JANUARY - HYBRIDS: LAKE NORMAN
The Wildlife Resources Commission ceased stocking stripers into Lake Norman several years ago and began stocking hybrids instead. The hybrids are aggressive and congregate in large numbers at the discharge canals of Duke Energy's Marshall coal-fired power station and McGuire nuclear station during cold weather.
In January, these hot water discharges attract many species of fish. Anglers can park at the parking areas to walk down to the banks and fish. In the hot water ditches hybrids will attack anything that looks like a shad. Good lures to try are Rat-L-Traps, Shad Raps and jigs with soft plastic soft plastic trailers. The best all-around lures may be a Sidewinder or Little Cleo spoon.
Other Options: Lake Waccamaw black crappie will bite shiners at boat docks and brush attractors. Hyco Lake white crappie will eat live shiners at the bridge pilings.
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FEBRUARY - CRAPPIE: HARRIS LAKE
Shearon Harris Lake has some of the best crappie fishing in the northern piedmont. The same excellent fertility that makes it a great bass lake translates into an abundant population of large, fast growing crappie.
Anglers here must look for fish on natural structure, including standing timber, rocky points and ledges. In early February, the fish are in deep water where smaller creeks enter the main channel.
Most anglers have good luck by fishing live minnows on down lines in water that may be as deep as 40 feet. The best way to locate the fish is with a sonar unit. One of the best places to fish is the Buckhorn Creek area, near the near the main dam where the deepest water is located.
Other Options: Apalachia Lake brown and rainbow trout will bite lures trolled near the dam. Hickory and American shad will strike jigs and darts in the Neuse River.
MARCH - LARGEMOUTH BASS: SUTTON LAKE
When Duke Energy replaced the L.V. Sutton coal-fired power plant with a natural gas plant a few years ago, it caused a decline in growth rates of the lake's Florida strain largemouth bass. Now that the winter temperatures have gone back up with the completion of the new plant, the fishing is a good as ever, with anglers catching dozens of fish in a single day. The fish grow fat fast, with many of them weighing more than 5 pounds.
The lake's dike system slows the flow to ensure the water cools before reentering the plant's cooling system. The lake also has submerged timber. Most anglers fish for bass along the dikes, casting to visible woody structure. In cold months, bass concentrate in the hot water discharge canal, where anglers catch them with Carolina rigs, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Regulations prohibit keeping bass Dec. 1- March 31.
Other Options: Cape Fear River shad will strike jigs and darts at Lock and Dam No. 1. High Rock Lake crappie will hit minnows and jigs.
APRIL - STRIPED BASS: ROANOKE RIVER
Everybody knows about the fantastic striper fishing at Weldon. However, the fish enter the river earlier at Plymouth because it is closer to Albemarle Sound. The Roanoke River at Plymouth is narrower and flatter than the upper reaches. Anglers are more likely to encounter submerged trees, stumps and cypress knees than rocks while casting for stripers.
Anglers can launch from the Commission's Plymouth Ramp at the N.C. 45 Bridge to access the fishing. Good lure choices are Rebel and Rapala stick baits, with jointed models working best. However, any lipped or lipless crankbait will draw strikes. If the stripers are feeding on top, which usually occurs at dawn or on cloudy days, a topwater lure like a Zara Spook works well. Live-bait fishermen will find that shiners, panfish and eels work well for catching striped bass. The best way to fish live baits is on Carolina rigs along the bottom.
Other Options: Roanoke River hickory shad will strike darts at Weldon. Lake Lucas largemouth bass will strike Crankbaits.
MAY - LARGEMOUTH BASS: CANE CREEK PARK
Union County's Cane Creek Park's 350-acre lake was created only for recreation. The lake has excellent bass fishing. It has a fishing pier, rental boats and a boat ramp for private boats. It also has rental cabins and a campground.
The lake is small compared to many piedmont reservoirs. However, it produces some 10-pound largemouth bass. It is not a water supply or hydropower lake, so it does not fluctuate, allowing bass to spawn successfully. The best fishing spots are along riprap banks and in stumpy areas. Bank anglers can fish from trails surrounding the lake. Best bets are Carolina rigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
Other Options: Perquimans River panfish will strike popping bugs and sinking spiders fished on fly rods. Lake Jordan crappie will bite minnows and jigs at shoreline structure.
JUNE - BLUE CATFISH: LAKE GASTON
Gaston produced three state record catfish in 2015 and 2016. The lake has plentiful shad, which make great catfish bait. The lake has only one ramp and the shoreline is rocky. Anglers must watch for rocks in shallow areas. The best way to find catfish is by cruising the lake, watching a sonar unit for schools of shad that attract catfish. High definition down-imaging, side-scan sonar units help anglers identify blue catfish if they are suspended.
Other Options: Wrightsville Beach king mackerel will bite live baits on trolley rigs at Johnnie Mercer's Pier. Brown and Rainbow Trout will bite lures and flies at Appalachia Lake.
