By Debbie Adams
Greg Mitchell of Vinton landed the “catch of a lifetime” at Smith Mountain Lake around 10:30
a.m. on the morning of Nov. 12. The fish he reeled in from his boat was a 38.5-pound, 51 and
3/4-inch-long muskie. Once the official paperwork is complete, the muskie will most likely turn
out to set a record for 2023 at the lake. In a few months, it will be mounted and hanging on
Information from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (Virginia DGIF)
indicates that there is “low potential” nowadays for catching a muskie at SML, so this was quite
Mitchell was fishing for stripers that day with friend David Wimmer on the Roanoke River end
of the lake–a favorite spot–when he encountered the “very aggressive” muskie. He was using a
20-monofilament line, not the heavier line usually recommended for catching muskies. Their
extremely sharp gills and teeth cut mono lines in two.
Research shows that most fishermen catch muskies on accident when angling for something
else—like Mitchell. Their first clue is when their line “takes off.”
He and his fishing buddies use live bait from Smith Mountain Lake, which they catch with
net–live gizzard shad, and that’s what he was using when he caught the muskie.
Mitchell says that once he hooked the muskie, it came out of the water about 20 yards out
“walking straight up in the air on the water.”
He contacted a biologist from Virginia DGIF to begin filling out forms to document the catch.
The local game warden believes this muskie might be the largest one caught in the whole state in
2023, let alone Smith Mountain. He’s the one who described Mitchell’s muskie as “a once-in-a-
lifetime catch.” Most large muskies are usually found in the New River or the James River.
Most muskies live to be 10 to 15 years old, and the one Mitchell caught was probably reaching
the upper limits of its lifespan.
Mitchell has been a member of the “50-Pound Club” since catching a 53-pound. striper on his
first-time fishing for striper on the Chesapeake Bay. That’s another favorite fishing spot, along
with the Pamlico Sound. He caught another 52-pound striper and has citations for all his big
Striper is his favorite gamefish–with memories of fishing with his grandfather “all the time”
when he was young.
He fishes year-round—except during July and early August. He fishes at SML all the way from
Niagara Dam to Hales Ford Bridge and all over the lake. He and his friends also travel to a lake
in Tennessee for striper, where the water is colder. There they use trout for bait.
Mitchell says in his spare time, he is nearly always fishing, often with long-time friends Wimmer
and E.B. Padgett of Roanoke. Padgett is a regular winner of striper tournaments at the lake and
introduced Mitchell to fishing in Tennessee and on the Pamlico Sound. He says Padgett has
taught him most of what he knows about fishing for striper and is “the man” when it comes to
that particular fish family.
He says four or five buddies out fishing and relaxing “have a blast–it’s therapeutic.”
The last record set for muskies at SML was in January 2021 by the late Eddie Trent at the mouth
of Lynville Creek. His catch weighed in at 38 pounds, 2 ounces and measured 46 and 1/2 inches
Smith Mountain Lake reservoir was “created” in 1963 with the building of Smith Mountain
Dam. In 1966, the lake was stocked with 5,000 muskies, but their population has diminished
over time. The lake is now most well-known to fishermen for its striped bass.