I was introduced to a new mountain gem this weekend. I considered myself an outdoor guru of Southwestern Virginia but more and more I'm finding new and hidden places that I had never heard of. This weekend on a fishing excursion, I was escorted to Laurel Bed Lake. On top of Clinch Mountain, at the borders of Smyth, Russell, Washington and Tazewell Counties, the man-made lake surface of 330 acres rests at 3674 feet above sea level. Being so far up and away from the closest town of Saltville (elevation 1718) made me want to find out why this lake was built. With most lakes in my area, they are to either provide water to a town nearby or electricity. It appears that Laurel Bed was made just for us to enjoy and to provide the state with additional fishing fee reveue. In an effort to find something digging a little more deeply into the history of the lake than what the site above told me, I came across the Laurel Bed Lake Liming Project. The article below by Dr. Dan Downey lays out a history of the lake as well as the efforts to preserve a habitat for native fish and eradicate an aggressor that was not intended to be in the lake.
Obviously a large lake in a Wildlife Management Area provides an opportunity for fishing even if the main reason for its existence is stream flow augmentation. Thus the lake was stocked with brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and included as part of the fee area. Unfortunately there were problems in the development of the fishery from the outset. It soon became apparent that low pH - acid conditions - were the cause of much of the trouble here. The watershed of
In 1996, the new fisheries biologist for the region, Tom Hampton, was handed the task of "re-making the bed" - to try to restore the fishery as before. Tom asked Dr. Dan Downey of JMU, who has done extensive research on surface water acidity and liming in
By the spring of 1998, it was apparent that the brook trout had not only survived through the winter, but had grown and were doing quite well. Netting in the fall of 1998 revealed that they had grown to nine to thirteen inches in this one year period. A second lake liming was then conducted in October 1998 with over 150 tons of aglime slurried into the lake. Another 22,000 brook trout fingerlings were then introduced. The netting and other surveys revealed that the red-eye sunfish population had returned, either as a result of illegal introductions by fishermen or because they were not completely exterminated when the lake was down. After careful consideration, 8000 smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) fingerlings were introduced to provide a predatory fish which could control the red-eye sunfish. Smallmouth bass had previously been stocked in this lake years ago but had not survived. That was done, however, when the pH was low. Electrofishing along the shoreline in the spring of 1999 revealed that the smallmouth bass survived the winter and were doing well. There were large numbers of brook trout in the lake in the 10-14" range, with a few fish near 16" length, indicating a healthy population and good growth rates. By the year 2002, the lake had also become an outstanding smallmouth bass fishery with some bass exceeding 17" in length.
As mentioned above,