By Chris Craft
From March through the Winter, Lake Anna Offers Fishing for Every Season
Lake Anna is a 13,000-acre impoundment located in the counties of Louisa, Spotsylvania and Orange. Out of the 13,000 acres, only 9,600 are open to public use. The remaining 3,400 acres is used as cooling lagoons for the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant.
Where to Fish on Lake Anna
Most anglers refer to the different sides as the “hot side” and the “cold side.” Although there are fishing opportunities on the hot side, you must have access to one of the private ramps located on that side. The cold side, however, has several public ramps that can be used 365 days per year. I personally use the ramp located at Anna Point Marina.
Spotting the Species: Fish found in Lake Anna
There are several different species of fish that anglers can pursue on Lake Anna, with the top three being Largemouth Bass, Crappie and Striper. I guide for Largemouth Bass and Crappie mostly, but I do throw in some striper fishing when the timing is right.
The Largemouth Bass gets the most attention; many anglers visit Lake Anna in March and April looking for that bass of a lifetime. Lake Anna does not have a minimum size requirement to keep a bass; most anglers practice catch and release, as they are a popular tournament fish. If you do keep some, please remember that the creel limit is five per day, per angler. A trophy fish by Virginia guidelines is a fish that weighs 8 pounds and or measures 22 inches in length. The lake record was caught on March 20, 1985, and my personal best weighing in at 9 pounds, 1 ounce was caught on March 13, 2012. So, it can be said that the best time to catch a true giant largemouth from Lake Anna is during March.
There are many ways to catch bass as they move from their winter hideouts. In early March when the water first starts to warm up, they will slowly start making a move to shallower water. Keep in mind that deep water nearby is a must. They will still be very lethargic, and you will almost have to hit them in the nose with your bait to entice a strike. My best overall bait this time of year is a suspending jerkbait. This bait fish imitator comes in a variety of sizes and colors. I try to keep in mind what they may be feeding on and match the color and size to that—it may be Threadfin Shad, Blueback Herring or even Crappie—and I have colors for all three of those to match the situation.
As we move toward the end of the month and the water warms even more, the bass will become more aggressive. You can now fish your suspending jerkbaits much faster and even move on to other baits such as spinnerbaits, squarebill crankbaits and soft jerkbaits.
As the full moon in April approaches, the bass start feeding heavy in preparation for the upcoming spawn. They will take a variety of baits and be very aggressive doing so. Being very aggressive does not make it easy by any means; you still have to be stealthy and accurate with your presentations.
Now that they have moved onto the beds, they will be less likely to feed. The spawn usually lasts for about a month, and after it is over, the females will move out and recover for a few days. The males stay behind to guard the bed and eventually the fry. After about 3–5 days of recovery, the females will start to feed back up. This is a great time to put your top water lures to work. Large walking baits (Zara Spook, Paycheck Baits Repo Man and Damiki Rambler), poppers and buzzbaits are all great choices for this task, as they will all draw explosive and violent strikes.
Now we are moving into summer patterns. The fish will start to pull out of the shallows and move out with the increasing boat traffic and warmer water temperatures. Deeper brush piles, rock piles, boat docks and bridge pilings will all hold numbers of fish in the summertime. (Baits of choice include deep diving crankbaits, large Texas rigged worms, shaky head worms and jig and pig combos.) I have caught fish as deep as 35 feet, but most will stay in the 15’–25′ range.
They will stay in these areas all summer long until the water temperature starts to drop back off in the fall—usually by mid-October they are shallow again, as this is the beginning of the fall feeding frenzy. Look for shad and blueback herring in the backs of creeks actively chasing bait balls all day long. Small crankbaits, spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits, hard jerkbaits and soft jerkbaits are all great bait fish imitators and will catch fish for you.
As the winter months close in, those anglers brave enough to outlast the elements can be rewarded with giant bass and heavy bags to bring onto the scales. Vertical jigging is one of the best ways to catch them at this time of year. Learning your electronic devices is a must for this type of fishing.
The Black Crappie, also known as specks, freckles and silver perch, comes in a close second to the Largemouth Bass for Lake Anna anglers. These tasty panfish are hearty fighters and plentiful throughout Lake Anna—though up lake has better fishing than down lake. There are many trophy-sized crappies in Lake Anna, but they are the exception and not the rule. For a crappie to be considered a trophy in Virginia, they must be either 2 pounds or 15 inches. We weigh in several every year at Fish Tales, fishing and boating headquarters located in Mineral, for our customers. Though there is no minimum size on crappie in Lake Anna, there is a 25 fish per day, per angler creel limit. Personally, I try not to keep any fish less than 10 inches.
Once March rolls around, the crappie start making their move toward the shallows; usually they are the first fish to spawn in the spring. They will start staging around spawning areas waiting on water temperatures to get right (60–66 degrees). Although I have seen them spawn in temperatures as low as 56 degrees.
The males are the first ones to pull up and start the spawning ritual; several males will pull into one area and do their dance to attract females. Their spawn is much different than a bass; it is not just one male and one female. As the spawn draws closer, the males will turn a dark black and purple hue; we call this “full tuxedo.” Sometimes they will be almost pitch black.
