MONETA, Virginia — By nature, most anglers are tight-lipped when it comes to sharing information about their secret fishing spots no matter their location.
Well, for hundreds of anglers — and a few hunters, too — in central Pennsylvania one of the worse-kept secrets on the East Coast is Smith Mountain Lake, located less than an hour’s drive off Interstate-81 east of the Shenandoah Valley. For decades Pennsylvania sportsmen have been towing their fishing boats and packing their pickup trucks with bows and firearms and traveling to this scenic and productive region to fish for smallmouth, largemouth and crappie bass and trophy stripers and hunt deer and spring gobblers.
Smith Mountain Lake is a 40-mile long reservoir formed by the Blackwater and Roanoke rivers with a footprint of more than 20,600 acres and in addition to bass contains a variety of popular fish species such as walleye, catfish, yellow perch and bluegill. Prior to 2000, all the state-record stripers were taken from the lake, but that year a 53-pound, 7-ounce fish was taken from its sister lake, Leesville, and broke the 49-pound, 4-ounce record from Smith Mountain.
Constructed in the early 1960’s and owned by American Electric Power Company, which manages it primarily for hydroelectric power generation, the flooded trees and structure beneath the surface provides ideal fish habitat. Black bass are usually found in water between 10-20 feet and in the summer typically hold in coves to feed and avoid boat traffic — which is why most anglers begin morning trips before sunrise.
Anglers can realistically expect to catch stripers weighing between 5-15 pounds at Smith Mountain Lake, which has taken steps to protect the fishery — and perhaps regain the state record. A successful stocking program that began in 1963 has the population on the rise, and anglers are restricted to a two-fish limit and there is a slot limit from November 1-May 31 that requires all fish between 30-40 inches be released.
There are numerous camp grounds, marinas and vacation rentals along its more-than 500 miles of fishable shoreline and one of the most popular go-to destinations for out-of-state anglers is Spike’s Good Time Fishin’ operated by USCG-licensed captains Spike and Kathy Franceschini, who each guide from a spacious 22-foot deck boat that can accommodate six anglers and can provide lodging in their waterfront vacation rentals.
Spike’s customizes trips for anglers of all levels of experience, which was ideal for a recent two-day charter for two Pennsylvania anglers who treated their niece and great-nephew to their first fishing charter. In a classic case of beginner’s luck, former Danville High softball player Kim Overstreet caught a 13-pound striper and her son, 9-year-old Gabe, caught a 14-pound striper and a 21-inch, 6-ounce smallmouth bass that qualified for a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Citation.
Stripers are distributed throughout the lake during most of the year, but both captains target the lower lake areas during the summer and early fall months. Anglers targeting stripers should bypass coves and concentrate their efforts on the main lake when water temperatures begin to rise.
During their stay the two Pennsylvania anglers met up with some friends from home to have lunch and share fishing stories. Those anglers were making their annual trip to Smith Mountain Lake — their not-so secret getaway for them and many of their friends.