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Virginia's Claytor Lake Produces New Record Spotted Bass
Congratulations to Cliffton Joel Hamilton for catching a new state record spotted bass in January! He caught this 4lb. 12oz. fish at Claytor Lake.
Claytor Lake, a 4,475-acre impoundment of the New River, stretches northeastward across the Pulaski County countryside for 21 miles. Possible catches from Claytor Lake range from bass to carp. Smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass (collectively called “black bass”) are the “bread and butter” fishes of this lake. About 50 percent of the anglers at Claytor Lake fish for “black bass.” The three black bass species in Claytor Lake are regulated by a 12 inch minimum size limit and anglers may harvest five per day (all three species combined). Anglers are encouraged to practice catch-and-release of trophy-size bass from the lake. Claytor’s steep and rocky shorelines make it particularly good for smallmouth bass. In 2016, Claytor Lake produced 8 smallmouth bass certificates (more than five pounds or over 20 inches).
Claytor Lake holds fewer largemouth bass than other Virginia lakes, and they grow slowly in this mountain reservoir. Claytor Lake’s largemouth bass populations appear to be increasing based on catch rates in fisheries biologists’ electrofishing samples. During the last Claytor Lake electrofishing sample in spring 2015, 46% of the largemouth bass collected over 8 inches long were over 15 inches long. Anglers can find largemouth bass in coves throughout the lake, but the best places to fish are Peak Creek, Clapboard Hollow, and large coves in the lower lake area. The Claytor Lake record for largemouth bass was a 14- pound, 6-ounce giant caught in June 1991.
Spotted bass in Claytor are generally smaller than the other black basses. Spotted bass in Claytor Lake do not grow as large as largemouth and smallmouth bass, rarely reaching 2 pounds in size, although the state record 4-pound, 7 ounce spotted bass was caught at Claytor Lake in March 2012. In 2016, Claytor Lake produced 8 smallmouth bass trophy award certificates (more than 5 pounds or over 20 inches), ranking Claytor Lake as the second-best large Virginia reservoir for trophy smallmouth bass.
Anglers fishing for black bass in the lake can use information collected on bass food habits during a recent study at Claytor Lake to select lures and techniques for these species. Smallmouth bass and spotted bass have very similar diets, with both relying mostly on crayfish. Techniques and lures that mimic crayfish are most likely to be successful in producing catches of these fish. Both of these bass species eat a lot of bluegill as well as some alewife and gizzard shad, so they may also hit lures that imitate fish. Largemouth bass diets are quite different than smallmouth and spotted bass diets, which may be one reason they are doing so well in the lake. Largemouth bass eat bluegill, alewife, gizzard shad, and crayfish, depending on the season of the year and whether these prey are abundant in a given year. Lures that imitate fish are the best choice for largemouth bass, but they may also hit crayfish imitations.
Striped bass and hybrid striped bass are the second biggest fishery at Claytor Lake, with nearly 20% of anglers fishing for these 2 species. Poor habitat conditions (low dissolved oxygen levels at their preferred temperature at depth) for striped bass in summer 2016 caused a striper kill, but recent angler reports indicate that this event was nowhere near a complete population die-off. Claytor Lake bait populations (alewife and gizzard shad) are high, so stripers are feeding well since fall 2016, so anglers are reporting some fat and happy stripers! Water temperatures below 70 degrees produce the best striper and hybrid striper fishing. While most anglers troll or float live gizzard shad and alewife for stripers and hybrids, many are taken with topwater baits (Redfins, Rapalas, etc.) and bucktails in the spring and fall. Trolling bucktails and umbrella rigs in 20-60 feet of water can produce good catches. Since they can tolerate higher water temperatures, hybrids often chase schools of shad at the lake’s surface at night in the summer months. Claytor Lake is the top destination for hybrids in Virginia, producing 13 trophy award certificate size hybrids (more than 8 pounds or 24 inches) in 2016 and setting a new state record with a hybrid weighing 15 pounds, 13 ounces caught by local angler Don Jessie on March 16, 2016.
Anglers should keep in mind that the harvest of stripers and hybrids is limited to 4 fish per day (the two species combined), all of which must be longer than 20 inches. White bass are regulated by a creel limit of five per day, with no size limit. Anglers should study the differences between these fish carefully. Helpful identification information is available on the Department website.
Anglers will also find schools of walleye in Claytor Lake. In 2016, anglers reported 6 trophy award certificate walleye (more than 5 pounds or 25 inches) caught from Claytor Lake. During fall, winter, and summer months, look for schools of these fish in the same areas where stripers hang out. During the spring spawning run, look for walleye where the New River enters the lake near Allisonia. From February 1 to May 31, from Claytor Lake Dam upstream to Buck Dam on the New River in Carroll County, no walleye 19 to 28 inches may be kept and anglers are limited to 2 walleye per day. From June 1 to January 31, walleye in Claytor Lake and the New River upstream from the lake are regulated by a 20 inch minimum size limit and a 5 per day creel limit. This seasonal slot limit is designed to protect large female spawning walleye in the New River, while allowing some harvest of the more abundant male walleye.
In 2016, anglers reported 11 trophy award certificate size yellow perch (more than 1 pound, 4 ounces or 12 inches). The black crappie population is not large compared to other lakes, but they average a little less than a pound in size. Bluegill are numerous throughout the lake, providing fishing action when other species are not biting. Flathead and channel catfish up to 20 pounds can also be caught from the lake. With catches of 20 to 30 pound carp possible, anglers from as far away as England come to fish for them at Claytor. For more fishing information, consult the most recent Claytor Lake biologist report.
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