Bass anglers in Virginia are positively spoiled for choice. Few states offer a greater variety of truly exceptional bass waters.
Want to cast for trophy smallmouths in a rock-strewn mountain stream? Head to the Shenandoah or New River.
What to probe a marshy tidal wonderland for monster largemouths? Visit the Chesapeake Bay’s many brackish tributaries.
Want to beat the banks for spawning bass, haul hefty fish up from deep structure or watch big bass blow up on your topwaters? Put a pin in your map over Lake Anna, Buggs Island, Smith Mountain, or any of Virginia’s other outstanding bass lakes.
Best Bass Lakes in Virginia
One of Virginia’s most reliable largemouth lakes, 13,000-acre Lake Anna has long enjoyed a reputation as both a numbers lake and a trophy fishery. It’s a great lake to catch your fill of feisty 15-inch largemouths, with a better-than-average shot at one topping 7 pounds.
It’s not always an easy place to fish, though. With abundant forage including shad, herring, bluegill and white perch, the bass here are exceptionally well-fed.
The best areas to target bass are in the upper and middle sections of the lake. Lake Anna is fed mainly by the North Anna and Pamunkey rivers, and the point where these two main river arms meet (referred to by locals as “the Splits”) marks the boundary between upper and midlake.
Midlake creeks, less influenced by the muddying effects of spring runoff, offer some of the best pre-spawn action in March. As soon as water temps crack 50 degrees, head to creeks like Beaver Pond, Dukes, Marshall, Mitchell, Pigeon Run and Sturgeon.
Bass key in on shad this time of year, and few baits are more tempting in shallow water than a Zoom Fluke with an erratic jerk-and-pause retrieve. Shad-imitating crankbaits like a Strike King Red Eye Shad are also popular.
Bass typically spawn in April, often bedding right up against the banks in the creeks mentioned above, as well as creeks farther up above the Splits like Goldmine, Harlow and Plentiful creeks. Jigs, wacky worms and creatures are killer baits this time of year.
After the spawn, bass feed heavily through May and June, with some of the best fishing taking place from the Splits up the North Anna River Arm. Topwaters work well this time of year.
Focus on the grass beds that form near the shoreline, working your way along edges and over holes in the grass.
Numerous private marinas provide access, but there is not currently a free public launch on Lake Anna at the time of publication.
Lake Anna State Park offers boat ramps, bank access, a campground and a fishing pier.
Buggs Island Lake (Kerr Lake)
Offering over 800 miles of shoreline and 48,900 acres of water at full pool, Kerr Lake (a.k.a. Buggs Island Lake) is the largest lake in Virginia. It’s also a lake that many would argue offers the best largemouth bass fishing in the state.
Formed by a dam on the Dan and Staunton Rivers, Buggs Island Lake sprawls across Virginia’s southern border into North Carolina (it is officially known as John H. Kerr Reservoir on the Carolina side, where it’s also among that state’s best bass fishing lakes).
The lake has a reputation for high survival and growth rates among bass.
That being said, Buggs Island Lake has been more of a numbers lake than a trophy bass lake in recent years. Expect to catch a lot of healthy adult bass measuring 12 to 16 inches, with occasional individuals in the 5-pound class.
Kerr Lake has numerous long, snaking creek arms, with an abundance of prime spawning habitat for bass. In addition, it’s a flood control reservoir, and one of its most notable features is that water levels can fluctuate by more than 20 feet annually.
The water can also rise and fall substantially from day to day, which has a major effect on the fishing.
There can be both a deep and shallow bite at any time here, but conventional wisdom suggests that anglers should fish shallow when waters are high and deep when waters are low.
In springtime, anglers mostly focus on tributaries like Butcher, Eastland, Grassy and Nutbush creeks. The pre-spawn bite sometimes gets going as early as February, with Rat-L-Traps being popular early spring lures.
The post-spawn period from May into June is one of the best times to fish Buggs Island Lake. Water levels are usually high at this time, and the action can be nonstop along inundated shoreline buttonwood bushes, water willows and sweet gum trees.
Try a popper or buzzbait in the morning or evening, and switch to soft plastic worms and stickbaits during the day.
Buggs Island Lake is a storied multi-species lake. Among other articles on our site, you’ll fine it listed among the top crappie spots in Virginia.
Northern Virginia’s Occoquan Reservoir is a long, narrow water supply impoundment of 2,100 acres on the Occoquan River. It has always been known as a decent bass lake, but the fishery has really taken off in recent years.
