January 26, 2015
All across North Carolina, fantastic fishing opportunities abound. Just trying to point your rod in the right direction is enough to make any angler dizzy. Therefore, we have narrowed down the list to help you find great fishing trips close to home.
Cape Fear River Striped Bass
While a moratorium against keeping them is in effect, striped bass have surged in numbers and popularity among recreational anglers. The fish are primarily the result of a stock program, with biologists hoping that supplementing the native fish will result in a natural spawn after four years of concentrated effort.
Anglers catch striped bass by many methods, including trolling with deep-diving lures and casting crankbaits or stickbaits along the shoreline in the creek mouths and up in the creeks.
Other Options: Anglers from across the nation attend the earliest ocean-pier tournament at Johnnie Mercer's Pier in Wrightsville Beach. Harris Lake anglers will catch big black crappie by dropping minnows on the deep humps and channel edges.
Badin Lake White Crappie
Badin Lake anglers will find crappie in water as deep as 30 to 40 feet. The best spots are the humps and channel edges at the creek mouths. Trolling with jigs and soft plastic trailers or jigs tipped with live minnows works well.
Another good bet is trolling with two-hook dropper rigs with live minnows. Anglers should watch their depthfinder screens to find concentrations of crappie and baitfish and troll at the depths where they see fish marks.
The fish may begin moving to the shallower water by the end of the month and will suspend in the creek or on the rocky points before heading into the backs of the coves. Another good bet is seeking out the brush piles at the creek confluences or under the deeper boat docks.
Other Options: High Rock Lake's striper fishing is probably the best of any Yadkin lake. Jordan's native white catfish are an anomaly for a piedmont lake. Look for them on deep, stumpy points.
Neuse River Shad
In the Neuse River, the shad run begins at the river mouth several weeks before peaking at the popular creeks upstream. Anglers find the shad by watching the surface. Shad work the edges where anglers may see them jumping, with some anglers also claiming they eat tiny baitfish. Shad may also make large swirls to give away their presence.
The best bets for shad are curly tailed crappie jigs, shad darts and Reflecto spoons. Fly fishermen also have good luck by using small jigs. The river has American, or white shad, as well as hickory shad.
Other Options: White Lake anglers
will catch chain pickerel by using crankbaits in yellow perch patterns. Lake Tillery anglers will catch largemouth bass by casting spinnerbaits to the stick-ups.
Tar River Reservoir Largemouth
Tar River Reservoir is a muddy lake in early spring, but usually clears up by the time April's more stable weather arrives. Bass are abundant and fast-growing because the runoff that carries sediments also brings nutrients.
The lake has plenty of structure relative to its small size. Anglers will find bass moving from the rocky points to the backs of the creeks and coves as the weather warms. Boat docks in the creeks provide secondary cover.
Soft plastics on Carolina rigs are popular when the lake is clear. If rain makes it muddy, the best bet is a crankbait with a rattle or a spinnerbait with dimpled blades.
Other Options: Cape Fear River blue catfish will strike cut and live shad. At Fort Fisher, anglers can launch a johnboat or kayak to access topnotch puppy drum fishing.
Mountain Island Lake
Because of its small size, Mountain Island Lake is the least known and most under-fished lake of the Catawba chain. However, it has an incredibly abundant population of spotted bass.
Anglers can cash in on the action by casting or trolling with crankbaits. The best places to catch the fish are along the steep, rocky banks, at the points and piers or at the island near the dam that gives the lake its name. Largemouth bass will also strike the same lures, with crayfish and minnow patterns the best bets.
Other Options: The Roanoke River's
panfish will strike floating and sinking flies, worms and crickets. At Oregon Inlet, anglers will catch cobia by sight casting jigs and live baits.
Randleman Lake Largemouth Bass
Randleman Lake, while not producing the 10-pound bass anglers were hoping for, is giving up plenty of bass that top 5 pounds. The best bet is arriving early and hitting the points and stickups with a topwater lure. As the day warms, anglers should switch to probing the timber and bridges with a big soft plastic on a Carolina rig.
Crankbaits cast around the structure will also produce outstanding catches. Bouncing them off rock outcrops and rocky points is a good way to wake up bass later in the day.
Other Options: Muskellung in Lake James will be striking big spinnerbaits, crankbaits and topwater lures. Along the coast, party boats offer inexpensive access to deep-sea fishing for groupers, snappers and sea bass.
New River Smallmouth Bass
For anglers who want to catch lots of smallmouth bass, New River is one of the best places in the state. Some stretches are accessible to small watercraft, including waters within New River State Park, Kings Creek and Wagoner Road. The best bets for lures including topwater styles, including Zara Spooks, buzzbaits and Tiny Torpedoes. Another good lure is the tube jig, which resembles the crawfish relished by the smallmouth bass throughout the river system.
The best way to fish the river from a boat is by drifting between two access areas, with a vehicle parked at the downstream area to ferry the anglers and their gear back to the beginning point.
