Smith Mountain Lake Is Striped Bass Heaven Dec 13, 2019 17:15:13 GMT
Post by Ghost Comanche©® on Dec 13, 2019 17:15:13 GMT
Smith Mountain Lake Is Striped Bass Heaven
by the Daily Press / February 5, 1989
When you think about catching big striped bass consistently during winter months, you almost have to think of Smith Mountain Lake.The saltwater season for stripers, also called rockfish, is closed on all Virginia's tidal waters, including the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, from Dec. 1 through May 31.
That leaves only the freshwater member of the family fair game for the rough-weather angler.
This does not imply that certain anglers do not catch some nice rockfish at Lake Prince and Western Branch reservoirs in Suffolk during winter, nor that reservoirs like Waller Mill Park near Williamsburg doesn't have a potential for good winter fishing.
Waller Mill is closed completely during winter. Lake Prince and Western Branch are privately owned and try to remain open, but if no one shows up to fish, they close.
Still, none of the smaller reservoirs can compare to the giants like Buggs Island (50,000 acres), Smith Mountain (20,000 acres), Lake Anna (9,600 acres), Philpott (2,889 acres), and others located in the central Piedmont or Blue Ridge foothills.
Actually, Virginia has more than 160,000 acres of man-made lakes, each affording the angler a great variety of freshwater fish.
But none is more prolific for stripers than the Smith Mountain impoundment, located southeast of Roanoke on the Roanoke/Staunton River.
According to a Department of Fish and Game biologist in Vinton, fishermen flocked to Smith Mountain when Appalachian Power opened it in the early 1960s, mainly because of the excellent largemouth and crappie fishing.
"Then, a combination of heavy fishing pressure, a shift in the baitfish abundance, the normal aging of the lake, plus a number of sewage plants going on line at that time, caused the bass and crappie fishing to really fall off in the mid- to late-1970s," explained A. L. "Bud" LaRoche III, supervising biologist.
By this time, however, the Game Department's stocking program for stripers and muskellunge were paying dividends. Trophy-size muskies and stripers became rather commonplace.
In fact, Smith Mountain has been considered the premier striper lake since the mid-1970s.
Anglers catch as many as 700 Citation-size stripers in a single year, meaning fish that currently meet a 15-pound minimum weight requirement.
That minimum requirement will go up to 20 pounds on July 1.
"I've noticed a big change in water quality over the past 10 years," LaRoche said. "We've also stopped stocking stripers because we were actually over-stocking and there wasn't enough baitfish to feed them."
LaRoche said that at one time anglers found fish by observing sea gulls working the surface.
"Now, you don't see that too often," he said. "I don't know why - whether its baitfish or what. It's interesting and we're working on it."
Last year was a good year for stripers and this winter hasn't been all that bad.
Charlie Bicker with Saunders' Marina near Huddleston, said he had weighed seven Citation stripers during the week preceeding a visit a couple of weeks ago.
Billy Joe Bell of neighboring Altavista caught a state record striper there in March 1987, a 40-pound, 11-ouncer, only to have a visitor from Franklinton, N.C. pull in a fish weighing 41-6 this past May.
"It ain't an easy lake to fish anymore," Bicker said. "In the summer it's impossible to fish the main body of the lake because of the recreational traffic You've got to get back up the creeks and then you've got to know what you're doing."
More than 10,000 recreational boats were on the lake last July 4.
During winter, striper fishing is good day or night. According to Bicker, live shad are the most popular bait, followed by Hopkin's Shortys, jigged deep, or bucktails, spoons or Cordell Redfins.
Statewide, anglers are allowed to keep four stripers (or hybrid stripers in aggregate) over 20 inches in length, except at Smith Mountain. The limit over the entire lake, from Smith Mountain Dam on the east, to Niagara Dam on the Roanoke River, is two fish per day.
In the early 1980s, smallmouth, walleye, largemouth and crappie fishing improved to satisfactory levels.
Young Tommy Harberl said he caught a 5 pound, 7 ounce walleye by casting from the marina launching pier.
"I know there's six- and seven-pound walleye out there," Bicker said, "because I weighed a few."
Smith Mountain has started to equal the upper James River for smallmouth bass and tackle-busting muskellunge. Dyrlwood Hodges of Abingdon pulled in a 36-pound tiger muskie in March 1987 that still has the kibitzers hanging around Foxport Marina whistling in amazement.