Going to Smith Mountain Lake is a pilgrimage for dedicated bass fishermen. While I certainly share that dedication, I don't have the boat that allows full participation. This lake is just too big for the basscanoe.
When we put in on SML up at the Hardy launch point, we encountered a narrow, skinny sliver of the upper lake that supported a good couple of hours fishing with the basscanoe. The restricted inlet and coves up there were not wide to the point of going on an ocean voyage. That's the experience we had when we put in from the boat launch at Smith Mountain Lake State Park. This is big water. Like Lake Anna, big water does not fit the stability profile of a canoe.
But, being young (at least at heart) and stupid, we plopped the canoe in the water at the very nice double ramp and set out for a day of fishing. We did not get very far out when I realized that the far shore was very, very far away. One eyeball on the big boats churning the water and throwing up a huge wake, the skidoos with their speed crazed drivers, and the lumbering pontoon boats immediately convinced me we needed to duck to shore and stay there.
As we left the launch, the wind kicked up, pushing the basscanoe back. We headed east from the ramp and turned into a nice inlet in the crooked peninsula. It was out of both the wind and the wake area and not an attractive place for the skidoo guys, so we worked the shoreline structure while looking for anything interesting on the depth finder. I was obsessing about the long rod, so I had on terrestrial patterns in search of a lost bass or my buddies, the bluegills, while the Basswife worked spinners in the mid-depths.
The water depth varies widely here. It can go from submarine depth in the center to a nice sloping shelf by the shore. Most of the shore we visited had decent overhanging trees and bushes. I was surprised to see that the shore itself was clean as a whistle in most places. It was as if the dead trees had been picked clean and removed. This pushed me to try and find underwater structure with the depth finder. I looked for any hump or other feature that might indicate a holding area for fish. No luck in that regard on this trip.
I wish I had brought the map! When you look at the map, it shows the old contour lines from before the lake was filled up! This would have been a great tool to have in the boat as it shows the cuts where the bass hide. In particular, we should have gone south along the eastern shore to get to the deep drops off the inlets shown at the bottom of the map.
The Basswife stuck with spinners and picked up some small bass and a few larger bluegill. I had a field day with the terrestrial patterns - ants and hoppers mostly - that the bluegills ate with abandon. I did not get a hit from a bass, but was content with the constant bluegill action.
Remember to refer to my rating explanations - these are based on what I look for - so RED for Physical Fitness translates to easy physically - you do not need to be in shape to fish this section. I prefer terrain that is tough to get into and out of.
We worked the water from about 0900 - 1400 and then decided to head to the beach. SML Park has a very nice beach area with lockers to change in as well as a concession stand on a built up veranda. After changing, we parked on the western end of the beach and enjoyed watching a catfisherman pull in a few cats as he alternated between enjoying the water in the marked swimming area and fishing the other side of the rope. There is a huge picnic and event area in this park and it filled up quickly. Picnic tables, grills, kids, tents and frisbees were all over the place!
There is a launch fee of $3.50 in addition to the fee to get into the park. There is no place I could find where I could just dump the canoe in the lake - there is a sort of wall built up near the launch. The only picnic area that looked like it could have been used as a launch was already full of folks by the time we got here.
Bottom Line: Not really a good spot for the basscanoe. If you go here, go out with a guide or bring a real boat. You need power to blast away from the launch area to get anywhere. The boat launch was constantly busy. However, this is such a large lake, I don't believe I should rate it RED for pressure. It's easy to get to, plenty of water, not all that scenic, but a good destination if you have the right equipment.
Getting There: The best way to get directions is to go to Google Local and enter "Smith Mountain Lake State Park, VA". There are so many different directions you could come from that directions here would be meaningless.
Secrets Revealed? No. Smith Mountain Lake is listed as a key bass destination on the VDGIF site.
The views of the wide open spaces should convince you not to put a small boat on this water unless you are OK with hugging the shore. This is not the place for a transoceanic journey. The big boats will flip you with their wake - not on purpose - but they just kick out big waves.
With the beach here, you can do a dump and run with the kids and hit the lake while they swim and play.
In addition, you can always fish the shore next to the beach, the vegetation appeared to thin out a bit on its fringes - and that's where the Basswife picked up a nice bass - right around the rental boat dock that stretches into the lake from the left hand side of the beach area.