9 Best Crappie Fishing Lakes & Rivers in Virginia

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Whether you call them speckled perch, specks or calico bass, it’s hard to imagine a better way to spend a warm spring day in Virginia than tossing minnows and jigs for crappies. 

Of course, you can also catch crappies year-round in Virginia. Fall and winter offer some surprisingly impressive crappie fishing opportunities, and even summer—traditionally the hardest season to consistently catch these fish—isn’t without its productive days. 

Black crappie and white crappie both inhabit Virginia’s waters, with black crappies being the more common species. They’re right at home in small ponds, large reservoirs, and even slow-moving rivers.

Virginia’s Best Crappie Fishing Lakes

Buggs Island Lake (Kerr Lake)

A sprawling reservoir on the Virginia-North Carolina border, Buggs Island Lake—also known as Kerr Lake or Kerr Reservoir—spans 48,900 acres at full pool. It’s known for offering some of the best crappie fishing in the Southeast, let alone in Virginia. 

White and black crappies are both common in Buggs Island Lake, with 10-inch fish being average. Anglers catch plenty of crappies weighing 1 to 2 pounds here, and occasional slabs over 3 pounds are possible. 

The Roanoke River forms main body of Buggs Island Lake. There are also several major creek arms and hundreds of smaller fingers where the best crappie fishing tends to be, especially in spring. 

Crappies in Buggs Island Lake spend their winters following schools of baitfish along the creek and river channels, and are commonly caught in 8 to 20 feet of water. They may be sluggish this time of year but will bite readily on minnows presented slowly.

From February through April, crappies move in stages from pre-spawn to spawn, heading farther back into the creeks. Bluestone, Buffalo, Butcher, Eastland, Grassy and Panhandle creeks are some of the best areas.

Letting your boat drift at a snail’s pace while spider rigging is the go-to tactic early in the season. As the water warms and crappies perk up, trolling becomes more efficient.

Chartreuse is the best color, especially in spring when runoff typically stains the water. 

Try tipping your jig with a minnow to make it more tempting.

Crappies gravitate to brush, which may include brush piles sunk by anglers and artificial reefs placed by the Virginia DWR. Then, when the water is up, look to flooded shoreline willows and sweetgums. 

Fishing around docks and bridge pilings can also be excellent in the middle and upper parts of the lake.

You will find excellent public access on Buggs Island Lake, including Occoneechee State Park and several state-operated Wildlife Management Areas. 

Some anglers have reported reduced catch rates at Buggs Island in recent years, due largely to the cyclical nature of crappie populations. Low recruitment during a particular spawning season can cause a temporary downswing, but a rebound almost always follows.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing at Buggs Island Lake (Kerr Lake)

Lake Anna

About an hour from Richmond in North-Central Virginia, Lake Anna is a 13,000-acre impoundment that is best known as one of the best largemouth and striped bass fisheries in the commonwealth

Crappies may often be overshadowed here but are not to be ignored. Lake Anna is a prolific crappie lake that routinely produces 10- to 12-inch black crappies in astonishing numbers. The crappie population tends to have a healthy size distribution too, with some fish up to 3 pounds. 

Lake Anna is formed by the confluence of the North Anna River and Pamunkey Creek, and the best crappie fishing is mostly above the point where the two arms meet, referred to as “the Splits” in the parlance of local anglers. 

Throughout much of the year, anglers can find crappies along the main North Anna River and Pamunkey Creek channels, particularly areas where the channels swing close to the bank and provide easy transitions from deep areas into shallow coves and feeder creeks.

Bridges are also essential. There are half a dozen major road crossings above the Splits (Route 522 alone crosses the lake three times). Bridge pilings provide year-round crappie habitat that fish can use to quickly transition between deep and shallow water. 

Rock piles, stump fields and especially brush piles up these two major arms also provide key crappie cover. The best brush piles have been sunk by anglers right along drop-offs to the river channel at 15 to 18 feet. 

Crappies invade shallow waters to spawn in March and April, and this is most anglers’ favorite time to catch them.

There’s outstanding spring crappie fishing in grass and water willows along the shoreline of the North Anna Branch and around docks and stumps in the Pamunkey Branch.

There’s often an excellent shallow bite well into May most years, after which crappies return to deeper haunts.

Several access points are available on the lake, including Lake Anna State Park.

