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North Carolina's Border Bass

North Carolina's Border Bass

Little Lake Chatuge and big Buggs Island have two things in common: They're along our borders with other states, and they offer fine bass fishing. (May 2009)

Spotted bass have grown bigger overall on Lake Chatuge in recent years, according to guide Lee Howard, who believes the spots are taking advantage of blueback herring introduced into the lake.
Photo by Bob Borgwat.

Your mom always told you that it was best to share, and North Carolina bass fishermen get to do just that, whether they like it or not. Four states border North Carolina, and at least one lake is divided by each border line. We'll examine two of those lakes, which both offer very intriguing opportunities for bass fishing.

A mountain jewel that straddles the Georgia/North Carolina border, Lake Chatuge impounds 7,050 acres, with roughly equal portions split between the two states. Anglers actually have at least a slight opportunity to catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass from this lake; however, Chatuge is mostly a spot lake. Spotted bass have almost completely replaced native smallmouths, and they dominate the black bass population.

Trophy spotted bass prospects are some of the best in the Southeast. Chatuge's spots are big and fat, which guide Lee Howard attributes largely to blueback herring that anglers introduced to the lake several years ago. Howard, who has been fishing Lake Chatuge for nearly 20 years, has enjoyed seeing the lake's top-end spots get bigger and bigger in recent years.

"To catch a 4-pound spotted bass is not uncommon now, and we catch a fair number of 5-pound fish," Howard said. "There are even some 6-pounders showing up from time to time."

Like most mountain lakes, though, Chatuge can be a tough nut to crack. Anglers plying its deep, clear waters for the first time often leave half convinced that there are no fish at all in the lake. Howard said it took him a few years to really learn how to catch fish on Lake Chatuge, and in recent years, he has had to do some relearning because the bluebacks now dictate everything, and their presence has altered bass behavior in the lake.

A key difference from years past is that Howard has to spend more time fishing deep -- often for fish that are suspended in much deeper water. Fortunately, that is less of a factor in May than it becomes other times of the year. The other big behavior change that Howard has witnessed involves the way the spots relate to the herring all the time. That's important for fishermen because the herring provide an ever-present fish-finding clue.


"If you find a school of blueback herring, there are almost certainly spotted bass nearby, probably directly under them," Howard said. "If the bait is on the surface, the spots will be a few feet beneath the surface. If the bait school is 20 feet deep, the spots will be 22 or 23 feet deep."

Generally speaking, if Howard wants to target spots during May, he will concentrate on water in the 15- to 20-foot range and work slowly and methodically with a Carolina rig. He suggests the entrances to coves as key areas at that time because the spots are moving out of the coves and toward the main lake. He also focuses heavily on transition banks, where clay turns to rock, dragging a Carolina rig in about the same depth. "Those transition banks are really a good bet that time of year."

In addition to soft plastics, Howard really likes jerkbaits during May. A suspending jerkbait, such as a Smithwick Rattlin' Rogue or a Lucky Craft Pointer 78, allows him to imitate the baitfish that the spots are eating but still keep his presentations as slow as he needs to during May by pausing between jerks.

If Howard is looking for largemouths during May, he may literally be looking for them. Largemouths often will still be spawning at that time in this cool lake, so Howard will look for fish around little pieces of cover in the very backs of coves. Looking beyond the bedding bass, he will do most other May largemouth fishing with a jig, flipping and pitching it into blowdowns.

A reciprocal agreement between Georgia and North Carolina allows North Carolina licensed anglers to fish anywhere on the lake from a boat as long as the boat is not anchored to the shore or a dock in Georgia. Shoreline anglers must possess a license for the state they are standing in. Each state's regulations apply in its own waters. Two access areas, Jackrabbit and Ledford's Chapel, provide both boating and bank-fishing access to Lake Chatuge in North Carolina

To learn more about guided fishing trips with Lee Howard, visit or call (866) 899-5259.

Moving to the opposite end of North Carolina and from the southern border to the northern border, anglers will find a very different lake -- Buggs Island (or Kerr Reservoir, as it is officially named), which spreads over 48,900 acres in Virginia and North Carolina. Although Virginia claims a larger portion of Buggs Island, a significant portion lies within the Tar Heel State and a reciprocal agreement opens the entire lake to North Carolina anglers.

Unlike Chatuge, Buggs Island is highly fertile. The bass fishery is among the best and most stable anywhere in the state, and the fish tend to be in excellent condition. This lake does not produce many giant bass. In fact, fish over 8 pounds are pretty rare, according to biologists' reports. The average size is very good, though, with tremendous numbers of bass in the 2- to 4-pound range.

Buggs offers everything a bass fisherman could ask for. The forage base is big and diverse, the main body and major creeks offer good structure, the water carries enough color to keep the fish aggressive, and cover is seemingly endless. From flooded trees to buckbrush to blowdowns, Buggs Island offers tremendously good cover for largemouth bass.

Water level is the number one variable at this lake, and it is especially significant during the spring. If the lake is high this time of year, some fish will be always up in the bushes. It stayed high through much of last spring, which was an ideal scenario for guide Tim Wilson. Wilson, who loves fishing the bushes, spent much of the season with a jig or a spinnerbait on the end of his line and enjoyed consistently good action. When the water level drops and the bushes become high and dry, the bass must back out and use other cover and structure.

May is a month of big change, according to Wilson. During the first half of the month, some fish will still be spawning; anglers can target these fish in the backs of the creeks and coves with jigs or plastics. He considers May more of a post-spawn month overall, though, so he will spend a lot of time fishi

ng with Carolina rigs and crankbaits over secondary points that lie adjacent to major spawning flats in the big creeks. Wilson's favorite creeks this time of year are Rudds, Butcher, Grassy and Eastland.

Another important factor during May is the blueback herring spawn. The herring school up this time of year and so do the bass. The bigger bass, especially, really key on the herring, according to Wilson. When the bass are relating to herring, Wilson's bait of choice to "match the hatch" is a Berkley Hollow Belly swimbait. He'll look for the herring around rock and clay banks and will work the swimbait anywhere he finds the baitfish.

Finally, anglers shouldn't overlook the topwater bite on Buggs Island during May, especially through the latter half of the month. Morning topwater fishing can be extraordinary, according to Wilson, whose surface lures of choice are a Heddon Zara Spook and Lucky Craft Sammy. Some of the best topwater action generally occurs in the extreme lower ends of the creeks and in the lake's lower main body.

"Keep your topwater lures handy during late May because the fish will really start schooling, and those schools will push the bait to the top and just start busting the surface," Wilson said.

Because of Buggs Island's tremendous size, newcomers are wise to pick a single big creek and basically treat it as a separate lake for a good part of a day. Bass will be feeding somewhere in any major creek, and this approach allows an angler to focus on patterning the fish and saves the temptation to run all over the lake searching for larger or more active fish.

Four NCWRC boat ramps provide access to Buggs Island in North Carolina. Flemingtown Landing, HenderĀ­son Point and Hibernia access areas are in Vance County. The County Line Access Area is in Warren County.

For guided trips with Tim Wilson, visit, or call (434) 374-0674. Tim also operates "The Little Retreat," which offers very nice lakeside A-frame cabins with private docking space for resort guests.

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