With hurricane Hannah sure to ruin the fishing over the weekend, the Basswife and I headed out on Friday to visit Lake Pelham. Pelham is rated as one of the top 10 bass lakes in Northern Virginia so we were anxious to see if that also meant that you did not need as much skill. Would there be so many fish here that there might be a few dumb ones left for us?
In my previous post on Mountain Run Lake, I commented on the agony associated with obtaining the necessary permits required to fish on both Mountain Run and Pelham. To recap, to fish on either of these lakes, you need to go to the Culpeper town hall and buy both a fishing and boating permit. Without these licenses you run the risk of getting a ticket. They do check from time to time at the boat launch so please be aware of that.
The launch site for Lake Pelham contains plenty of parking, a porta-potty and terminates in a nice flat concrete boat ramp. We unloaded the canoe from the truck, geared up and launched/lurched to run aground in the shallow water. Apparently Pelham is low right now – maybe as much as a foot below normal. Ouch. If you have a boat that draws more than a few inches, be prepared to pull your way into the deeper water of the lake.
We were able to skim most of the way, but I did have to use a foot over the side into the thick muck of the bottom to move us about 30 yards. It’s about 100 yards of intermittent pushing and pulling to get out to the point where I could drop the trolling motor and proceed under power. As you can see from the map above, I marked the points in our track where we hit 4 feet and 6 feet deep. I was amazed that so much of the lake could be so shallow. I did not expect to find any bass in shallow water in the middle of summer, so we proceeded on to the southern portion of the lake with the intent of fishing up the far bank in search of deeper water and more fish.
It was not until we started to work the eastern bank that the water got to be consistently 6 or 7 feet deep. As we drifted the shore line, we started to pick up small bass in the 6 to 8 inch range, but nothing very big. We were using typical plastic lures — Gulp and Powerbait worms or grubs. I was amazed at the number of small bass that would attack my black worm within 10 feet of the boat. You could see them following the lure even though the water was very murky. I got a kick out to trying to twitch and dance the bait to provoke a last minute strike. It actually worked a few times!
About halfway up the east bank, our luck changed and the Basswife picked up a nice 12 incher. This was at about 1 PM and the action picked up from that point to when we left the lake at approximately 3:30 PM.
After cruising the eastern bank, I decided to move to the other side of the lake and fish north for a bit before we headed back. On the way over, I noted that the water became noticeably clearer – not as much murk; probably because of the increased depth. The farther north we moved, the clearer the water and more fish showed interest in what we were heaving into the water.
About halfway up the western bank, I picked up a nice 16 inch largemouth; he hit the worm about 10 feet from the canoe and after a brief struggle, I had him in the boat.
Bottom line: Go to the east or west bank – don’t bother with the section down near Rt 29. The western side appeared to have more structure and the fish seemed a tad more cooperative over there. We never got into the northern end of the lake, but I bet it is the best section based on the increasing clarity of the water as we moved north.
I’m giving this a Green for pressure. The filter of permits, shallow water at the launch and trolling motors only probably keep the real pros with the real boats off this lake. We were impressed by the constant action and appreciated the adrenalin bump even if it just turned out to be a smaller bass. Finally, you cannot fish from the bank here. You must use a boat.
The VDGIF indicates that this lake is great for catfish. We spooked up 4 huge ones coming back into the launch area.
Getting There: Both Mountain Run and Pelham are just south of Culpeper off of Rt 29. Look for the sign for Mountain Run Lake road on Rt 29. On the way in, the turn for Pelham is marked (Henretty Drive). You will make a right turn and the launch is about 100 yards down from the turn.
Google Local Coordinates: 38.463778, -78.045729
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a public location that is documented on the Virginia VDGIF website.
Looking north from the center of the lake
Looking south – you can barely see Rt 29
High end homes surround the lake – no bank fishing
The big guys are here. This largemouth hit 16 inches
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore