By Capt. Steve Chaconas
Built in the late 60’s and filled ahead of schedule by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, Lake Anna is the second largest lake located entirely in Virginia. Named after the North Anna River, dammed to form the 13,000-acre cooling “pond” for the North Anna Power Station, Lake Anna generates electricity for 450,000 homes and provides thousands with outdoor recreation!
As with many fisheries, they experience a boom after being stocked and produce numbers and size of bass. But as nature takes its course, many also experience a lull as forage and habitat decline. This decline can take years or decades to rebound, depending on the climate and other environmental conditions. Anna’s mid-life crisis was not unexpected.
BASSMASTER Magazine conservation writer, Robert Montgomery has seen many bass reservoirs experience declines. Strict fishing regulation enforcement and abundant recently flooded cover provide a great nursery habitat for young fish and great ambush cover for bass and other gamefish. But trees rot, grass dies, and hard bottoms become covered with silt. Mother nature has been compromised by father time.
In the 1970’s, plant and marine life became abundant and warm water discharged from the power station helped sensitive fish species thrive during cold winters while expanding bass growing and bass fishing seasons. Anna was becoming one of Virginia’s premier fishing lakes. Late into the 1980s, Hydrilla became established and grew like a weed! Grass carp, stocked to rid Anna’s warm side of snaggy hydrilla making its way into Virginia Power’s cooling systems, escaped through dikes separating the two sides of Anna. The carp virtually eliminated the grassy habitat in the 90’s.
For most anglers, Lake Anna fishing declined during the mid 90’s, many dubbing it the Dead Sea. Guides and anglers who had fished Anna since it had water, longed for the hydrilla heydays. In the mid-1990s they welcomed the return of sub-aquatic vegetation. Water Willow grass also provided habitat for bass and targets for bass fishermen.
John Odenkirk with the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) recently released a Lake Anna Fisheries Report indicating the proclamation of the death of Lake Anna might have been premature. A turning point occurred in 2006 as successful fisheries management resulted in 32 citations. The success continues today as indicated by tournament results and VDGIF surveys.
Improved fishing success led to the changes in creel limits. Prior to 1985, a 12-inch size limit (five per day) was placed. After that, it was changed to a 12 to 15 inch protected slot in 1985 in an effort to help restructure the largemouth bass population. As the popularity of catch-and-release bass fishing became prevalent, VDGIF creel data indicated over 99% of bass caught at Anna were released and this eliminated the need for any type of restrictive harvest restrictions and the slot was dropped on July 1, 2006.
Today pleasure boating and jet skis that didn’t exist in the “old days” are churning weekend waters challenging local anglers. Increased opportunities with grass, points, tree remnants, brush piles and docks make it possible to catch fish even when the lake is crowded.
Successful anglers might have a spot and are able to try their next spot, like a golf course. On Lake Anna, there are many holes available. Less crowded weekdays provide more options and action.
Grasses have returned and baitfish abound. Anglers looking for big bass and large numbers of fish visit Anna and warmer water from the plant make this an awesome year-round fishery.