Hungry Mother Lake, a 108-acre impoundment full of opportunities to explore nature.
By Matt Reilly
Photos by Matt Reilly
Before America won its independence, Native Americans raided a settlement in what is now Smyth County in southwestern Virginia. A mother, Molly Marley, and her small child were captured and transported to an Aboriginal camp. One day, the two men escaped captivity and fled into the surrounding mountains unequipped to survive, in search of food and in search of help and safety. After several days in the bush, Molly succumbed to starvation. Her child continued, stumbling along a stream until help was found, exhausted and with only the strength to utter the words “starving mother”. Molly was found dead soon after at the base of the mountain – or so legend has it.
In honor of their epic, the mountain became known as Molly’s Knob and the creek as Hungry Mother Creek. In the early 1930s, young men from the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the land and dammed the creek to form Hungry Mother Lake and Hungry Mother State Park, where the official opening ceremony of the Virginia State Parks System was held in 1936.
Today, Hungry Mother State Park is a quiet place to visit. Although located a few miles from I-81 and the town of Marion, the park is isolated in the mountains, but offers a number of amenities that make it the perfect summer destination for travelers and anglers. . Hungry Mother State Park is a site on the Clinch Mountain Loop of the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail and offers viewing opportunities for several species of wood warbler, neotropical migrants, waterfowl and shorebirds, several species snakes, gray tree frog, golden frog, and bullfrog with 12 salamander species recorded in the park, including dusky mountain, spotted, black-bellied, northern slimy, and green salamanders.
The crown jewel of the park is the 108-acre Hungry Mother Lake, a lake managed by the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and one of the largest impoundments located entirely within a state park in Virginia. The park maintains a universally accessible fishing pier for those who do not wish to fish from a boat, and excellent shore fishing access exists via a trail that circles the lake and via several stops off Route 16. park rents canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, paddle boats, and jon boats from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and a boat launch on the southeast arm of the lake allows private boaters access for a small entry fee of $7.
The boat launch at Hungry Mother Lake in Hungry Mother State Park.
All the entrance fees incurred to fish the lake are well worth it. For a little restraint, Hungry Mother offers a wide variety of sport-grade fish to target.
“Hungry Mother provides anglers with good opportunities for largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, walleye, hybrid striped bass, river catfish and musky,” said Steve Owens, fisheries biologist at DWR. “Recent fisheries surveys have shown that all sport fish populations appear healthy and provide anglers with a desirable size structure. The main food base of most large predatory fish is gaspereau.
The structure of Hungry Mother Lake helps maintain an excellent fishery.
Although largemouth bass is, by far, the dominant species of black bass, smallmouth bass and spotted bass exist in smaller numbers in the lake, with spotted bass being the second most plentiful and small bass being a distant third. This makes it a great place to attempt the Virginia Bass Slam Challenge!
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Hungry Mother fishery is its sheer number of predatory fish populations that are most often found in large reservoirs and holding ponds, such as walleye, hybrid striped bass, and muskellunge. . Walleye fishing is generally best in the lake from late winter to spring, especially around the spring alewife spawn. “Hybrid striped bass fishing can be very good in the spring and summer, with many fish incidentally caught by anglers targeting catfish,” Owens said. “Muskie fishing is best from fall to early spring.”
Private boaters should be aware that gasoline engines are prohibited in the lake. Those wishing to use alewife as bait for hybrid striped bass, catfish, walleye or any other predatory fish are permitted to use cast nets for collection.
In an area relatively sparse with small reservoirs for flatwater anglers, Hungry Mother Lake is a gem. Its impressive diversity and overall health make it an ideal destination for anglers looking to explore the southwestern corner of the state, and the amenities of Hungry Mother State Park make logistics easy.
Matt Reilly is a full-time freelance writer, outdoor columnist, and fly fishing guide based in Southwest Virginia.