In a 2022 report from the Virginia DWR, Occoquan Reservoir ranked number one in the state in terms of CPUE (Catch Per Unit Effort) for both medium-sized (15+ inches) and memorable (20+ inches) bass.
Or, to put it more simply, Occoquan Reservoir is the best place in Virginia to catch good numbers of bass with minimal effort. It’s hard to argue with that. Gizzard shad and alewives provide ample forage to keep the bass fat and happy.
Occoquan Reservoir offers a diverse assortment of cover, including plenty of shoreline water willows that commonly yield a lot of bass to spinnerbaits and soft plastics.
There’s also a decent amount of timber in the lake, which can be a lot of fun to explore with crankbaits, jigs and worms.
In summer, look for bass transitional areas like points and the mouths of coves. You’re likely to find bass in or around tributaries like Airport Creek and Sandy Run just about any time of year.
If there’s a downside to Lake Occoquan, it’s that the lake gets a lot of fishing pressure and other recreational boat traffic, especially in the summer.
Smith Mountain Lake
A popular recreation lake that has become a bass tournament staple, Smith Mountain Lake spans 20,600 acres in the Southern Piedmont region just outside Roanoke. It’s one of the biggest lakes in the state, and it fishes much like Buggs Island does.
Smith Mountain Lake offers both largemouth and smallmouth bass, including some real giants of both species. About 9 out of 10 bass caught here are largemouths, but the lake has some really big smallies.
Typical of big, sprawling impoundments, Smith Mountain Lake is fertile and a bit turbid in its upper reaches, but deeper and clearer close to the dam.
Pre-spawn patterns start to take shape toward the end of February, as bass are drawn from steep drop-offs onto flats and eventually into creeks and coves.
Although there can be great fishing in the upper lake this time of year, most anglers focus on the lower end in springtime because it’s clearer and easier to fish. Boat traffic is also lighter in the lower lake’s shallow coves, and an abundance of docks offer prime cover.
That being said, there can be great bass fishing farther up around the Roanoke River and Blackwater River. However, fishing up here can be tricky because the lake is so steep-sided, and it can be hard to get in the zone where fish are most active at any given day.
Finesse plastics on drop-shot rigs are ideal for exploring steep, rocky areas of the lake.
The spawn typically starts in April, with a few stragglers on their beds as late as June. Try sight fishing with wacky worms, soft jerkbaits and creature baits in the coves.
By summer, bass typically gravitate to stumps and brush in 15 to 25 feet of water.
One of the great things about Smith Mountain Lake is its abundance of easy access, including Smith Mountain Lake State Park.
Less than 30 miles south of Richmond, Lake Chesdin is a long, meandering reservoir on the Appomattox River. It has a bit of a two-sided reputation, routinely producing some of the biggest bass in Virginia, while also being notoriously hard to fish.
“Hard to fish” might be a little harsh, but Lake Chesdin can be fickle, seeming to turn on and off on a whim. You might strike out one day and clean up the next, or vice versa.
Largemouth bass are abundant and healthy in Lake Chesdin, and they’re very well fed by the lake’s bountiful gizzard shad.
Few lakes produce more 20-inch bass, and a fish that size could easily weigh 6 pounds here. As in most lakes, spring offers your best shot at a trophy.
Focus on Lake Chesdin’s creeks and coves during March and April. Whippernock Creek and Namozine Creek are excellent areas on the lake’s southern shore. A lot of bass spawn in these creeks in spring and return to them again in fall to feed.
The south side of Lake Chesdin features a lot of shoreline brush, trees, water willows, and some areas of lily pads. Soft jerkbaits and Senkos are great in these areas.
When the water is turbid, often the case in spring, try a spinnerbait or chatterbait.
The north side of the lake is more developed, with a lot of boat docks that can produce a good bite, especially early in the morning.
Cradled in the mountainous countryside of Pulaski County in Western Virginia, Claytor Lake is a 4,363-acre impoundment of the New River. It’s a unique lake that offers opportunities to catch all three native black bass species: largemouth, smallmouth and spotted.
As a general rule, largemouths are most common in Claytor Lake’s coves, while smallmouths are caught more often around rocky main lake structure. Spotted bass behave similarly to smallmouths, and are most common in the upper end of the lake.
The Peak Creek Arm is one of the best areas to target largemouths, along with coves toward the lower end of the lake, including Spooky Hollow and Texas Hollow. Largemouths over 10 pounds have been caught here.
