Want to catch a 6-pound or better bass? Few places in the state give you a better chance right now than Falls and Jordan lakes. (April 2008)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
April is the best month of the year for catching record-breaking largemouth bass at Falls of the Neuse and Jordan lakes. Even a novice can load a livewell with double-digit bass.
While April is an excellent month for catching quality bass at these two reservoirs, fishermen have become too knowledgeable to be taken in by exaggerated claims like the ones above, even if April Fools' Day marks the beginning of the month.
Today's bass fishermen expend considerable time, energy and money in pursuit of quality bass and are eager to consume information that will help them put more fish in the livewell without any joking around.
One no-nonsense way to catch more fish is to assimilate the strategies of bass-fishing guides. Their livelihoods depend upon their ability to consistently catch fish from their chosen waters.
Three such local guides are Mike Dinterman of Trophy Bass Fishing Guide Service (919/593-1414), Jamie Olive of Jamie's Guide Service (919/625-0707), and Phil Cable of Phil Cable's Guide Service (www.philcableguideservice.com).
Collectively, these guides have over 65 years of fishing experience at Falls of the Neuse and B. Everett Jordan lakes, two of the best largemouth bass waters in the state and both conveniently located a short distance from Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh -- the apexes of the Research Triangle.
Before Jordan Lake reached full pool on Feb. 3, 1982, Cable hunted along much of its 14,300 acres.
"I walked the lake bottom three or four years before the lake was filled and got to observe subtle structural features that a depthfinder can't determine," said Cable, who recently moved to Holly Ridge. "Some of the landscape I used to hunt also harbored good places to fish, such as dropoffs, changes in bottom composition and creek bottoms."
Olive's family once farmed some of the land now inundated with water by the formation of Jordan.
"My family leased land for growing corn and that land is now covered by portions of Jordan and Harris lakes," Olive said. "At the time, I was too young to take advantage of what I saw to apply my observances to fishing."
Falls of the Neuse, not to be confused with Blewett Falls Lake on the lower Pee Dee River in Anson County, was completed in 1983.
Jordan and Falls experienced similar boom periods as big-bass fisheries, yielding numerous double-digit bass throughout the '80s before the fishing leveled off in the mid-'90s -- as is typical with reservoirs as they mature with age.
Cable and Olive fished both waters since they were created, while Dinterman, formerly of Pittsboro, wasn't far behind with over 14 years of experience as a guide at Falls and Jordan lakes.
The three guides thus have strong credentials for assessing April fishing at Falls and Jordan lakes. They generally agree that the best period for landing a trophy bass occurs from late March through early April just before the full moon, whatever the lake.
During that period, the biggest fish of the year migrate from deep water to the shallows in preparation for the spawn and hold in 1 to 8 feet of water on secondary points, rock banks or bush- or stump-laden points.
"The fish are on the move from March through April," Cable said. "They're looking for suitable spawning areas, and fishermen should be looking for them, too.
"Recognizing spawning areas comes with experience, though most are characterized by sand and pebble bottoms harboring stumps and bushes."
Cable and Olive said the bass start moving when the water temperature reaches 50 degrees, start staging with temperatures in the upper 50s, and begin spawning with water temperatures in the lower 60s. Weather changes can hasten or delay this progression.
Sometimes, subtle differences can be noted in different parts of the same body of water. For example, Olive said there are two spawns at Falls of the Neuse. In early April, bass spawn at the lower end of the lake; in late April, the bass spawn at the opposite end around the Ledge Rock area.
Dinterman said a warming trend of about four days is needed to trigger the fish to begin bedding.
"One year, the fish started bedding in February because of unusually warm weather," he said.
While our experts agree that February and March are the prime months for catching that fish of a lifetime, they also agree that the bites will be limited, though the few fish that strike will be quality fish.
After early April, the big bite begins to wane, but that's offset by a strong bite for staging fish as they bunch up along stopping places as they travel through creek channels on their way to spawn.
Our fishermen concur that the heyday of double-digit bass at both lakes is over. Ten-pound fish have become rare at Jordan and Falls since the turn of the century, while bass in the 7- to 8-pound range seem to be thriving. All agree the bass populations appear healthy and have been aided by the 16-inch minimum length requirement imposed at the two bodies of water.
