Smith Mountain Lake fish mystery solved

Outdoors Bound

MONETA, Va. (WFXR) — It is a photo that has raised a big question for a week.

“Where did that walleye come from?”

We’re talking about a walleye caught last week out of Smith Mountain Lake (SML) by angler Luke Bailey while fishing with Hartman Guide Services. Walleye have not been stocked in SML for more than 20 years. Once that photo hit social media, it seemed everybody had a theory about how it got there.

Some theorized that the fish was part of a very small naturally-reproducing population still in the lake from those stockings decades ago.

Others suggested the fish was caught in Philpott Lake or the New River and illegally transplanted to Smith Mountain Lake.

The truth is far less spectacular and certainly not sinister.

Apparently, that fish came into the lake from right next door.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR) has been looking into reports of walleye caught recently at SML, and biologists think those fish are getting into the lake from Leesville Reservoir, just downstream of the Smith Mountain Lake Dam.

So how does that work?

Appalachian Power operates the Smith Mountain Lake Dam and sometimes needs to pull water back into the lake from downstream. That means bringing water through the intakes from Leesville Reservoir. Leesville has a healthy walleye population. The VDWR theorizes that when that water is returned to Smith Mountain, walleye hitch a ride.

So, could walleye re-establish themselves in Smith Mountain Lake?

The VDWR says no, that the lake lacks the spawning habitat walleye need.

Despite that, biologists expect walleye to occasionally make their way back into SML via Leesville. So, if you catch one, enjoy the novelty.

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