More: Complete Guide to Lake Anna Fishing

Smith Mountain Lake

Another lake that is better known for bass and stripers than for crappie, Smith Mountain Lake is still worthy of slab enthusiasts’ attention. This 20,600-acre reservoir just outside of Roanoke produces lots of 12- to 14-inch crappies. 

That being said, the relative lack of ideal crappie spawning habitat limits the crappie population somewhat, so it’s best to have a quality-over-quantity mindset.

Smith Mountain Lake is generally steep-sided and has more rocks and timber than the brushy habitat crappies prefer.

This is also something that anglers can use to their advantage because the best crappie fishing in Smith Mountain Lake tends to be concentrated in a few key areas.

First, focus on major coves in the reservoir’s two main arms. 

Coves that have fallen trees, brush piles and docks tend to be top spots for crappies. The best overall habitat is far up in the Roanoke River and Blackshire River arms.

The prime months for crappie fishing here are March through May and October through December. 

If you had to pick one area to start looking for crappies in Smith Mountain Lake, it would be Gills Creek, off the Blackshire River Arm. Crappies stage around the mouth of this creek along the channel in winter, and a good string of warm days will trigger them to head shallow. 

Water clarity at Smith Mountain Lake is generally good, but the lake may be a bit stained in springtime. Jigs in bright colors like hot pink and chartreuse work best when visibility is reduced, and adding a minnow is a great way to sweeten the deal.

Smith Mountain Lake has a lot of quality bank and boat access. The Scruggs #9 Boat Ramp is a great place to start, with concrete ramps, bank fishing access, and a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier near Gills Creek.

More: Complete Guide to Smith Mountain Lake

Chickahominy Lake

A long, meandering reservoir on the Chickahominy River, Chickahominy Lake is one of the best crappie lakes in the Tidewater Region of Eastern Virginia. This 1,230-acre water supply reservoir supports a lot of black crappies measuring 11 inches and up. 

Crappies activate when water temperatures creep up into the low 50s, which usually happens in March here. When it does, expect to see fish move from the main river channel into the many small, snake-like creeks that feed Chickahominy Lake. 

A lot of the best creeks, particularly Lacey Creek and Johnson Creek, are located on the northern shoreline of Chickahominy Lake. Crappies spawn here in April, when the water temperature passes 55 degrees.

Key areas are creek channel edges that transition to shallow spawning flats.

The lake offers some unique habitat, with abundant shoreline weed beds and flooded cypress trees that give it a look and feel more like a Louisiana bayou than a Virginia reservoir. Casting jigs and minnows around cypress trees and knees is a great way to generate bites.

Chickahominy Lake also has a decent yellow perch population, and they often snap up crappie jigs. You may catch the occasional largemouth bass or chain pickerel too.

After crappies spawn, try trolling Roadrunner jigs between 1 and 2 miles per hour for hungry post-spawn fish. Crappies gradually transition back toward deeper main lake structure in late spring, so start shallow and work your way deeper until you find fish.

Public access to Chickahominy Lake is a bit limited. One of the best options is Ed Allen’s Campground, which includes boat launch facilities and a bait & tackle shop.

Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir

An outstanding small reservoir in the Tidewater Region, Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir was created in 1989, making it a relatively young reservoir. It’s known as a phenomenal panfish lake, with abundant black crappies as well as bluegill and redear sunfish. 

Beaverdam Swamp Reservoir covers just 635 acres, but it has an abundance of flooded timber and aquatic vegetation that provides ideal crappie habitat. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the reservoir also harbors prolific schools of tasty, bite-sized 2- to 3-inch gizzard shad. 

Crappie fishing often picks up as early as January and improves as winter turns to spring. Much of the lake is shallow, so it warms quickly.

The western shoreline usually provides the best spring crappie bite, especially the Route 606 arm of the reservoir. The best fishing may be along the outside edges of timber and weed beds, as opposed to areas right up against the bank.

The lake is accessible through Beaverdam Park, which includes two access sites with bank fishing, boat ramps, and a fishing pier. Boats are limited to electric trolling motors and non-powered craft only, making this an ideal lake for kayaking.

As a smaller lake, Beaverdam Reservoir is particularly susceptible to overfishing. The Virginia DWR encourages anglers to practice selective harvest, returning some of the larger crappies back to the water to maintain quality broodstock.