Cable, who holds the current lake record at Jordan with a 14.38-pound largemouth bass, said there's been a notable decline in the number of double-digit fish at Jordan and Falls with only Shearon Harris, the third of the so-called Raleigh lakes, still putting out 10-pounders.
"As young lakes back in the '80s, Falls and Jordan spit out lots of big fish," he said. "But as the lakes grew older and settled down and started acting like real lakes, the number of trophy fish declined.
"We're now seeing more 7- and 8-pound bass at Jordan, which is good because fish of that size had dropped for a time but are making a comeback. The same is true at Falls of the Neuse."
If 10-pound bass are still being caught at Jordan and Falls, Dinterman said he hasn't seen them.
"As far as I know, 10-pounders have become scarce at t
he Raleigh lakes except for Harris, which yields some," he said. "During the trophy bass boom, too many big fish ended up on somebody's wall. But now lots of 8-pounders are being caught."
Olive said his clients have caught some 10-pound fish at Jordan, but the fish at Falls have been mostly in the 8-pound class.
APRIL FISHING PATTERNS
Our guides said certain April fishing patterns hold true for both lakes, so anglers don't have to switch strategies from one lake to the other.
One of the most reliable patterns is rock, whether it takes the form of natural rock along the bank or manmade riprap adjacent to bridges or lining the shorelines.
"One of the first places fish go when they're moving from deep water is riprap," Olive said. "Once they move to riprap, their next move is into the creeks. During the pre-spawn period, an angler can fish nothing but riprap and do very well at Falls and Jordan lakes."
Olive likes to parallel-fish riprap using long casts with lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits. On his way to fish other places, he never passes under a bridge without casting one of these baits at the four riprap corners of the bridge, especially at Jordan Lake, where there are productive bridges at White Oak and Beaver creeks and at Farrington and at Highway 64, which bisects the main lake.
Dinterman and Cable said the riprap at both lakes is not as productive as it used to be because of heavy fishing pressure, though such places still yield good numbers of quality fish.
"I even hate to mention riprap when I speak of these lakes because these places can get overly crowded with fishermen," Dinterman said.
Otherwise, Dinterman said the key structure at both lakes is natural rock, wherever it's present along the bank in 4 to 6 feet of water.
"There's no offshore fishing in April or need to look for deep, rocky ledges or places like that," he said. "Just slow-roll a spinnerbait off the bank where there is rock or use small, shallow-running crankbaits."
Of the two lakes, Cable said Falls has better structure with plenty of rock. Subtle rocky and gravel places near spawning grounds at the backs of creeks shouldn't be overlooked. They can be fished with jigs, spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits. In early April with cold water, jerkbaits may produce.
"You need to mix up your bait presentation at this time of year," Cable said. "Let the fish indicate which baits they prefer on a given day."
Dinterman employs a similar approach.
"You need to cover lots of water until you find the fish," he said. "Try shallow-running crankbaits and follow those up with jigs to get those extra bites once you've found the fish."
High Water Bush Pattern
If it rains heavily and the lakes are high and stained, Dinterman said there will be a good flipping bite with jigs and plastics at the backs of creeks at both lakes.
Olive chooses blue/black jig combinations for stained water, brown/ green combinations for clear water.
For Cable and Dinterman, this pattern does not involve sight-fishing.
Usually when it rains and the water is high, the lakes are too stained for sight-fishing, Dinterman said. As a rule, Falls and Jordan are not good sight-fishing lakes because of their stained water.
Of the two, Dinterman said Falls is the better sight-fishing lake, but even it has only a narrow window of opportunity for that type of fishing. It occurs with the reverse of the conditions that create the high water bush pattern.
"Sight-fishing takes place at Falls when the lake is low and clear from a lack of rain," Dinterman said. "Most of the sight-fishing takes place in May from the Highway 98 bridge to the dam where the water is usually clear."
Cable's rather frank about his approach to sight-fishing.
"I'm not very good at it; I don't have the patience for it, so I don't do it," he said. "I lack the temperament it requires to make repeated casts to trigger spawning fish to bite."
Instead, the veteran guide prefers to target fish that are not spawning.