Other Options: Lake Rhodhiss stripers will strike live shad or trolled lures at the upstream and downstream ends near the dams. Bear Lake largemouth bass will strike soft plastics cast in the creek channels and near the island.
Lake Waccamaw White Perch
While white perch are now present in many inland lakes, they are usually easier to catch in the shallows of Lake Waccamaw, which is one of the lakes where they occur naturally. The hotter the weather, the better the fishing can get, with August a peak month. Anglers who want to catch a North Carolina Angler Recognition Program (NCARP) white perch have an excellent chance of landing one at the lake.
White perch school on top on calm days as they chase baitfish. The smaller fish are usually close to the surface while the larger fish lurk below.
Good ways to catch them include trolling with small crankbaits, casting crankbaits jigs and small spoons, and casting small sinking flies. On windy days when the fish are difficult to see, trolling is the quickest way to locate a concentration of perch.
White perch will strike minnows, worms and cut bait, including small pieces of white perch. Fishing baits on float rigs or split-shot rigs while drifting in an area where the fish have been spotted working the surface is an easy tactic. Many local anglers use pontoon boats, which makes the trip enjoyable for families.
Other Options: Neuse River's giant red drum will attack float rigs with plastic shrimp lures. Bald Head Island tarpon action will fire up for anglers who fish live menhaden on bottom rigs.
Oak Island King Mackerel
King Mackerel become abundant at many ocean fishing piers in the fall when schools of mullet and menhaden are migrating along the coast. One of the easiest ways to catch them is by using a trolley rig at the end of one of the piers. Oak Island has two excellent piers — Oak Island Pier and Ocean Crest Pier — and both of them cater to king mackerel fishermen.
Anglers fish with live bluefish, pinfish, spots or whatever baitfish they can catch using spinning rods, placing them in the pier's live tank. An anchor line is cast from one rod and the rig holding the baitfish is slid to the water's surface along the anchor line, thus the name trolley rig. A large revolving spool or spinning reel will catch a king as long as it holds 250 yards of 20-pound monofilament.
Anglers with boats use the same method, but troll live baits slowly near the shore. The area's offshore reefs and ledges also hold lots of king mackerel.
Other Options: Ocean piers will host the first spot runs. Canoe and kayak anglers will catch bluegill and redbreast sunfish at Lumber River State Park.
Morehead City False Albacore
One of the fastest and hardest-fighting game fish when hooked on light tackle or fly-fishing gear, false albacore show up in the fall. They feed on glass minnows, which they chase across the surface. Sea birds marking their progress will show the angler where the fish are located and show the angler just how fast false albacore can swim.
However, the fish also have a reputation for being finicky, so size matters when choosing lures or flies for speedy fish. Sometimes fish are only "sipping" the baitfish and not feeding on larger fish by chasing them. That is the time to hit them with noisy surface poppers or toss them commotion lure such as hard plastic lures with rattles or metal casting spoons.
The classic way to catch them is with a fly. Anglers can use sinking lines or just tie on a length of lead core line to the leader to help the fly sink and allow easier casting.
Other Options: Lake Waccamaw anglers will find largemouth bass in the grass beds. At Dillsboro, anglers will have good luck catching trout from the Tuckasegee River's Delayed Harvest section, which opens in October.
Anglers refer to the areas where bottom fish congregate as the "spot grounds." But, the flats along the edges of the navigation channels also host other tasty fish, including whiting.
Whiting is a generic term for three kingfish that occur in North Carolina: the Gulf, Southern and Northern Kingfish. The Gulf kingfish is gray, the southern is silvery with bronze bars and the northern kingfish is brown or bronze with dark bars. But when they are cleaned they all look and taste the same, yielding delicious white, firm fillets.
Whiting are not choosy about what they eat. Shrimp, bloodworms and squid are standby baits. However, they will also bite bits of artificial bloodworms or enzyme-impregnated soft baits.
Whiting are a saltwater fish that occur in such abundance that they are not subject to any size or creel limits.
Other Options: Cast crankbaits into the warm waters of Mayo Lake for largemouth bass and live minnows at Hyco Lake bay to catch white crappie.
Sutton Lake Largemouth Bass
Sutton Lake has long held a reputation as the coast's best bass fishing lake containing Florida-strain largemouth.
However, biologists have recorded a downward trend in the weight-to-length ratio. This may be due to closure of the coal-fired power plant and its replacement with a gas-fired plant, a change that has flattened out the peaks in the wintertime water temperature of the lake's hot water discharge ditch.
The concentration of bass in the hot ditch in winter led to a special regulation that prohibits keeping bass from the lake from Dec. 1 to March 31. However, this is the best time to catch trophy-sized fish from the lake and a good number of bass anglers catch during this time will top 5 pounds.
When the bass are in the hot ditch, the best sign that they are feeding actively is the presence of small shad on the surface. Bass strike along the shoreline cover or in the open water, attacking anything that resembles a shad, giving the nod to anglers to cast crankbaits and spinners.
Other Options: Fontana Lake walleye will strike trolling lures. Lake Norman's hybrid bass will hit crankbaits at the discharge canal.