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Smith Mountain Lake Striper Fishing

Virginia

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and other freshwater impoundments

 

smith Mountain lake fishing pier

2007 Biologists report for Smith Mountain Lake

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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 a vast array of other recreational opportunities. The reservoir is owned by American Electric Power Company and is managed by this company primarily for hydroelectric power generation. Smith Mountain Lake was created to generate electricity, and to help manage water flows downstream and nearby. The damming of the Blackwater and Roanoke Rivers formed Smith Mountain Lake in a filling process that began on September 24, 1963 -- and ended almost 2.5 years later on March 7, 1966.

Smith Mountain Lake's highest water level ("full pond") is 795 feet above sea level. Normally there is very little seasonal variation in the water level. The typical daily variation for electricity production is 12-24 inches. During severe drought conditions, lake levels can fall by four feet or more.

The US Army Corps of Engineers publishes a daily water level report) Surrounded by mountains, SML's deepest point is about 250 feet, near the dam itself. Outside the lake's many coves, 100-150 feet is typical. Most of the shoreline is developed with residential homes but other facilities catering to outdoor enthusiasts are found at various locations.

The striper fishery has to be the most notable fishery on Smith Mountain Lake. Striped bass are 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, and shad. Stocking rates for striped bass were increased from 300,000 to 450,000 fingerlings annually in 1998. Different stocking methods in conjunction with increased stocking rates recently increased the striped bass population.

Recent good year-classes of stripers (from 1998 and 2001) are producing many fish up to 28 inches. 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 winter and early months. Look for springschools 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 during the spring 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 release legal size striped bass during the summer months. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries encourages striped bass anglers to quit fishing after catching their limit in the months of June-September. Most of these fish released during the summer months will not survive! A voluntary catch-and-release (no harvest) season is recommended for striped bass from October through May to help build population abundance and fish size.

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.
Numerous public and private boat ramps and marinas are found around the lake. In addition, there is a very nice handicapped-accessible fishing pier at the Smith Mountain Lake State Park boat launching area. Additional information on lodging, marinas, and other attractions can be obtained by calling the Smith Mountain Lake Visitors Center at 1-800-676-8203.

The number of striped bass in the population had been improving since 1999 as a result of increased stockings and better survival of young fish. 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 reduced by more than 60% 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. Gill net data has indicated that the number of young (up to 3 years of age) striped bass remained good despite the fish kills. The number of bigger striped bass has been improving but most of the larger fish are still limited to 10-15 pounds. However, there are a few striped bass available up to 20 pounds with the biggest fish in 2006 weighed in at 38 pounds! VDGIF is continuing to monitor and research the parasite infestation. It is unknown at this time what the long-term impacts of this parasite will have on the health of the striped bass population at Smith Mountain Lake. In an attempt to expedite the rebuilding of this trophy fishery, new striped bass regulations were instituted in 2006. The new striped bass size limits are designed to restrict the harvest of larger striped bass when survival of catch and release is high and allow harvest of these fish during the summer when survival is typically low. Studies have consistently shown that catch and release of striped bass in the summer months results in very high mortality. Most of these striped bass die 1-3 days after release and most sink to the bottom and never surface. Consequently, anglers should not release striped bass during the summer months. 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 June-September. Catch-and-release is recommended for striped bass from October through May. The new striped bass regulations maintain the two fish creel limit throughout the year but require all striped bass between 26 to 36 inches be released from October 1 through May 31. There are no size limits from June-September.

Smith mountain slake striped bass

 

Public Boating Access at Smith Mountain Lake

Bedford - Water Status: 4' Low Concrete ramp at OakHollowRd
Google map

Bedford - Water Status: 4' 2 Concrete ramps at Rt 634
Google map

Smith Mountain Lake weather

 

Courtesy of Virginia Game and inland fisheries

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