"I try for more aggressive feeding fish that will be around treelaps and rock," he said.
Conversely, Olive said he occasionally sight-fishes given clearwater conditions, though he admits that Jordan is a "tough lake" for sight-fishing and that sight-fishing requires seeking out the clearer water found in the Haw River area to the dam near Poe's Ridge.
Standing timber, stumps and treelaps in shallow water hold some of the more aggressive bass in April.
One of Olive's favorite strategies is wacky-worm fishing with a Senko whereupon the hook is inserted into the middle of the plastic causing the plastic to fall erratically. Olive drops the wacky worm near stumps and standing timber and lets it fall slowly, a tactic that provokes strikes from bass.
Stumpy points and banks can be fished with spinnerbaits, plastics, jigs and shallow-running crankbaits.
Both lakes have standing timber. At Jordan, New Hope Creek, Beaver Creek, Little Beaver Creek and the main body above the Highway 64 bridge harbor patches of standing timber. Falls, Newlight Creek and the Ledge Rock and Rolling View areas house standing timber and stumps.
Shad Spawn Pattern
One other April pattern in Olive's arsenal is what he calls the shad spawn pattern.
"In April, shad often spawn before largemouth bass at the backs of creeks, which draws bass to the same areas." he said. "That's the time to tie on shad-colored lipless crankbaits, shallow-running crankbaits or spinnerbaits."
Since bass are on the move in April, pinpointing specific areas for fishing is difficult. The rule of thumb is to look for likely spawning grounds at the backs of creeks.
Nonetheless, Cable cites the waters he concentrates upon at Falls and Jordan during this month.
A Falls Lake, he fishes from Barton Creek up to Cheek Road near Redwood. At Jordan, he samples the waters from Farrington to the Ebenezer Church landing. He doesn't fish the river segments very much.
"I certainly don't cover all that territory on either lake in one day, but I'll gradually work most of it throughout the month," he said.
While fishermen have their own preferences in tackle, Ol
ive tells of the baitcasting gear that works for him.
For fishing a lipless crankbait, he likes a medium-action rod and reel with a 7.1:1 gear ratio that allows him "to burn" the bait back to the boat. The reel is spooled with 14-pound-test fluorocarbon line because Olive said it has less stretch, which enables him to feel the pulsations of the lure.
His crankbait rod is a 6 1/2-foot composite model with a fast tip used in conjunction with 8- to 10-pound-test monofilament line and a reel with a 4.3:1 gear ratio. That combination prevents the hook from tearing out of the fish.
His spinnerbait outfit consists of a 7-foot rod housing a reel with a 6.3:1 gear ratio; the reel is spooled with 15-pound-test fluorocarbon line.
Finally, Olive flips with a heavy-action 7-foot rod and a reel with a 6.3:1 gear ratio. He uses 20-pound-test fluorocarbon line.
MAPS AND RAMPS
Topographical maps are not as critical in April as they are during the summer months when fishing involves offshore structure. The maps now mainly serve as useful guides for navigating around the lakes and for indicating the location of standing timber, bridges, riprap, boat ramps and place names.
FHS Maps publishes contour maps of Jordan (A312) and Falls of the Neuse (A313), which can be ordered by calling (800) ALL-MAPS. GMCO Maps offers waterproof maps of both lakes. Call (888) 420-6277 or visit www.gmcomaps.com. The maps are also available at local tackle stores and marinas.
The Farrington Point access off Farrington Road and the Ebenezer Church access off Beaver Creek Road serve as the main public accesses to Jordan Lake. The Ledge Rock access off SR 1900, the Highway 50 Recreation Area off NC 50, and the Rolling View access off SR 1807 provide launch sites for Falls of the Neuse.
Additional launch sites are indicated on lake maps.
These two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes have fairly stable water levels with only extreme drought or flood conditions affecting lake access.
The normal pool for Jordan Lake is 216 feet above sea level; the normal pool for Falls of the Neuse is 250 feet above sea level. For water levels, contact the Corps of Engineers at (919) 542-4501 or http://epec.saw. usace.army.mil/capefear.htm.
Find more about North Carolina fishing and hunting at: NCgameandfish.com