Editor’s note: Smith Mountain Lake fishing guide Travis Patsell provided this week’s SML fishing report.
Water temperatures are hovering around the low to middle 60’s. A lot of fish are spawning or getting ready to as May arrives. Here’s what to look for.
Stripers: With the cooler than normal temperatures this spring a lot of fish are still spread out around the lake. Reports from all reaches of the lake are good and mostly run in the same manner. Myself and other striper fishermen using large gizzard shad are finding larger stripers prefer those jumbos over Money Maker gizzard shad (hand/average size) and alewives. Don’t count out the smaller baits for larger fish, though. Fishing the live bait behind planer boards and floats is still your best method right now for targeting stripers with live bait. Running the baits behind the planers and floats on free lines and light lines is a good method to try. Light lines are weighted 1⁄4 – 3/8 of an ounce. With the baits trailing behind roughly 6-15 ft., that mostly depends on the depth of water your fishing. With the cool water, look for fish to be in the 5-30 ft. range. Downlines baited with alewives are catching a fair share of fish as well. Focus your baits over points, flats and contour changes along the creeks and river channels. Also, look for the stripers to still be hanging around and in the creek arms of the lake. Don’t overlook cutbait and livebait bottom fishing of shad and alewives for stripers. Fishing the baits on Carolina rigs or downlines below an anchored boat, fishing basically the same areas as trolling livebait can be effective. Fishing this way can catch catfish and bass as well as stripers. Tip: when fishing large baits, use a 6/0-9/0 hook.
Fishing artifiical lures for stripers right now is excellent. Although I’m hearing mixed reports of the night bite. With the cooler water temperatures the alewife spawn has just not really come into full swing yet. But night anglers fishing top water favorites of Thundersticks and redfins are having some success. Also, shallow running plugs of F18’s, bombers and yozuri crystal minnows, etc. are catching fish. With the shad spawn don’t be surprised to set the hook on catfish on a regular basis as well. Casting flukes on light weighted jig heads and bucktails are also catching fish at night. The most popular method is to retrieve with a slow rolling action at night.
During the daylight hours the same lures mentioned above as well as the LT Burnettes Swamp Monkey lure are good lures of choice. Focus on main and secondary points and flats and rip rap banks.
Catfish: Look for Flatheads and Channel cats to be moving around water in the 5-20 ft. range early and late in the day. Also with the shad spawning and alewife starting to spawn, look for both catfish to be feeding with the rest of the lake’s predators. Right now you can actually target them on artificial lures. Keep in mind, the catfish won’t spawn until June so try to release the larger fish for their breeding.
Crappie: The Crappie have spawned mostly and moving into shallow water. They can be found on wood and dock structures. Fishing weedless jigs and grubs as well as minnows on slip corks around the shallow structure is the best method right now. I have Heard of a lot of number catches, but the larger crappie seem to be sparse.
Bass: LT Burnette of SML Bassmasters offers his report that bass fishing has really picked up over the last few weeks with the warmer weather finally settling in. The lake has been in the 62-67 degree range and that has brought a huge wave of fish into shallow water. The annual spawning rituals have begun and lots of nice fish are being picked off the beds. Various plastic baits fished either Texas rigged or on a shaky head will be a good choice here.
The gizzard shad are also spawning which has opened up a really good spinnerbait, chatterbait, and Alabama rig bite early in the morning. The alewives are beginning their nightly spawn routine but it has not stabilized yet. Look for that bite to be better and better within the next few weeks. Jointed thundersticks, redfins and long a bombers will be a good choices here.
Tip of the month: I can’t express how important it is to have polarized sunglasses during this period of the year. They will allow you to see fish and fish holding structure that you will otherwise miss. Calcutta, Strike King, and Solar Bat make really nice polarized glasses and won’t break your budget. Costa Del Mar and Oakley also make really good shades but are on the higher end of the market.
Remember to practice selective harvest. Release the trophy fish for the future.
Good luck, be safe, and good fishing!