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Courtesy Dale Wilson
Hefty largemouth bass caught by guide Dale Wilson at Smith Mountain Lake
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Smith Mountain Lake ranks 25th in Bassmaster Magazine's current list of the top 100 bass lakes in the nation. That is impressive, but brace yourself for some bad news, too.
The May issue of the magazine said largemouth bass dominate the upstream portion of the 20,000-acre lake while smallmouth dominate downstream.
"No matter which direction you go, there are plenty of fish in the 2- to 4-pound range," reported James Hall, the magazine's editor.
The rankings involved input from 3,500 B.A.S.S. members, wildlife agencies, outdoor writers, industry professionals, B.A.S.S. conservation directors and a panel of Elite Series pros.
Other Virginia fisheries that made the elite list were the Potomac River, 19th; Claytor Lake, 77th and Kerr Lake, 83rd. The Potomac is shared with Maryland; Kerr with North Carolina.
The good news for Smith Mountain Lake is blemished by a recent Department of Game and Inland fisheries report that the number of bass over 15 inches declined last year by 16 percent, and bass over 20 inches dropped 55 percent.
Biologists blame this on largemouth bass virus. The disease also has lowered the number of 4-pound-plus bass in Kerr Lake, although good numbers of bass in the 2-to 4-pound range remain, according to biologists.
Veteran Smith Mountain Lake fishing guide Dale Wilson www.captaindalewilson.com says he has noticed a decline in 3- to 6-pound largemouths. He is not that familiar with the bass virus, but believes there are additional factors causing problems.
"The lake is getting an enormous amount of fishing pressure," he said. "A lot of the major tournaments are during the spawning season. I think it does major damage to the success of the spawn when the large females are caught and relocated while spawning."
The recent Oakley Big Bass Tour at Smith Mountain attracted 670 anglers and the biggest catch was less than 6.5 pounds. That is remarkably close to the size of the winning largemouths in recent Optimist Club fishing tournaments. The 2013 addition of the Optimist Club's event is scheduled this weekend (See Bill Cochran's Field Reports).
Last year, a 6.68-pound largemouth won the Optimist tournament; the year before, a 6.86-pound fish. Those are nice bass, but hardly wall hangers. So the high ranking by Bassmaster Magazine must have more to do with the abundance of keeper bass than it does trophy fish.
It wasn't always that way. During the early going of the 45-year old Optimist Tournament, winning largemouths were considerably heavier: 9 pounds, 4.5 ounces in 1969; 9 pound, 10 ounces in 1972; 9 pounds, 10.5 ounces in 1973. Bass that size are rare nowadays.
As for this spring, fishing results have varied as has the water temperature, Wilson said.
"The water temperature is about 10 days behind this year," he said.
As water temperatures rise and shad go shallow to spawn, a productive angling technique is to fish the shoreline after dark where baitfish are spawning. That has put money in the pockets of Optimist contestants in recent years. The lure of choice has been the Storm ThunderStick, which is fished parallel to the bank while casting from a boat or the bank. The trick is to move it slowly, just enough to create a V on the surface.
This technique is good for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, even striped bass. Catches generally occur anytime from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., often coming in a flurry of action.
During the daytime, Wilson likes to fish where the wind has gathered bait into pockets.
One method you won't see him use is sight fishing for bedding bass. He believes that is disruptive to the spawning process.
By the way, what is the top bass fishing spot according to the rankings of B.A.S.S.? It is Lake St. Clair in Michigan.
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