JULY - LARGEMOUTH BASS: RANDLEMAN LAKE
Opened in 2010, Randleman Lake is the state's newest — and arguably best — bass lake. The lake produces many 3- to 5-pound bass, with occasional much larger fish.
A 507-acre zone of the 3,007-acre lake above N.C. 62 Bridge is closed for powerboats and anglers launch paddle craft at Guilford County's Southwest Park. The paddle-craft zone has the best bass cover, including rocky islands and stumpy areas. The obstructions are the main reason for the powerboat prohibition.
The lower 2,500-acre area is accessible from the Piedmont Triangle Regional Water Authority Park. Launching fees are required at both parks. Boaters must have a watertight body-waste container.
Anglers cast crankbaits, topwater lures and Carolina rigs to all types of bass cover.
Other Options: Lake Norman blue catfish will bite cut white perch trolled on the bottom. Lake Rhodhiss stripers will strike topwater lures.
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AUGUST - CHANNEL CATFISH: HIGH ROCK LAKE
High Rock Lake is full of large channel catfish. Anglers can catch them by trolling with Santee sinker rigs along the bottom.
The best places to fish are the flats near the creek mouths where they enter the main river channel. The best bait is live or cut shad. Anglers can catch shad for bait in the backs of the creeks. The best catfish anglers use side planers. Side planers spread the lines to the sides of the boat, allowing the baits to cover more water. An angler can catch more than 20 channel catfish in a day.
Other Options: Pamlico Sound red drum will strike cut baits along the drop-offs. Flounder will bite live baits at Morehead City.
SEPTEMBER - FLOUNDER: CAPE FEAR RIVER
The Cape Fear River is a notorious hotspot for catching big flounder. The area has a lot of cover to attract flounder and the baitfish that they feed on. In September, the mullet schools are everywhere and flounder are feeding wherever the mullet are. Good places to fish include the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, bridges, the edges of the river channel and the creeks at Bald Head Island, Snow's Marsh and other tidal marshes.
The most popular way of fishing for flounder is hooking a live mullet or menhaden through the nose with a Kahle or wide-bend hook tied on a Carolina rig. The angler finds some hard structure — rocks, pilings, oysters or boat docks — and casts the bait nearby, then reels it slowly back to the boat, waiting for the subtle tap of a flounder.
Other Options: Kure Beach Pier bluefish will hit jerk lures. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, trout will hit flies and lures in Hazel and Eagle creeks.
OCTOBER - CRAPPIE: LAKE WYLIE
Lake Wylie is one of the best crappie lakes in the Catawba chain. In October, the fish move back into shallow water. Anglers should fish the boat docks by shooting a jig. The technique works well with very light jigs and aids accuracy. Trolling with jigs works along the shoreline. Crappie orient to the shoreline structure as the temperature drops, just as they do in the spring. A good place to start trolling is Big Allison Creek.
Other Options: Cape Hatteras red drum will bite menhaden chunks cast into the surf. Kure Beach pier hosts the strongest spot runs of the season.
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NOVEMBER - STRIPERS: LAKE TILLERY
The best way to find stripers in the wintertime at Lake Tillery is to watch for the seabirds. When the birds are diving to the water and eating shad, the striped bass are feeding down below. The place to begin looking is within a mile upstream and downstream of the N.C. 24-27 Bridge. When the fish are crashing the surface, the best lures are topwater lures, such as a Zara Spook, Lucky Craft Sammy or Rebel Pop-R. Even if the fish are not showing, they may be just below the surface and a topwater lure will bring them up to strike.
As the daylight grows, the stripers move deeper. Most of the day, they are schooling 10 to 15 feet below the surface. Jigging with a bucktail jig is a great way to catch them when they are deep.
Other Options: High Rock crappie will bite jigs and minnows in brush piles. Harkers Island false albacore will strike spoons and flies.
DECEMBER - CHAIN PICKEREL: WHITE LAKE
Once the water skiing crowd heads home, the fishermen who head for White Lake have it to themselves. Although it is only 1,065 acres, it has an abundant population of chain pickerel, or jackfish.
The fish are exceptionally aggressive in cold water, which is the main reason coastal anglers may want to visit White Lake to catch them. The fish strike crankbaits, stickbaits and spinnerbaits cast along the shoreline structure, which consists of scattered cypress trees and plentiful boat docks.
The fish concentrate in large schools in the colder months and are likely to be feeding on yellow perch, which are the main prey species in the lake. The fish will also strike live shiners fished on float rigs.
Other Options: Lake Wylie largemouth bass will strike Carolina rigs fished at the warm water discharge zone of Duke Energy's Allen plant. Lake Norman crappie will bite jigs fished at night under the bridges.
Editor's Note: Mike Marsh's book, Fishing North Carolina, shares the secrets of fishing more than 100 lakes, rivers, ponds, sounds and piers. To order Fishing North Carolina ($26.60), mail a check or money order to Mike Marsh, 1502 Ebb Drive, Wilmington, NC 28409 or visit his website at www.mikemarshoutdoors.com for credit card orders.