8 Great Summer Fishing Trips In Carolina

To an angler, nothing is more fun than taking a trip to a hot fishing destination. Here are eight for you to consider this summer. (July 2010)

Brian Newberger caught this blue catfish from the Cape Fear River near Tory Hole Landing using an eel for bait.
Photo by Mike Marsh.

North Carolina has so much incredible fishing water that picking out a few hotspots can be a serious problem. Anglers become so enthused over the pond, lake, river, stream, estuary or beach nearest their homes that they may overlook other obvious places where the fishing is even better.

With that in mind, here are our top picks for fishing, from the mountains to the sea.

SANTEETLAH LAKE
Located in Graham County just outside Robbinsville in the far western mountain region, Lake Santeetlah not only has excellent fishing, it has gorgeous scenery and great access. Surrounded along much of its shoreline by Nantahala National Forest, the 2,881-acre lake has a full pool elevation of 1,812 feet and once fluctuated substantially. It's an older lake, built in 1928 by Alcoa, and therefore had stretched beyond its most fertile time.However, the water level has recently become more stable and at a relatively high elevation, which floods some bank and forest areas, releasing more nutrients.

More than 75 percent of the shoreline cannot be developed, but the docks along the developed shoreline offer excellent fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass during the summer. Campsites are located along the shoreline where canoes can also be launched. There is a handicapped accessible fishing pier near the Ranger Station and several boat ramps.

By July the water is really heating up, so the best fishing will occur early and late in the day when light penetration is lowest. Largemouth bass anglers target the fish with topwater lures at first and last light. Propeller lures and walk-the-dog lures are the best topwater choices. But poppers and floating worms will also work well, especially when casting among the erosion-toppled trees that have fallen over, stretching into the water. These trees offer some of the best largemouth bass cover on the lake.

Smallmouth bass tend to head deeper in warm water conditions than largemouth bass. Smallies also love rocky cover. Therefore the best bets for catching smallmouth are the rocky points that taper to water depths of 30 feet and greater.

Patience is key to catching smallmouth bass and using a tube jig is the best bet for success. For the utmost sensitivity while probing the deep-water rocks, the jig should be cast on a very light line of 4- to 6-pound test monofilament or equivalent superbraid.

TOE RIVER
The Toe River System -- the North Toe, South Toe and Nolichucky rivers -- consists of rocky, shallow rivers and streams with bars, boulders and low-gradient and high-gradient beds near vicinity of Mount Mitchell State Park, a popular summer destination. Several roads wind along the river courses, providing public access to many stretches that can be fished from the bank, waded, or navigated in a kayak or drift boat.

The Toe River System has several designated "trout water" sections, but also offers catfish and panfish anglers some excellent bank fishing from highway rights-of-way. Trout are stocked into the upper end of the South Toe River and in the North Toe River from its headwaters to the Mitchell County line, providing a hatchery supported summer fishery.

But the highlight of these charming mountain waters is their superb smallmouth bass fishing. Exceptionally large river smallmouth are caught routinely from all three streams.

To catch smallmouth bass, anglers use light spinning tackle to cast inline spinners, jigs, topwater lures and stickbaits. Popping bugs and slider flies fished with fly tackle are also top choices for catching smallmouth bass. Trout can be caught in the hatchery-supported waters by anglers using bait, flies or small spinners. Trout water designations and public access areas are posted along the banks and located on the Commission's website, www.ncwildlife.org.

LAKE NORMAN
Lake Norman has many types of fish habitat. Located near Charlotte, Statesville and other population centers, it attracts lots of fishermen.

Bass fishing here is good, with the lake producing large numbers of spotted and largemouth bass. A good bet for summer bass is a soft plastic lure cast beneath boat docks. Buzzbaits and other topwater lures fished in coves in the evening will also catch bass.

Striper fishing is popular, with trolling at night one of the best methods. Stripers go deep in summer, so trolling the tops of submerged hills and the edges of the former Catawba River channel with deep diving lures is the best way to catch them. Live shad and other live baits also work well for catching suspended stripers.

The lake also has excellent fishing for blue catfish and flathead catfish. Best fishing for catfish is at night in the river channel and deep holes among the islands. Live and cut bream, small bullhead catfish, live and cut shad and eels are excellent catfish baits.

BLEWETT FALLS
Blewett Falls Lake near Rockingham and Wadesboro is one of the best, but least utilized, catfish lakes in the state. Catfish anglers can have the top spots, which are the plentiful stump beds and submerged creek channels, all to themselves. Many areas can be fished from one of the many campsites scattered around the lakeshore. There are three Commission boat ramps, with the landing on Grassy Island Road the best bet if the water is low.

The lake is chock full of catfish, with blue and flathead catfish the most abundant species. Cut shad is the best bet for blue catfish. A live sunfish, caught with hook-and-line, is the best bet for flathead catfish.

