Hooking up with Game Fish at SML

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Many characterize Smith Mountain Lake as an Angler’s Paradise. Benefiting from VDGIF (Virginia Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries) stocking programs, bass—especially the strong-fighting, great-eating “striped bass” (also known as “rock fish” when fished in coastal waters)—are plentiful. Those who opt for a half or full day with any of the lake’s professional fishing guides (search Laker Media’s Laker Magazine, June, 2019, for a partial list) typically net their limits and can enjoy a fresh fish dinner that evening. Stripers routinely run 16 to 18  inches (4-6 pounds, but “citation” fish–20 pounds/37” and up for stripers–are not uncommon. Slot limits are sometimes in effect to allow medium-sized fish to mature into trophy size. Serious fisher folk can join the SML Striper Club to hang out with others who share their passion and know the best baits and places to use them.

The nationally-televised BassMaster Classic was held here in 2007, and there is an annual spring Bass Classic. More localized tournaments are held most weekends. Prospective visitors can find schedules and other good fishing info at www.dgif.virginia.gov.

Pan fish can be easily caught off privaer docks, and there is a public fishing pier at the SML Community Park in Franklin County. Anglers must carry an inexpensive license (available in convenience stores and tackle shops, by phone or on line at www.virginia.gov) except for dock owners and their children fishing off their own docks.  Cove casting for stripers can yield impressive fish, especially when a “bait-fish boil” erupts within casting distance of dock or shore. Trolling with down lines, planer boards and umbrella rigs can all be productive, depending on season, water temperature, moon phase and weather conditions. Angling advice for visitors is dispensed freely anywhere bait and tackle are sold.

A local song praising the delights of SML proclaims, “You know, the fishing is fine for those who know where to try!”  Few leave disappointed by that promise.

Riding on the Winds

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SML is home to many sailing enthusiasts, and two sailing clubs (Blackwater Yacht Racing Association (BYRA) on the Blackwater River at Pelican Point and VISA (Virginia Inland Sailing Association) on the Roanoke near Bernard’s Landing—hold regular spring and fall races and regattas. Indeed, the months of April, May, September and October normally offer the best sailing breezes, whereas brisk sailing winds breezes are harder to find in summer months. Still, summer’s gentle breezes are perfect for fledgling sailors, and VISA offers a number of learn-to-sail programs for kids, using a fleet of Lasersand Flyhing Scots.

Pelican Point Yacht Club on the Blackwater has the most masts rising from its well-maintained floating slips, but sailboats can can be found in several other marinas as well. Vessels moored at home docks are often brought around to Pelican Point for  VISA’s class regattas, typically handicapped by the club’s race committees to ensure every crew has a chance to show on a given Saturday.

SML’s unusually deep water means even deep-keeled sailboats can roam without fear of grounding and find secluded anchorages for overnight stays or a cooling swim on a warm summer day.

Water Sports For All

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You’re sure to be dazzled at the array of water sports you can enjoy at beautiful Smith Mountain Lake. Water temperatures typically reach 80 degrees by early June and stay swim-comfortable right through September. Water is see-your-feet clear in all but the upper reaches of SML’s feeder rivers and creeks, and somehow feels extra refreshing in the deep coves down where Smith Mountain plunges right to the lake shore. For an especially memorable outing, take along a swim-platform picnic or evening hors d’oeuvres and anchor to float on noodles, life jackets or swim rafts.

Tow sports like tubing, skiing, wakeboarding and wake surfing are all the rage on SML: the adventuresome indulge and the more cautious enjoy watching from decks and docks. Tow-capable boats, both runabouts and pontoons, can be rented by the hour, day or week at nine different marinas. So can paddle boards and kayaks, but paddle craft often come with waterfront home rentals.

Sailing is popular and two sailing clubs host a series of spring and fall regattas for serious sailors. Power boaters can spend hours exploring SML’s many coves and creeks, poking in and out of countless coves and checking out lakefront properties.

Kids can enjoy catching sunfish right off the docks with no license required; professional guides will also help anglers find the lake’s great-eating striped bass. SML is home to some 24 on-water restaurants, and meal excursions by boat are popular. Fare ranges from fine dining to pizza, Mexican, burgers and other moderately-priced choices. An early-morning smooth-water run for pancakes and coffee is an absolute delight!

While there are a multitude of activities to beckon you out on and into the water, relaxing dock-lounging is also treasured activity here. Most lakefront properties have deep swimming water off their docks; some have gradual beaches. The SML Water Safety Council recommends that children wear life jackets whenever on, in or near the water.


Smith Mountain Lake State Park

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Smith Mountain Lake State Park

For our families’ annual week long vacation, like many, you will find us at a crowded, over commercialized popular beach spot somewhere along the East Coast.Craving something different, and looking for a weekend getaway my good friend suggested a spot that I hadn’t considered before- a State Park.

Hesitant, but curious, I booked a weekend trip for our family at a VA State Park. The result? “The best vacation ever”. Those were the words echoed by my two children, aged 9 and 12 at the time. How could this be? The cheapest vacation we have ever taken and it was the BEST?

Let me explain.
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