Pick 3: Hot Tar Heel Lakes for June Bass Fishing

Pick 3: Hot Tar Heel Lakes for June Bass Fishing
Game & Fish's 2018 Gear Issue: Top rods and reels for largemouth bass. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

June bass fishing
Monster largemouth are hungry and relatively easy to pattern as summertime kicks in. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

Buggs, Harris and James offer the best June bass fishing in North Carolina.


North Carolina has three temperature zones, except for deep summer when sizzling heat and humidity blanket both the piedmont and coastal regions. The mountains remain comparatively cooler 12 months a year.



The largemouth prespawn, spawn and postspawn differ at regional lakes because of water temperatures relative to weather conditions. Understanding these differences can be the key to choosing successful bass tactics in the Tar Heel state.

When anglers figure out temperature differences, they know what lures and tactics to use at lakes inside a specific region for specific months. From there it's simple: lures, line strengths and casting targets work similarly from one lake to another.



Here's a look at three regional lakes, where bass will be and how anglers can catch them during June.

BUGGS BASS BITE

John H. Kerr Reservoir is partially in the eastern piedmont, but it shares topography with the coastal plain's western edge. At 49,500 acres, the lake (aka Buggs Island) is shared by two states, North Carolina and Virginia, at territories first explored and mapped by explorers William Byrd II and Edward Moseley in the early 1700s.

Of course Buggs didn't exist then. It became a lake after its huge mile-long dam impounded the Roanoke River in 1953. Today Byrd's ancient mapped dividing line splits the lake on an east-to-west axis.

Happily for anglers, fishing licenses for both states are valid anywhere on the lake.

bass fishingBuggs always has had good numbers of black bass and forage species. In the last decade, anglers introduced blueback herrings and alewives (to boost striper sizes), and these new forage fish joined minnows and threadfin shad as snacks for predators. Bass also eat snakes and frogs that swim near the shore. 

Anglers quickly adopted lures to match the shape, size and colorations of native prey species.

Joel Richardson of Kernersville, a fishing guide (336-803-2195) and pro bass angler, rates Buggs Island as his favorite lake because catching bass during different times under various conditions and at widely ranging habitats has been a classroom for him. 

"If you can figure out how to catch bass at Buggs any month of the year, you can catch 'em at any lake (in the United States)," he said. "It's got extremely deep water to real shallow water, mid-depth water, humps, islands, flooded road beds and railroad tracks, rocky and red clay banks, willow bush-covered shorelines, flooded timber, bridge pilings, points with gum trees, pea gravel shorelines, thousands of sunken trees (placed by anglers), spawning flats, stump fields, submerged rocks, lots of feeder creeks and coves, and the Corps (of Engineers) lowers the water level big time each winter."

During early June, Richardson favors topwater fishing; later he finds bass at mid-range depths.

"I love catching bass with topwater lures," he said. "June is the best time. Most bass are coming out (of shallows) toward deeper water, starting their summer migration. A lot of them will be on long, tapering points. But the topwater bite isn't necessarily (confined to) the first thing in the morning. They'll bite even on sunny days the first half of June."

He casts Zara Spooks, Pop-Rs, flukes, floating worms and buzzbaits. He wants lures that mimic shad colors or blueback herring (black backs, light-color bellies).

"That's the big pattern at Buggs," Richardson said. "But I've seen it sometimes the water will be in the (willow) bushes if there's been a lot of rain. I think the fish are still in there because that's where the food (baitfish) will be. It's about a 50-50 chance water will be in the bushes. 

"I've seen guys win June tournaments by flippin' (plastic worms, jig-and-pigs and creature baits in shallow water). Guys fishing a little deeper might catch more fish, but not the biggest ones."

Of course the most consistent bites will be offshore from spawning flats later in the month. 

During the second half of June, Richardson changes tactics.

"Then I use Carolina rigs with soft plastics and medium-diving crankbaits," he said. "In normal years most bass will be 10 to 15 feet deep."

As for lure colors for mid depths, he tries to "match the hatch" with green-pumpkin, Junebug or red shad.

"You can catch fish on stumps, but most of the time, bass will be oriented on rocks," he said. "But sometimes they suspend over hard bottoms — good places for Carolina rigs or crankbaits. Those baits have won a lot of tournaments at Buggs Island."

For topwater fishing, Richardson likes to spool his bait-casters with 17-pound-test monofilament or 10-pound-test braid line.

"For Carolina rigs I like 15- or 20-pound-test monofilament," he said.

For crankbaits he strictly uses 10-pound-test braid.

"You can get the depth you need out of a crankbait with 10-pound braid," he said. "If you spend a lot of time cranking', you learn how deep 10-pound braid will run (a lure). If you use heavier line, (a lure) will run shallower. Lighter line runs deeper."

Most June largemouths will average 2 to 3 1/2 pounds, but 4- and 5-pounders aren't that rare.

"Sometimes it takes 17 or 18 pounds (five-bass limit) to win a tournament," Richardson said.

Pro Tip: Bass in the Grass

"It's beautiful up there, the weather's usually good in June, and you can catch the biggest smallmouths in the state," he said. 

Although the 6,812-acres lake 50 miles east of Asheville is the largest impoundment close to the west's largest city and gets extensive fishing pressure, relatively few anglers have solved its secrets.

"Smallmouths live deep mostly," Price said. The lake's average depth is 65 feet, with the deepest part 110 feet at the dam, so any smallmouth that wants to get deep, can.

"Because of the (lake's) elevation and water temperature, the spawn is about two weeks behind piedmont lakes," Price said. "But the best bite is like everywhere else, on topwater during the post-spawn."

Price said smallmouths are schooling fish, and June is the top time to see them corral baitfish at the surface and do a Freddy Krueger on them.

"If they get on top and start busting baitfish, we throw topwater lures such as Zara Spooks, Pop-Rs, typical walk-the-dog type lures or shad-looking soft-plastics," he said. "Sometimes we tie on a small lead weight to help soft-plastics get a little deeper than the top."

Price said June smallmouth fishing is the flip-side of November.

"Smallmouths start orienting on points," he said. "But you don't have long, tapering points at James. A point might be only 100-yards long, and smallmouths can push shad or herring right up on top of it. They also school in the backs of little bays or coves. You just have to watch."

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Price fishes channel bends and lets novice clients drop down Carolina-rigs tipped with live minnows. Sometimes he lets them jig Hopkins lures or Tackletown jigs tipped with minnows.

"It's tough for inexperienced anglers to catch smallmouths with (artificial) lures," he said. "But they catch some real chunks, 4- and 5-pounders, on minnows."

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