was a very significant striped bass kill in April – June of 2003. Larger fish, especially those over ten pounds, were the primary sizes impacted. A new parasitic copepod combined with a winter shad kill were responsible for most of the losses of large striped bass. Research has indicated that the parasites significantly increased respiration of striped bass which also increased fish metabolism requiring much higher food demands at a time when forage was in very short supply. The older and larger striped bass were not able to consume adequate amounts of forage to compensate for very high respiration rates and most did not make it through this stressful period.

The striped bass fishery has rebounded since the fish kill with good numbers of fish in the slot limit. The slot limit has substantially improved the number of striped bass over eight pounds and stocking rates since the fish kill have been reduced to decrease the likelihood of forage depletions and prevent future fish kills.

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 or next to the dorsal fin and should be easily recognized without dissection. Tagged fish do not have to be harvested to collect the reward. 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.

More Information

Smith Mountain Lake Sate Park
1235 State Park Road
Huddleston, VA 24104
Voice: 540-297-6066
Email: smlake@dcr.virginia.gov
Reservations: (800) 933-PARK
Website:State Parks

Additional information on lodging, marinas, and other attractions can be obtained from the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce or the Smith Mountain Lake Visitor Center
Phone: 800-676-8203
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Regional Office
1132 Thomas Jefferson Road
Forest, VA 24551
434-525-7522