Buggs, Harris and James offer the best June bass fishing in North Carolina.
North Carolina has three temperature zones, except for deep summer when sizzling heat and humidity blanket both the piedmont and coastal regions. The mountains remain comparatively cooler 12 months a year.
The largemouth prespawn, spawn and postspawn differ at regional lakes because of water temperatures relative to weather conditions. Understanding these differences can be the key to choosing successful bass tactics in the Tar Heel state.
When anglers figure out temperature differences, they know what lures and tactics to use at lakes inside a specific region for specific months. From there it’s simple: lures, line strengths and casting targets work similarly from one lake to another.
Here’s a look at three regional lakes, where bass will be and how anglers can catch them during June.
BUGGS BASS BITE
John H. Kerr Reservoir is partially in the eastern piedmont, but it shares topography with the coastal plain’s western edge. At 49,500 acres, the lake (aka Buggs Island) is shared by two states, North Carolina and Virginia, at territories first explored and mapped by explorers William Byrd II and Edward Moseley in the early 1700s.
Of course Buggs didn’t exist then. It became a lake after its huge mile-long dam impounded the Roanoke River in 1953. Today Byrd’s ancient mapped dividing line splits the lake on an east-to-west axis.
Happily for anglers, fishing licenses for both states are valid anywhere on the lake.
Buggs always has had good numbers of black bass and forage species. In the last decade, anglers introduced blueback herrings and alewives (to boost striper sizes), and these new forage fish joined minnows and threadfin shad as snacks for predators. Bass also eat snakes and frogs that swim near the shore.
Anglers quickly adopted lures to match the shape, size and colorations of native prey species.
Joel Richardson of Kernersville, a fishing guide (336-803-2195) and pro bass angler, rates Buggs Island as his favorite lake because catching bass during different times under various conditions and at widely ranging habitats has been a classroom for him.
“If you can figure out how to catch bass at Buggs any month of the year, you can catch ’em at any lake (in the United States),” he said. “It’s got extremely deep water to real shallow water, mid-depth water, humps, islands, flooded road beds and railroad tracks, rocky and red clay banks, willow bush-covered shorelines, flooded timber, bridge pilings, points with gum trees, pea gravel shorelines, thousands of sunken trees (placed by anglers), spawning flats, stump fields, submerged rocks, lots of feeder creeks and coves, and the Corps (of Engineers) lowers the water level big time each winter.”
During early June, Richardson favors topwater fishing; later he finds bass at mid-range depths.
“I love catching bass with topwater lures,” he said. “June is the best time. Most bass are coming out (of shallows) toward deeper water, starting their summer migration. A lot of them will be on long, tapering points. But the topwater bite isn’t necessarily (confined to) the first thing in the morning. They’ll bite even on sunny days the first half of June.”
He casts Zara Spooks, Pop-Rs, flukes, floating worms and buzzbaits. He wants lures that mimic shad colors or blueback herring (black backs, light-color bellies).
“That’s the big pattern at Buggs,” Richardson said. “But I’ve seen it sometimes the water will be in the (willow) bushes if there’s been a lot of rain. I think the fish are still in there because that’s where the food (baitfish) will be. It’s about a 50-50 chance water will be in the bushes.
“I’ve seen guys win June tournaments by flippin’ (plastic worms, jig-and-pigs and creature baits in shallow water). Guys fishing a little deeper might catch more fish, but not the biggest ones.”
Of course the most consistent bites will be offshore from spawning flats later in the month.
During the second half of June, Richardson changes tactics.
“Then I use Carolina rigs with soft plastics and medium-diving crankbaits,” he said. “In normal years most bass will be 10 to 15 feet deep.”
As for lure colors for mid depths, he tries to “match the hatch” with green-pumpkin, Junebug or red shad.
“You can catch fish on stumps, but most of the time, bass will be oriented on rocks,” he said. “But sometimes they suspend over hard bottoms — good places for Carolina rigs or crankbaits. Those baits have won a lot of tournaments at Buggs Island.”
For topwater fishing, Richardson likes to spool his bait-casters with 17-pound-test monofilament or 10-pound-test braid line.
“For Carolina rigs I like 15- or 20-pound-test monofilament,” he said.
For crankbaits he strictly uses 10-pound-test braid.
“You can get the depth you need out of a crankbait with 10-pound braid,” he said. “If you spend a lot of time cranking’, you learn how deep 10-pound braid will run (a lure). If you use heavier line, (a lure) will run shallower. Lighter line runs deeper.”
Most June largemouths will average 2 to 3 1/2 pounds, but 4- and 5-pounders aren’t that rare.
“Sometimes it takes 17 or 18 pounds (five-bass limit) to win a tournament,” Richardson said.
Pro Tip: Bass in the Grass
BASS NEAR THE GRASS
At 4,500 acres, Shearon Harris Lake in Chatham and Wake counties (30 minutes south of Raleigh) resembles “a really good bass pond,” said Kirk Rundle, the WRC’s District 3 fisheries biologist.
Guide and tournament angler Jeff Thomas of Broadway (919-770-4654) knows Harris as well as the rod compartment in his Ranger bass boat.