For blues, the deep holes where the submerged creek channels enter the main lake are prime habitat. For flatheads, fishing the fallen trees in the river channel or the stump beds in the shallows with a live bream fished on a float rig is a high-percentage strategy.

HARRIS LAKE
Harris Lake continues to inspire awe in the ranks of bass fishermen by producing many largemouth bass exceeding 5 pounds. The lake is exceptionally fertile, compared to most old-age piedmont lakes. At Jordan, this translates into faster growth rates for bass and other fish species, notably crappie.

The hydrilla beds create excellent bass habitat. Bass forage on prey species such as sunfish that hide in the beds and they also use the beds for summer shade. A soft plastic bait fished along the edge of a hydrilla bed

is a good choice. But weedless spinnerbaits and buzzbaits also work well.

During the heat of the day, using a jig to fish a rocky point is a good way to find fish. Another good bet is probing one of the feeder creeks with a Carolina-rigged soft plastic bait.

Crappie move to deeper water in summertime. Anglers use lights to attract the fish under the bridges. Live minnows and small tube jigs are the best bets for crappie.

CAPE FEAR RIVER
The Cape Fear River has produced several record-sized blue and flathead catfish and will continue swap records with inland lakes for these species. A rich forage base in the form of shad and eels helps keep these huge "pigs" well fed and ornery.

From the Tory Hole Landing near Fayetteville, anglers launch pontoon boats and johnboats in the late afternoon for a night-fishing expedition. Other good landings are located at Elwell Ferry and Lock and Dam No. 1 near Elizabethtown.

Mosquitoes can be a problem in the Cape Fear Lowlands at night so anglers should bring insect repellent devices and aerosols.

Cape Fear River cats can be finicky, so for the best opportunities, anglers present several different baits at the same time, using several rods to cover the entire width of the river channel with bottom rigs. A flattened river sinker and an 8/0 circle hook rigged Carolina-style is the best the bet for a terminal rig. Hooks can be baited with live panfish, live and cut shad, live and cut eels, liver, blood baits and commercial baits. Most anglers use lines of at least 25-pound test to combat the logs and stumps in the river.

Catfish can also be landed from fishing areas near the landings. The Lock and Dam No. 1 at King's Bluff has a picnic area. There is an excellent community park at Tory Hole landing.

CEDAR ISLAND
Cedar Island is a jumping off place, or jumping back on place, depending on whether you are riding the ferry from or to the Outer Banks during summer vacation. While it appears to be the end of nowhere, Cedar Island hosts some of the most fantastic inshore big-game fishing in the world.

Red drum and tarpon are big draws in the summertime and there is a boat ramp right next to the ferry landing. Red drum and tarpon can be caught during the day and at night. But night is the best time to catch red drum.

Other species that frequent the channels and bars along with tarpon and red drum include speckled trout, flounder, bluefish and croaker. The best way to catch tarpon is by cruising along, watching for signs of these big fish -- a mirror-like flash or a dorsal fin lolling along the surface. The boat is maneuvered near, but not too close, to the fish and big chunks of croaker or mullet are cast in a fan-pattern on bottom rigs with big circle hooks in the direction the angler has estimated the fish is moving. Big chunks of cut bait are also the best bets for catching red drum. These big "channel bass" move to the navigation channels and passes at night to forage and to spawn. It's not unusual to release a dozen of the monster red drum in a single night. For those not familiar with the area's bars and beacons, the best bet is to head out at dusk and return in the morning.

Special regulations terminal rigs must be used in Pamlico Sound and its tributaries to protect large red drum from being hooked too deeply. From July 1 to Sept. 30, fishermen must use circle hooks, short leaders and fixed weights when fishing between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. with natural bait and using hooks of greater than 4/0 in size.

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH
One fish that is high on every saltwater angler's list is the Spanish mackerel. These feisty fish form huge schools and arrive in early summer.

The best times for catching Spanish mackerel as the days grow hotter are early and late. The beauty of Spanish mackerel is that they are available near the inlets, where anglers in small craft make them easy targets, or from fishing piers, where all it takes to catch them is a spinning rod.

Spanish mackerel enter Masonboro Inlet and frequently jump near the rock jetties constructed to keep the inlet open. Trolling along the outside edges of the jetties is a great way to catch them. The best lures are spoons. Other good lures for trolling or casting are metal tube jerk lures and jigs dressed with tinsel or other tooth-resistant materials. These same lures can be cast to surfacing Spanish.

The artificial reefs nearby also attract big schools of Spanish mackerel, with AR 370, the Meares Harris Reef, one of the most popular fishing destinations in the state. Spanish mackerel schools are also plentiful along the beaches of Masonboro Island, which offers an exceptionally scenic trolling path when the fish are jumping just outside the breakers.

Johnnie Mercers Pier is another top destination for Spanish mackerel fishermen. The pier attracts plenty of Spanish mackerel at dawn and dusk. Other species in the area that may strike cast or trolled lures include king mackerel and bluefish.

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