Smallmouths favor rocky habitat, and some of the best areas include Dublin Hollow and the shoreline directly across the lake from it. There’s also some great structure along the shoreline between Spooky Hollow and Texas Hollow.
Toss minnow imitations like spinnerbaits, crankbaits and soft jerkbaits for largemouth bass. Smallmouths and spots more often respond to crawfish imitations.
In recent years, Claytor Lake has become infested with invasive Alabama bass, which are almost impossible to visibly distinguish from native spotted bass.
As a result, length limits on spotted bass have been dropped, and biologists from the DWR encourage anglers to keep their catch of spotted bass while releasing largemouths and smallmouths back into the lake.
Claytor Lake State Park offers fishing access, cabins and boat launch facilities. A free public launch with an ADA-accessible fishing pier is located at Harry’s Point.
A 2,880-acre flood control reservoir on the Smith River, Philpott Lake is located just a few miles from the North Carolina state line in the mountains near Martinsville, VA. It’s a popular fishing lake with a mostly-undeveloped shoreline.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are both available in Philpott Lake. While largemouths are considerably more common, smallmouths are a prized catch among many local anglers who catch lots of scrappy 3-pound-plus smallies here.
Most smallmouths are caught on rocky structure along the main river channel in the lower part of the reservoir. This area has a lot of rocky points that are productive, and the area around the dam is often excellent.
The lower end of the lake is usually very clear, and finesse fishing techniques fare best on a typical day.
Largemouths are more often caught around weed beds and fallen trees, which are quite common around the wooded shorelines of Philpott Lake.
Night fishing for bass is popular here, and bass commonly feed in shallow water after dark. Top spots for night fishing include the backs of creeks like Goblintown Creek, Stillhouse Branch and Bowens Creek.
As with Claytor Lake, non-native Alabama bass have been found in Philpott Lake since 2021. There is no limit on Alabama bass, and anglers are encouraged to keep all they catch.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates multiple boat ramps and recreation areas around the lake, including Philpott Park, which offers a campground and marina near the dam. Fairy Stone State Park provides access to the upper end of the lake.
Located on the Roanoke River just a few miles below Buggs Island Lake, Lake Gaston is a 20,300-acre reservoir that similarly spans the Virginia/North Carolina state line. It is often considered to be one of the best largemouth lakes in either state.
It’s easy to compare Lake Gaston with its larger neighbor just up the river, and the two lakes are similar in many ways. The biggest difference is that Lake Gaston has a greater abundance of aquatic vegetation.
The shoreline of Lake Gaston is highly developed, and fishing around boat docks is a fairly consistent pattern. Pitching and flipping soft plastics under and around docks is a great way to nab a few chunky spring largemouths.
Fishing around the abundant grass beds in the upper end of the lake is also excellent as the vegetation starts to proliferate in early summer. Try just tickling the tips of the grass with a shallow crankbait.
Creek arms like Poplar Creek and Great Creek provide some of the best bass fishing in the Virginia portion of Lake Gaston. While the majority of the lake lies in North Carolina, anglers may fish the entire lake from a boat with a valid license from either state.
A public boat launch is at the west end of the Hendricks Mill Road bridge on Poplar Creek. You’ll find another ramp toward the upper end of the lake at Steel Bridge Landing.
Nestled in the rugged Alleghany Highlands of Western Virginia, Lake Moomaw is a relatively high-elevation lake with deep, clear, cool waters that support one of Virginia’s best smallmouth bass fisheries. Rainbow and brown trout are stocked here as well.
Lake Moomaw lies along the Jackson River, where it covers 2,530 acres and offers about 43 miles of wooded, undeveloped shoreline. It’s a beautiful place to fish that rewards anglers with scrappy smallmouths that mostly range from 12 to 18 inches.
Much of Lake Moomaw’s shoreline is rocky, and it can be quite cliff-like in places, providing great smallmouth habitat. Look for smallmouths in shallow water in spring and fall, but focus on 20- to 25-foot depths in summer and winter.
Some of the best smallmouth bass areas include Coles Point and the area above McClintic Point.
Tubes, jig-and-pigs and jerkbaits are all excellent smallie lures here.
Largemouth bass are also available in Lake Moomaw, though they are outnumbered by smallmouths. Largemouths are most common around the flats and grass beds near the mid-section of the lake, particularly around Greenwood Point and the lake islands.
Some old roadbeds under the lake are productive for both smallmouth and largemouth bass. A mixed catch is common.