Lake Chesdin

A long, narrow reservoir built as a power and water supply in South-Central Virginia, Lake Chesdin has long been known for its seemingly inexhaustible crappie population. That said, it’s more of a numbers lake than a trophy fishery.

Crappies measuring 8 or 9 inches are most abundant, but there are certainly bigger fish in Lake Chesdin. Anglers land enough 3-pound crappies here that they shouldn’t be considered a mere fluke. Black crappies are most common, but white crappies are often bigger. 

As is true of many Virginia lakes, spring and fall are the best seasons to target crappies.

Creeks and coves all along both sides of the reservoir attract spawning fish from February through April, with Whipponock and Namozine creeks being a couple of the best areas.

Lake Chesdin is relatively easy to fish when crappies are in shallow water because it has a lot of visible cover, like boat docks, fallen trees, and partially-exposed brush piles. So it’s not hard to find fish by casting minnows and jigs around obvious structure. 

A handful of public access sites, as well as privately owned marinas, provide opportunities to fish by bank or by boat.

Shorebound anglers often do well along the Route 623 bridge, which spans Whippernock Creek right next to Whippernock Marina and Campground.

Lake Chesdin also has been on the upswing as one of Virginia’s better saugeye and walleye fishing lakes.

Tidal Rivers

Crappie anglers will find some of the best fishing in Virginia in the tidal portions of rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay. These fisheries are especially good in winter and early spring, when crappies congregate in predictable shallow spots, often much earlier than they do in Virginia lakes. 

Potomac River

Forming the border between Virginia and Maryland, the Potomac River offers some incredible spring crappie fishing opportunities in its lower tidal reaches. Crappies congregate in shallow areas when water is in the 50s or below. 

That means the fishing can be excellent in fall, but it’s especially good from January through the spawn in April. In late winter and early spring, anglers commonly catch crappies in just 2 to 5 feet of water, especially in the smaller creeks that feed the Potomac. 

Aquia Creek may be the best of them, offering excellent crappie habitat and easy access through Widewater State Park. Let your boat move parallel to the shoreline, making casts toward the bank as you go until you start picking off a few fish.

In addition to Aquia Creek, other great areas include Potomac Creek, Little Hunting Creek, and the Occoquan River.

There is a very real tidal influence, and crappies usually bite better during an incoming or outgoing tide than on slack tides. 

The lure of choice is a 1.5-inch tube jig on a 1/8 or 1/16-ounce jig head. Crappies can sometimes be picky about color, so bring a variety. Some combination of black, chartreuse, white and red usually does the trick.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing the Potomac River

James River

Much like the Potomac, the tidal James River is a great place to fish for crappies in winter. The bite never fully shuts down unless the water temperature dips below 40 degrees.

Fish will stack up around vertical cover like docks, bridge pilings and bulkheads. 

Crappies like to seek out the warmest water they can find in winter, and one place, in particular, draws them like a magnet: the Chesterfield Power Station. Warm water from the power plant discharges into a series of barge pits along the old James River channel.

The area is accessible through Dutch Gap Conservation Area, which has a fishing pier and canoe/kayak launch, and via the nearby Dutch Gap Boat Landing, which can accommodate larger motorized craft. 

This area is usually productive until April, when the water near the discharge gets too warm for crappies’ liking.

Crappies disperse among weed beds and woody cover on the main river, and can be hard to catch with any consistency until fall, when the river cools again.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing the James River

Chickahominy River

The Chickahominy River is a major tributary that empties into the lower James River. The tides strongly influence the section of the Chickahominy below Walkers Dam, and a substantial crappie population makes its home here. 

The best spots are the small to mid-sized creeks that feed the Chickahominy River, including Gordon Creek, Nettles Creek and Morris Creek. In early spring, crappies congregate up in the backs of the streams, and if you time it just right, the fishing can be phenomenal. 

By late March or early April, the best fishing will be right around the last navigable areas before each creek becomes too flat and shallow to enter with a boat.

Cast live minnows under a bobber, or work your way along the shoreline with Beetle Spins and small jigs.

Chickahominy Riverfront Park is an excellent spot to fish, offering a boat launch and lighted fishing pier near the mouth of Gordon Creek. The pier lights draw crappies after dark.

Anglers often catch some nice yellow perch in this area too.

Catch More Crappie

What are the best lures and baits to catch crappie? How about rods, reels and line? Find the top crappie fishing tips and techniques in our simple how-to guide.