Spring is prime time for good numbers and heavyweight bass on Falls Lake. Here's what you need to know to get in on Spring's hot action. (April 2009)
The bad news about spring bass fishing on Falls is . . . Well, there really is no bad news. About the closest you might come could be a fish-consumption advisory; however, very few anglers keep Falls Lake bass to eat anyway, so that really has little to do with the fishing outlook.
"Falls is absolutely loaded with big fish," said Dave Wolak, a BASS Elite Series pro from Wake Forest. Wolak travels all over the nation to compete in tournaments, but some of the finest fishing action he enjoys is close to home at Falls Lake, which impounds 12,500 acres along the Neuse River, just outside of Wake Forest.
"Falls Lake is noted as one of the premier largemouth bass lakes in North Carolina," said Kirk Rundle, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission biologist who is over the lake's fisheries management efforts.
Everything about Falls screams out "bass lake." Its shallow upper end is stumpy and typically thick with aquatic vegetation. A deeper lower main body offers rocky ledges, long, sloping points and other good structures. In between, massive stump fields tangled with treetops, well-defined creek channel ledges and laydown-rich banks provide tremendous bass habitat.
Electro-shocking surveys, which are conducted annually by the NCWRC, reveal that the bass population is in very good condition, according to Rundle. Fish numbers and size distribution are both very good, and average weights per given length are considered ideal, with an abundance of plump, healthy fish. Falls Lake bass feed mostly on a mix of shad, sunfish of assorted species and minnows, and the condition of fish sampled indirectly suggests that there is ample forage in the lake, Rundle noted.
Approximately half the fish captured during the most recent shocking survey were more than 14 inches long, and approximately 20 percent were more than 16 inches long -- both typical numbers for Falls Lake, but far better than the numbers for most lakes.
"The largemouth bass populations at Falls Lake have remained rather consistent over the years, with no major changes in the data," Rundle said. "Trophy largemouths have been collected on a routine basis."
Falls is managed for big-fish production, with a 16-inch minimum size limit, but Rundle said that the size limit has minimal effect on the fishery because of the extreme popularity of catch-and-release fishing for bass of all sizes. "The excellent habitat and forage available at Falls Lake have the greatest impact on producing a high-quality largemouth bass population," he said.
Interestingly, NCWRC biologists find very similar results when they sample in various areas of Falls Lake. The bass population is good throughout the lake, so the best area for an angler to fish really depends upon the season and on types of techniques that the angler favors.
For spring fishing, Rundle suggested that anglers look fairly shallow. "In the spring as water temperatures warm, largemouth bass will be found in shallower areas of the lake, adjacent to structure and cover such as weedbeds, rocky outcrops and fallen trees or stumps," he said.
Dave Wolak has a particular fondness for the month of April on Falls Lake because the big bass in the lake's deeper, clearer lower end move shallow for just a little while. "The fish in that part of the lake suspend quite a bit and can be difficult to catch at most times. During April, those fish move up into the pockets and will get really shallow," Wolak said.
Wolak concentrates on pockets off the main channel throughout the lower end of the lake and generally fishes one of two ways. If he locates any fish on beds, which is sometimes possible during April, he will sight-cast to individual fish. Otherwise, he'll just work through the pockets, swimming a white spinnerbait just beneath the surface, moving the bait quickly and covering a lot of water.
"Those big bass will just be cruising," he said, "If there's a big laydown in the back of a pocket, there might be five or six huge bass cruising around. When you throw that spinnerbait in there, they will race to it and will absolutely crush it."
Wolak pointed toward an Alpine-colored Booyah HD spinnerbait as ideal for the task. He likes the bait's white skirt and flashy tandem willow blades because of the sheer abundance of shad in the backs of the coves. Wolak generally will keep the boat moving, except after he catches fish, and will hit a lot of pockets in a day.
The one time that Wolak will slow down significantly is when he spots a big fish on a bed. Then he can't resist doing a little sight-casting. For bedding fish, he likes to have one rod rigged with something very natural, like a Green Pumpkin YUM Craw Papi and another with a Wounded Shad YUM Tube, which is white with red tips. He'll Texas rig both, leaving the weight unpegged, which he considers very important so that the bait will stand upright off the bottom when he drops it down into a bed. He also likes to keep one rod rigged with something weightless, like a wacky-rigged YUM Dinger or a floating worm.
"It's fun sight-fishing on Falls Lake because the water's clear enough to see the fish in that part of the lake, but it still has enough stain that you can throw pretty big baits and the fish will feed aggressively," Wolak said.
Wolak typically will begin his days in the clearest water in the lake's lower end during April, but he'll also spend time in the backs of several major creeks. He says that Upper and Lower Barton, New Light, Lodge and Lick creeks are a few of the best. "The creeks have a lot of timber in them, and the fish spend a lot of their time in the trees. That time of year, though, they'll move to the very backs of the creeks, where there are lots of laydowns and willows."
Up the creeks, he'll again throw his white spinnerbait, working close to the bank and making underhand pitches and side-armed casts to put his spinnerbait around every bit of cover. Wolak has fished other baits and he certainly catches a few bass on various other offerings. However, he has found nothing that he likes better than a white spinnerbait cast tight to the banks, fished close to cover and swam quickly, just under the surface, on Falls Lake during April.
For anglers who favor a Plan B, a good alternative for working the same shallow cover is a medium-sized, shallow-running, square-billed crankbait. A square bill will help a crankbait kick off the cover instead of getting hung -- and bumping the cover often is the key to a drawing strikes.
Because fish often will congregate on certain pi
eces of cover -- which often will look no different than other cover all along the same shore -- it's a good idea to slow down and fish an area more thoroughly anytime a fish strikes. Where there is one fish, there often are many, and sometimes flipping a Texas-rigged worm or crawfish imitation down into among the branches of a treetop is the key to pulling out those additional fish.
Wolak's basic strategy can be carried on up the lake. However, it's worth noting that the upper end of Falls Lake (anywhere upstream of the state Highway 50 bridge) can be very treacherous, with abundant shallow flats and many stumps. Anglers who are not extremely familiar with this part of the lake should exercise extreme caution, and with the fine fishing that's available in the rest of the lake this time of year, there's much to be said for staying downriver of the bridge.
Access to Falls Lake is good, with several public access points. For details about boat ramps maintained by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Division and two public fishing access areas that offer shoreline access, go online to www.ncwildlife.org. Largemouth bass must be at least 16 inches long to be kept. The daily limit is five fish.
There is a consumption advisory for largemouth bass at Falls Lake due to mercury contamination. Women of childbearing age and children under 15 should not eat any, while the remainder of the population is advised to eat no more than one meal per week of largemouth bass.