Lake Moomaw is within George Washington National Forest, which includes several recreation areas around the lake.
Best Bass Rivers in Virginia
Commonly ranked among the best smallmouth rivers in America and easily one of the best fishing rivers of any kind in Virginia, the New River is in a class all its own. Virginia state record smallmouth bass, walleye and muskellunge have all been caught here.
Stretching 320 miles in total length, the New River begins as a trickling stream in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It flows northward across Virginia, gaining a lot of steam by the time it crosses over into West Virginia.
Virginia’s share of the New River is typified by pristine mountain scenery, craggy cliffs and rocky banks, between which the river tumbles through beautiful runs, riffles and pools.
Much of the river is easily navigable by canoe or kayak, but there are whitewater stretches as well.
The Virginia DWR offers some great information on float trips on the New River. It is also easily accessible to bank fishermen along its length; New River Trail State Park is a 57-mile linear park that follows the river from Galax to Pulaski.
Anglers will find some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the New River from Foster Falls downstream to Allisonia. This whole section is loaded with superb rocky smallmouth habitat and is accessible via the state boat ramp just below the falls.
A little farther down, the New River is dammed to form Claytor Lake (see that listing above). Another outstanding stretch of water begins immediately below the Claytor Dam. There are some significant rapids in this reach, so plan your trip carefully.
Some consider spring the best time to catch giant smallmouths in the New River Others favor the relatively mild flows of summer, which make wading and navigating easier. Suffice to say, you can do really well here any time from April through September.
Crawfish imitations are generally the most effective lures for New River smallmouths. Tube jigs are great because they’re versatile and can be fished to look like a crawfish, a minnow, or just about anything else a bass might eat.
Flowing 348 miles from the Appalachian Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, the James River crosses virtually the entire state of Virginia, offering a diverse assortment of fishing opportunities along the way. Granted, the river changes quite a bit as it descends.
For bass anglers, there are a couple of enticing options: largemouths in the tidal James River and smallmouths in the middle and upper James River. The Fall Line, which roughly coincides with the 14th Street bridge in Richmond, is the dividing line between the two.
Let’s start with largemouths. The tidal James River is one of Virginia’s best largemouth fisheries, with a thriving population from Richmond down as far as Hopewell. Boaters can easily access this section by launching at Ancarrow’s Landing.
Salinity levels in the main stem of the river gets to be a little much for bass below Hopewell, but there are still pockets of great largemouth water farther down.
Tributaries like the Appomattox River, Powell Creek and Upper Chippokes Creek are often even better than the main river.
Largemouths in the tidal James forage on white perch, shad, and various other baitfish. A silver-colored Rapala Husky Jerk makes for a good all-around imitation.
Troll alongside channels that create significant depth changes, or cast to visible cover like docks, old pier pilings and weeds.
Know also that the tidal section of the James also hosts some of the best striper fishing in Virginia.
Above Richmond, there is excellent fishing for smallmouth bass. The middle and upper James River has a more rocky character, with long pools interspersed with shorter riffles, especially farther up above Lynchburg.
The area around Glasgow, where the James River merges with the Maury River, offers some of the best smallmouth fishing.
Locher Landing is a good place to launch canoes and kayaks in this section. Anglers should plan ahead for some rapids in this part of the river.
Numbers of larger smallmouths in the middle and upper James River have been low since 2015, though recent surveys have shown an abundance of 8- to 12-inch bass that should provide excellent fishing as they mature in the coming years.
Like the James, the Rappahannock River is Chesapeake Bay tributary that offers very different fishing experiences depending on which part of the river you fish. The upper limit of tidal influence on the Rappahannock is the Fall Line in Fredericksburg.
Above Fredericksburg, the Rappahannock River is an excellent smallmouth river. This section is also a designated State Scenic River, flowing through charming forests and farmland and providing great opportunities for single- and multi-day float trips.
Pools throughout the upper Rappahannock support a lot of healthy 12- to 16-inch smallmouths that get fat on crawfish, suckers and sunfish.
The 25-mile section from Kelly’s Ford to Motts Landing offers some of the best bass fishing and is a popular two-day paddle with campsites in the middle.
The Rappahannock fishes well in summer, when ample grass beds grow in many pools. Although smallies are generally not thought of as weed-loving fish, grass beds provide habitat for forage and slow the current, making them bass magnets.
Smallmouths are less common below Fredericksburg, where the river broadens and is strongly influenced by the tide. Although this area doesn’t get as much attention as some other tidal rivers in Virginia, it provides excellent largemouth bass fishing.