“The first of June is the best time to be out there,” he said. “That’s generally when the topwater bite comes on strongest.”
“Most people are sight-fishing (for the last waves of spawning bass in the submerged aquatic vegetation along the shore), but June is topwater time for me.”
Thomas said Harris has so many largemouth bass they can’t spawn at once but have to wait their turn. But by June the major spawn will have ended, with only a few stragglers left.
“June is when two things are going on — the spawn is over so fish move into their summer patterns, and that triggers a big topwater bite,” he said.
Several types of vegetation encircle the lake, including elodea, milfoil and hydrilla, often extending 20-30 feet from shore. In early June, though, the weeds have yet to become thick and matted.
“The water chestnut has just started growing and a (soft-plastic) frog or a buzzbait is good to throw because (the surface grass) has (open) lanes in it,” Thomas said. “You can get a lure back into it and work it out.”
He usually begins casting a buzzbait at shoreline grass then might switch to an imitation frog.
“The black (color) frog I throw the most, but I don’t know if color makes that much difference,” Thomas said. “I’ll throw a Spro frog first if an area isn’t so thick. If I can’t get a buzzbait through it, I’ll throw a Horney Toad frog.”
Of course, casting artificial lures into heavy vegetation requires strong tackle.
Thomas uses a 7-foot, 2-inch heavy-action Skeet Reese model Eagle Claw rod with a Reese Eagle Claw bait-caster spooled with 20-pound-test monofilament line or 17-pound-test braid.
“You’re throwing a frog into heavy cover, so it takes strong line to get a bass out of there when you get hooked up,” he said.
A crucial frog hook-setting technique that causes anglers trouble is uncontrolled excitement — when a bucketmouth blows through the grass like a panicked submarine, often anglers try to set the hook too quickly, and frog gets pulled out of fish’s mouth.
The best ideas are (1) don’t be slow to react but (2) be sure the fish’s weight causes resistance (or pull) on the rod a second after a bass heads for the bottom. And (3) as soon as an angler feels that “pull,” they should jerk the rod tip skyward as hard as possible.
In addition, largemouths often attack surface lures at weed beds so ferociously they knock a frog several feet into the air. If an angler simply reels in slack line and allows the frog (or rat) to sit, then twitches it once, an excited lunker often will smack it again.
“As the month progresses fish move out into their summer haunts, 10 to 15 feet or deeper,” Thomas said.
That’s when he uses football jig-and-pigs or diving crankbaits.
“(Harris bass) are a little more predictable to me in June,” Thomas said. “Maybe it’s because they’re more eager to bite.”
Sometimes he jigs a flutter spoon, a big-fish lure.
“I fished one June day at Harris with an outdoor writer, using a flutter spoon and caught a couple of 8’s, a 9-pounder and one female that would have weighed 11 or 12 pounds before she spawned her eggs,” he said.
If he is fishing over 10 to 15 feet of water with topwater lures, Thomas likes a 6-foot, 8-inch medium-heavy rod to throw a buzzbait, flutter spoon or jig with a reel spooled with 17-pound test monofilament.
“I don’t like braid with the flutter spoon,” Thomas said. “The line tangles up or wraps around the spoon, then you’re cutting off a lot of line.”
Anglers enamored with trophy bronzebacks won’t find better water than Lake James, the first impoundment of the Catawba River chain set in the picturesque Appalachian Mountain foothills.
Craig Price of Denver, once a dedicated striper and bass guide at Lake Norman (704-996-0946), has branched out and now regularly takes clients to James, especially during spring.
“It’s beautiful up there, the weather’s usually good in June, and you can catch the biggest smallmouths in the state,” he said.
Although the 6,812-acres lake 50 miles east of Asheville is the largest impoundment close to the west’s largest city and gets extensive fishing pressure, relatively few anglers have solved its secrets.
“Smallmouths live deep mostly,” Price said. The lake’s average depth is 65 feet, with the deepest part 110 feet at the dam, so any smallmouth that wants to get deep, can.
“Because of the (lake’s) elevation and water temperature, the spawn is about two weeks behind piedmont lakes,” Price said. “But the best bite is like everywhere else, on topwater during the post-spawn.”
Price said smallmouths are schooling fish, and June is the top time to see them corral baitfish at the surface and do a Freddy Krueger on them.
“If they get on top and start busting baitfish, we throw topwater lures such as Zara Spooks, Pop-Rs, typical walk-the-dog type lures or shad-looking soft-plastics,” he said. “Sometimes we tie on a small lead weight to help soft-plastics get a little deeper than the top.”
Price said June smallmouth fishing is the flip-side of November.
“Smallmouths start orienting on points,” he said. “But you don’t have long, tapering points at James. A point might be only 100-yards long, and smallmouths can push shad or herring right up on top of it. They also school in the backs of little bays or coves. You just have to watch.”
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Price fishes channel bends and lets novice clients drop down Carolina-rigs tipped with live minnows. Sometimes he lets them jig Hopkins lures or Tackletown jigs tipped with minnows.
“It’s tough for inexperienced anglers to catch smallmouths with (artificial) lures,” he said. “But they catch some real chunks, 4- and 5-pounders, on minnows.”