Every few years a hurricane hits North Carolina, particularly the state’s coastal region.
A mammoth storm, Hurricane Irene, slammed the state August 27 but didn’t cause much wind damage. However, rain poured in buckets, as storm bands spread 100 miles inland to the west, flooding the low-lying coastal plain with precipitation measured not by inches but in feet.
Total U.S. damages were estimated at $10-$15 billion. But that measurement of destruction didn’t include what Irene did to the largemouth bass living in the state’s eastern rivers, nor to a huge recreational fishery that’s been all but erased.
Normally a person would think, “Rain, it’s just water, and that can’t harm freshwater fish.” But conventional wisdom, as has been shown in the past, is almost never completely right.
Read on to discover what Irene did to eastern N.C. bass, as well as how the Piedmont and Western regions of the state came through the storm unscathed and should host excellent fishing during 2012.
COASTAL PLAIN BASS
Jeremy McCargo, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s fisheries biologist for District 1 (northeastern N.C.) described his region’s fishing situation succinctly.
“Things are changing in District 1 because of Hurricane Irene,” he said. “Basically, the hurricane had the same effect as Hurricane Isabel in 2003.”
Isabel produced a fish kill of epic proportions in the Roanoke and Chowan rivers that took years to overcome.
In some of the smaller rivers, McCargo said Irene’s fish kills weren’t as lethal to bass, and anglers still should have success.
“If I were fishing for bass this (2012) spring at such places, I’d throw spinnerbaits and the topwater bite should be good,” he said.
Two eastern N.C. lakes — Lake Phelps (Washington County) and Lake Mattamuskeet (Hyde County) — escaped Irene’s wrath.
“Phelps always has been a good lake in the spring, even though the last three years when we did electro samples they were down,” McCargo said. “But that was related to a 3-year drought; they didn’t get a good spawn when the lake level was so low. It should be better this year.”
Phelps has “a lot of bass” in the 2- to 4-pound range, he said, and anglers may keep five bass, but none in a 16-to-20-inch slot.
“Spring’s the time to fish Mattamuskeet,” McCargo said. “Bass are bedding and will be found mostly in the canals. But fishing has been just okay the last couple years.”
The standard 14-inch, five-fish limits are in place at N.C.’s largest lake.
But in District 2, biologist Justin Homan said Irene killed bass in the Northeast Cape Fear, Neuse, Tar and White Oak rivers.
“The only river we didn’t get a fish kill was the New River (east of Jacksonville),” he said. “From Aug. 31 to Sept. 12 in Washington and New Bern there was no oxygen in the water.”
Some anglers also reported dead, floating striped bass near New Bern.
The best largemouth lake in the District likely is Sutton Lake near Wilmington.
“But it’s kind of cyclical,” Homan said. “It’s got a fast-growing population, but there’s not a lot of older fish. (The waters) do get extremely hot.”
Progress Energy has a nuclear power plant on the lake’s shoreline. But weeds periodically choke the lake, making fishing impossible. After Progress sprays to kill aquatic weeds, it takes four to five weeks for the lake to clear, so best fishing occurs during January, February and March.
During normal years, the Neuse and Tar rivers have good spring bass fishing along with Tranter’s Creek.
“At the Northeast Cape Fear usually you’ll find fewer bass, but they’ll be in good conditions, some 3- and 4-pounders but not a lot of 5-pounders,” Homan said.
Along the lower Cape Fear River, anglers can be surprised by spotted bass in the section from Riegelwood to Lillington.
In District 3, Shearon Harris remains the top largemouth bass lake in the state.
WRC biologists regularly electro-shock 100 bass per hour at the 4,000-acre Wake County lake.