Largemouths relate to weed beds, sloughs, tributary mouths, fallen trees and various artificial structures in the tidal Rappahannock as far down as Port Royal. The best fishing is often during an incoming or outgoing tide.
The Rappahannock also is among the best catfish fishing rivers in Virginia, with plentiful channel cats in the upper river and some massive blue catfish down in the tidal zone.
Shenandoah River (North & South Forks)
The Shenandoah Rover offers a wide range of fishing options. For bass anglers, the best fishing lies not in the main stem, but in the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah, which merge in Front Royal to form the Shenandoah proper.
The South Fork Shenandoah is legendary as a smallmouth stream, with numerous parks and landings providing bank access and put-in/take-out points for half-day to full-day floats.
An especially productive section of the South Fork flows about 3 miles from the Newport Dam to Alma Bridge and is loaded with picture-perfect rocky smallmouth structure.
Trophy bass are rare, but an experienced angler can land 50 bass on a good day, many over 2 pounds.
There is also an underutilized largemouth population in the South Fork Shenandoah. Largemouths are most common in the deepest, slowest-moving pools, especially around weeds and fallen trees.
Shenandoah River State Park is another great spot on the South Fork. The park offers just over 5 miles of river frontage, with canoe landings and a campground.
The North Fork Shenandoah is a somewhat smaller river than the South Fork but also offers some truly excellent smallmouth habitat. The bedrock ledges between Edinburg and Strasburg provide some of the best spots on this fork.
Fly fishing for smallmouths is quite popular on the South and North Forks of the Shenandoah. Fly casters catch lots of quality fish using streamers, crawfish imitations and hellgrammite patterns. Poppers and terrestrials are also effective, especially in summer.
The Chickahominy is a tributary of the James River, and much like the James, its tidal portion offers some outstanding largemouth bass fishing. Largemouths weighing 1 to 3 pounds are common, and anglers catch quite a few 5-pound bass here.
The tidal Chickahominy River extends from Walkers Dam—which impounds Chickahominy Lake, a good bass lake in its own right—down to where the Chickahominy empties into the James River just west of Williamsburg.
Bass fishing in the Chickahominy is excellent in spring and remains consistent well into summer. The tidal influence continuously oxygenates the water, and as a result, bass continue to bite in shallow water long after they would head deep in most lakes.
The Chickahominy has numerous backwaters, sloughs and smaller tributaries that offer great bass fishing. Morris, Gordon and Diascund creeks are all prime bass spawning grounds that continue to produce in summer.
Scooting a Scum Frog among lily pads is a popular tactic, and Zoom Flukes and other soft jerkbaits are great for working over and around the prolific grass beds that grow here.
This river also has an abundance of cypress trees, which bass use for cover, and which give the lower Chickahominy the atmosphere of a Louisiana bayou. The only things missing are the alligators.
Bank access is available at a few spots, including Chickahominy River Park, which has a lighted fishing pier.
That being said, having a boat (even a canoe or kayak) is really essential to get the most out of bass fishing on the Chickahominy River.
Holston River (North Fork)
Meandering southwestward through the mountains of Virginia’s westernmost corner, the North Fork Holston River might be second only to the New River when it comes to trophy smallmouth rivers in Virginia.
There are few places in the state where you’re more likely to hook into a 20-inch smallmouth, and bass in the 12- to 15-inch range are very abundant. The river’s ample rocks, woody cover and classic riffle-pool-run configurations make it perfect for smallmouths.
If you’re out for a trophy, oversized baits seem to do the trick here. Big smallies often smack plus-size topwaters like Whopper Ploppers and Rapala Skitter Walks, especially on summer mornings and evenings.
Unfortunately, the North Fork Holston River has another reputation among Virginians, that of being one of the most polluted rivers in the state. The section from Saltville to the Tennessee state line is still under a mercury contamination advisory that dates back to the 1970s.
The fishing is outstanding throughout this section, but don’t even think about eating anything you catch there. Above Saltville, a daily limit of one bass over 20 inches is in place to enhance the trophy fishery. All bass under 20 inches must be released.
The Holston River is easily accessible to canoeists and has some lovely sections for float trips. Check out the 6-mile stretch from Saltville to the Route 80 Bridge or the 5-mile run from Mendota to Swinging Bridge Road.
Catch More Bass
Check out our simple guide to the best bass fishing tactics, lures and other tips.