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Fishing in the Parks

Fishing with Dad

Come wet a line!

During a competitive tournament a few years ago with tens of thousands of dollars on the line, professional bass fisherman Denny Brauer saw a young couple quietly angling with worms while sitting together on a dock. He reflected, "It doesn't get any better than that."

Fishing can be intense and competitive or calming and contemplative.

You can capture fishing moments in Fairfax County, because fishing is legal in Park Authority waters unless posted signs say otherwise. A valid Virginia fishing license is required for people 16 years and older, and Virginia fishing regulations apply.

Come try your luck in these Fairfax County parks:


Fishing Riverbend Park
Like chasing smallmouth bass? Riverbend Park is the place to go. The park is on a bend in the Potomac River, the water flows clear, boulders create hiding zones, and the water temperature stays in the smallmouth's comfort zone. There are sunfish, catfish and other species. You can catch fish from shore, and it's a great place for children to fish. The better catches come from boats.

There's a launch ramp for small craft, you can rent a fishing rod or a jon boat on weekends, and there are fishing supplies available. Riverbend offers fishing instruction and fishing classes, a summer fishing camp for 9-to-15 year olds, and birthday fishing parties. You also can arrange for a guide. Either a Maryland or Virginia freshwater fishing license is valid, but the park does not sell them.


Fishing Burke Lake
Burke Lake is a 218-acre, state-owned public fishing lake. Fairfax County owns the parkland around the lake. There's a 24-hour state launch ramp exclusively for anglers near the dam. The Park Authority maintains a ramp and accessible courtesy pier that's usable during park hours at the midlake marina. Use of gas motors is prohibited. There's a large, accessible fishing dock near the marina and smaller accessible abutments between the state ramp and the dam.

Burke Lake may be the best muskie water in northern Virginia when fish are shallow in late winter and early spring. State surveys show it has the top largemouth bass population out of 19 popular northern Virginia impoundments. Burke has a healthy gizzard shad base and is heavily fished. Because of that, the bass are tough to catch and tend towards deeper waters rather than shoreline shallows. The lake also has channel catfish, bluegill, white perch, yellow perch, redear sunfish and an occasional walleye and blue catfish.


Lake Accotink (55 acres) in Springfield
Lake Accotink was drained in 2011. It has not been restocked, but some fish have been transferred into it from other Park Authority lakes. It is generally considered a below-average fishing water. Because of siltation, it is a shallow lake of six feet or less, and fishing generally centers on bluegill and catfish.


Fishing Lake Fairfax (18 acres) in Reston
Although fishable year-round, spring is the premier time for fishing at Lake Fairfax . Thousands of pounds of safe-to-eat rainbow trout are stocked in the lake then. Bi-weekly stockings run from February into April. A Virginia fishing license is required along with either a one-day or a seasonal trout fishing pass available at the site. There are one-pole and six-fish limits. The lake is very accessible for shoreline fishermen.


Ellanor C. Lawrence Park
Walney Pond has sunfish, bass and catfish. Access is easy. The one-acre pond is probably a better place to take children rather than a destination for advanced anglers or those looking for a fresh dinner.


Hidden Pond Nature Center
Although there is fishing at Hidden Pond, the success rate is poor. The docks, however, make it a handy place to teach children about fishing. It's a catch-and-release site.


Braddock, Huntsman, Mercer, Royal and Woodglen Lakes:
Built for flood control in the Pohick Creek watershed between 1970 and 1985, these lakes range in size from 18 to 43 acres. Generally, they hold a standard mix of bass, sunfish, crappie and catfish and are average fisheries. They occasionally produce large catfish and good-sized largemouth bass, and they can be good places to dangle worms for small bluegill. Housing backs up to them in several places, so be sure to stay on public land. Lake Braddock is surrounded by housing, and there is no public access to its waters.

Huntsman Lake was drained in 2014 for structural work and restocked with fingerlings in fall 2014 and summer 2015. Quality fishing probably won't resume there until 2016 or 2017. Details of the work are on our blog.

Hiking paths almost completely encircle the other lakes, and each is easily reachable, although it's a short hike uphill from the parking lot in to Mercer. Shoreline access is limited in summer by flora. Small craft, like canoes, are legal, but gas motors are not.


Are they safe to eat?
PCBs are a health concern in some county waters. There are restrictions on eating eel, catfish, carp, bass, bullhead, perch and sunfish in the Potomac River basin. Conditions and health advisories can change.

The Virginia Department of Health issues fish consumption advisories. Visit that agency's website with advisories for Fairfax County waters.


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Two Fishing


Generally in winter and summer, fish are in deeper water. In spring and fall they might be in shallower parts of a lake. In lakes, deeper water is usually at the dam end and shallower water is uplake. On a big lake, pick one creek or cove and think of it as a small lake, deeper at one end. Pick a spot to start based on where fish should be at that time of year.

Next, look for something different. Imagine you're walking on a street that has only one building, and inside is a restaurant. Where would you find people? In that restaurant, because it has food and shelter.

Fishing is like that. In your cove, look around. What's different? Look for a stump, a fallen tree, a beaver dam, grass, a point of land, a dock piling, or an edge where grass gives way to rocks. What if there are lots of fallen trees? Well, which one is biggest? Which one is closest to the creek channels that fish use as highways? Think about what the fish see, and keep asking what stands out as different. That's where the fish are often found.

Water depth is critical to catching fish. If you catch one, throw your lure or bait back to that same depth. A bobber can help. Start with your bait a couple feet deep. If you get no bites, set your bait a foot or two deeper. Keep changing depth until you start catching fish, and then keep your bait at that depth.


Recycle Monofilament Fishing Line

The Fairfax County Park Authority partners with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to recycle monofilament fishing line. Please use the line recycling bins at county parks. Monofilament line left outdoors can be deadly to wildlife.

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