By Peter Brookes
Photos by Meghan Marchetti/DWR
When Jack Frost blows into Virginia in the winter every year, a lot of anglers get off the water, put down the ol’ rod and reel, pick up a trusty rifle or bow, and head to the hunting grounds to chase game. Nothing wrong with that—winter brings hunting season after all.
But if you’re looking for a way to beat cabin fever, there are good fishing opportunities in the Old Dominion if you can pull yourself away from the warm glow of that potbelly stove.
I understand if you’re a little skeptical about the idea of winter fishing—I mean, brrrrr!—but hear me out.
Sure, cooler water temperatures can mean that fish go deep and get a bad case of “lockjaw” in winter. That can certainly make the fishing tougher—and less fun—not to mention the ever present possibility of cold fingers and toes.
But if you’re aching to wet a line in winter, Lake Anna in Spotsylvania County is a good choice.
Indeed, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ (DWR) fisheries biologist John Odenkirk told me recently that if any body of water in Virginia “was made for winter fishing, it’s Lake Anna.”
That’s quite a claim. But it turns out that Lake Anna’s waters are warmed by a nearby nuclear power plant that sends its (clean) discharge into the lake year-round. (Lake Anna was created in the early 1970s as a water source for the plant.)
The discharge increases the 10,000-acre lake’s ambient temperature which, despite the cool winter air temps, turns up the appetite of the striped bass and hybrid striped bass (aka “wipers”).
That’s bad for the baitfish, but good for the winter angler!
Current DWR regulations permit keeping four 20-plus inch stripers and or wipers per day. That’s certainly achievable in the wintertime, according to Odenkirk.
In terms of fishing, these fish can be suspended in the water column at just about any depth in winter, which makes having a boat with an electronic fish finder helpful. Besides casting at fishy-looking spots, anglers with boats often troll with—or without—bait for stripers and wipers.
Even more fun is the possibility of some top-notch top-water action—yes, in the winter—as the stripers and wipers slash at bait just like you might see stripers do on the Chesapeake Bay. Casting with conventional gear or a fly rod into “boils” of stripers and wipers hitting bait fish on the surface can prove to be some super exciting fishing—with high hook-up rates.
While a boat is certainly helpful for getting around this big body of water, stripers and wipers can also be targeted from the shore at the Dike 3 access in the lake’s southern section, where the power plant’s warm water flows in. Just be careful: While the water may be warmish, if you happen to fall in and get soaked, it’s still winter when you come out.
Just say “No” to hypothermia. And always, always, wear your life jacket if you’re in a boat.
Another fun fact about Lake Anna that Odenkirk shared with me is that this huge Virginia fishing hole west of the town of Fredericksburg is unique in that it’s both a “meat” and “sport” fishery.
Besides stripers, wipers, and black crappie for catching, keeping and eating (if desired), Lake Anna is also a terrific largemouth bass sport fishery that reportedly draws anglers from well beyond the Old Dominion. And don’t rule out hooking into a largemouth bass in winter!
Another bonus is the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Lake Anna State Park, which offers hiking, rental cabins, and outdoor programs. It also has a fishing pond, a boat ramp, and bank fishing on the lake.
Let’s face it: Winter can be tough on the angler, forced indoors and off the water by (an inconsiderate) Mother Nature. But with DWR striper and wiper stockings of nearly 200,000 fish every year in Lake Anna, think about—carefully—casting a line there this winter.
Dr. Peter Brookes is a DC foreign policy nerd by day and a award-winning Virginia outdoor writer by night.