Crappies are very aggressive throughout the spawn and will take a variety of artificial baits and colors as well as minnows. Many anglers use small minnows rigged under a slip bobber to catch them; I, on the other hand, prefer to employee 2-inch curly tail grubs rigged on a one-sixteenth ounce jig head. If you find that you are catching numbers of smaller males, all you need to do is back off a little deeper for the females; the girls are not far behind.
They spawn in many types of cover, such as willow grass, beaver huts, lay down trees, rocks and boat docks. I have even caught them spawning on sea walls and in water from just a foot to about six feet deep down. The spawn will usually last about six weeks, with the first three weeks being the best. The large mature fish will spawn first, followed by the smaller, immature fish.
After the spawn is over in mid-May, they will start retreating back to deeper water for the summer months; I usually leave them alone for this period of time. You have to catch and go through lots of small fish, just to catch a few keepers.
During summer, they’re in deep boat docks, deep bridge pilings, deep rock piles and some will just suspend over deep water. Did you notice the common denominator for the summertime? Deep! The most popular place to catch them during the summer is around the many bridge pilings throughout the lake. They can be anywhere from 10 feet all the way down to 30 feet; a small minnow on a one-sixteenth or one-eighth-ounce jighead will produce the best results.
The most important part of crappie fishing is the rod, reel and line. To thoroughly enjoy crappie fishing, a lite or ultra lite rod is a must. These fish are very hard fighters for pan fish; if you have too large of a rod, it is really no fun at all. A 6-pound test line is really about as heavy as you will want to use; I use a 4-pound test line about 90 percent of the time. The best part about crappie fishing is that these are great angling fish for kids—once you find them, the action can last for hours in just one spot!
As summer ends and fall begins, they will start to follow bait balls into the creeks, and they will set up an ambush around the many boat docks. A little more skill is involved in fall crappie fishing; they will set up as far as they can under boat docks, and skipping or shooting your grub is a must. If the water level in the lake is down about a foot, it makes it much easier to get your bait to the fish. Small minnows will also work; just keep in mind that most of the fish are under the docks so you will have to be very patient and wait for them to come out to you.
Fall is now over and wintertime is setting in; the water temperature is now in the low forties; and the fish have pulled out of the shallows. Some fish will relocate to deep brush piles and back to the bridge pilings, but most will just suspend over deep water and follow the bait balls around. However, I do fish for them at this time of year.
The striper fishing on Lake Anna has gotten better over the past several years and many more anglers are pursuing them. Though we do not see many trophy-class fish caught, we do see many in the 10-pound plus range, but most are an average of five to seven pounds. For a landlocked, fresh water striper to be considered a trophy in Virginia, they have to be at least 20 pounds or 37 inches. In order to keep a striper on Lake Anna, the minimum length has to be 20 inches, and the creel limit is four per day, per angler.
There are several ways to catch them, such as trolling, live bait, vertical jigging and casting artificial lures to them. Out of all these different ways, my favorite way is to cast to them, with vertical jigging coming in second. If you plan on using live bait, plan on getting out of bed very early and trying your luck at attracting bait to a light hung under a bridge and throwing a net on them. Store-bought bait will work on occasion, but native bait—Gizzard Shad or Blue Back Herring—is by far the best.
In March you can find me chasing striper up in the two river arms of the lake. They are usually feeding heavy on small black crappie at this time of year, so my bait of choice is a suspending jerkbait that I have painted especially for me in a color we call “tuxedo purple.” The only place you can buy one is at Fish Tales.
As April rolls around, I have turned my attention to bass and crappie, but you can still catch striper. If you can locate the schools of fish up lake in shallow water, try casting a broken back redfin to them, and be sure to fish the bait all the way back to the boat. I have had several heart-stopping strikes only a couple of feet from the boat.
Summertime striper fishing can be really great at first light; the fish will be aggressively chasing bait in the mid-lake area until the sun gets high enough to penetrate the water. Once the sun is up and the feed is over, you can still catch them by using your electronics to locate the deep schools, vertical jigging blade bait, such as a Damiki Vault, or using a jigging spoon.
Another popular way to catch summertime striper is by trolling artificial lures. Deep diving redfins with a bucktail trailer seem to be the most popular; although a deep diving crankbait designed for bass fishing works well, too.
As we head into fall, the striper will begin to follow the bait movement up lake where you can use birds to give away the location of the schools. Once you have located the fish, be sure not to run your outboard into the school—this will shut them down. Instead, start casting a minimum of 100 yards from them while you move into position with your trolling motor. A 4-inch paddle tail swimbait rigged on a one-fourth-ounce jig head is my all-time favorite lure; the color depends on the mood of the fish. A sensitive rod is a must for this; most of the strikes will be very subtle and a too heavy of a rod will hide these strikes from you.
You can chase striper like this all the way through the winter as well. Once the water temperatures drop below 40 degrees, the bite will be very slow; that is, if they are feeding at all.
Another species to stretch your fishing line is the “wiper”, this fish is a hybrid between a Striped Bass and a White Bass. These hearty fish were stocked in Lake Anna four years ago, and are now being caught on a regular basis. They are strong and plentiful, but like the Striper they must be 20 inches long to keep. The daily creel limit is four per person per day, this is combined with the Striper. You cannot have four wiper and four striper in your possession. They can be caught on a variety of baits from top water to jigging spoons to swim baits. Look for them schooling just as you would striper.
Images from Chris Craft