Consider Virginia’s Bear Creek Lake as the pearl nestled beneath the oyster in the heart of the shell. The 42-acre reservoir sits inside Bear Creek Lake State Park, which sits in the larger 16,000-acre Cumberland State Forest. The area is easily accessible from both Richmond and Charlottesville, but relatively undeveloped thanks to the vast state forest, which helps protect the landscape that was once home to the Monacan Indians. The terrain oscillates between flat bottomland and rolling hills covered with a thick pine and hardwood forest. Given the lake’s relatively small size, easy access and the state park’s top-notch facilities, fishing Bear Creek Lake is a breeze, even for beginners.
Anglers will find a healthy population of black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish and even channel catfish lingering in the dark waters. Largemouth bass are the species of choice though, with mature fish regularly hitting 15 to 20 inches in length. A concentrated system of hiking trails surround the lake and connect the state park with the greater state forest, while a developed campground and cabins make the park a multi-sport, multi-day destination if you’re looking for a weekend of adventure. There are even rivers and smaller lakes you can fish deeper in Cumberland State Forest if you’ve caught your fill at Bear Creek Lake.
Where To Cast
There are five fishing piers scattered around the edges of the lake, one of which is even handicap-accessible. The piers make an obvious and easy starting point for casting for the smaller species. Sunfish and other small panfish like to feed around established shelters like piers, so you’ll have the chance to pull in one small, feisty fish after the other without casting too far from the pier. For largemouth, you’re looking for submerged cover, like sunken trees and rapid changes in depth along the floor of the lake. Your best bet to catch largemouth is to take a boat and explore the heart of the lake, and fallen trees along the quieter coves. The lake is open to any human-powered boat and boats with small electric motors. Don’t fret if you don’t have your own; During the summer you can rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and small boats with trolling motors from the state park.
While You’re There
You can connect a series of short trails within the park to create a 3.1-mile hiking loop around the lake.
If you’re looking for more solitude, branch out and fish the Willis River, a tributary of the James that passes through the surrounding Cumberland State Forest. There are two boat launches on the river within the State Forest, and the 13-mile Willis River Hiking Trail traces the length of the river through the forest, though it is primitive and doesn’t get regular maintenance. There are also four smaller lakes within the forest, all of which have largemouth bass and sunfish.