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The Winston-Salem Journal
  |   Feb. 28, 2005
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Daydreams about big fish
These are some of the prime locations and times for catching some of your favorite game fish

By Dan Kibler

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The end of January. What better time of year to think about fishing? If you're not a basketball fan, dreaming about big fish is about as much enjoyment as you can get until the water warms back up in March.

I enjoy watching Chris Paul dribble as much as the next guy, but the thought of big fish is enough to get me to start spending my evenings cleaning my reels and spooling them with new line, checking all the hooks on my crankbaits for rust, organizing baits and all that stuff you read about people doing but never have time to do yourself.

Not only do I daydream about big fish, but I generally daydream about taking trips to certain places to catch those big fish.

So here are few of my most recent daydreams, in calendar order:

April, smallmouth bass, Lake James: Please forgive me, Mr. Largemouth, but you don't hold a candle to your brown cousins. There's nothing like watching a big smallmouth bass at eye level - after he's rocketed out of the water and tried to throw your bait back in your face at a distance of 20 feet.

Lake James is the closest and most prolific smallmouth fishery to North Carolina's major metropolitan areas. It is at the top of the Catawba River chain, but it's still fairly fertile; it has large populations of walleye and smallmouth bass. In April, you're liable to be targeting one or the other and catch both.

Smallmouth generally spawn in April, and the Linville River arm of the lake and its tributaries are prime areas to look. Guide Stanley Correll of Hickory has taken me on "foolaround days" when we landed at least a dozen smallmouth that weighed two to three pounds, using live shiners for bait. He targets secondary points about one-half to two-thirds of the way back in creeks for fish that are moving back to spawn. He uses relatively light spinning tackle, which makes every shake of a smallmouth's head an experience. If there's an eight-pound smallmouth swimming in a North Carolina lake, it will likely be either Lake James of Hiwassee Lake in the far southwestern corner of the state.

May, flounder, Cape Lookout: Fishing the artificial reefs out of the Cape Fear River has long been considered a great way to catch lots of big flounder, but recently, fishermen in the Morehead City area have discovered that flounder fishing takes off early in the year on the artificial reefs near Beaufort Inlet.

The artificial reef guide in Mike Marsh's book "Offshore Angler: Carolina's Mackerel Boat Fishing Guide," describes A.R. 315, the Atlantic Beach reef, as made up of a 440-foot liberty ship, a 40-foot Coast Guard launch, a trawler, a 104-foot Navy tug, a couple of military aircraft, concrete reef balls and concrete rubble, scattered over an area maybe 300x300 yards wide, not quite four miles from the Beaufort Inlet sea buoy.

I'm not sure what else is there, but there should be a lot of flounder down there as soon as temperatures rise.

Pro bass fisherman Chris Elliott of Gloucester is an inshore guide when he's not on the cast-for-cash circuit, and he and a handful of other Cape Lookout regulars discovered the flounder bite on the inshore artificial reefs out of Beaufort Inlet last year. He had days when he caught dozens of flounder, along with Spanish mackerel and black sea bass.

Flounder are a structure-oriented fish, Elliott said. They love to lay on the bottom, behind a chunk of concrete or up against the propeller of a sunken ship, and have at whatever baitfish happens to swim past. So artificial reefs are great ambush spots for flounder, and even better places for fishermen.

Spinning tackle and live bait is all you'll need. Use a Carolina rig - egg sinker threaded on above a barrel swivel, then a couple of feet of leader to the hook, and drift it across the bottom. Don't drift through the actual concrete and ships - lift your bait off the bottom a few turns of the reel when the junk shows up on your depthfinder. Drop it to the bottom on the outside of the structure, where the fish will be waiting.

June, cobia, Diamond Shoals: For years, the best cobia fishing in this state has been in and around Hatteras Inlet and Ocracoke Inlet. Two years ago, something happened, and a lot of the big cobia that had set up shop in the deep sloughs around those inlets, just swam right on past.

They stopped around Diamond Shoals, some of them even crossing the shoals to what locals call the "north beach." Now the area around the shots has become probably the best coastal spot to catch cobia. The only big variable is the weather. A strong blow, especially from the southwest, can keep you in port or around the inlet. But in a light wind, it's about a 30-minute run from Hatteras Inlet to the fishing grounds.

Two years ago, a state-record cobia that weighed 113 pounds, six ounces, was wrestled off the shoals, where cobia have found good feeding in shallow water. According to guide Ken Demp-sey, who set up shop in Hatteras about 10 years ago, the shoals features a series of "step-downs" as they drop off into deeper water. Anchoring around one of these little drop-offs and putting out your baits is a great way to tangle with a big cobia.

Chumming is a key. Ground fish of any kind will put out a good slick, but oily menhaden are probably the best. Big cut baits fished on heavy, heavy tackle, using a fish-finder rig with a 7/0 to 9/0 circle hook is preferred on the business end of your outfit.

July, largemouth bass, Shearon Harris Lake: Why go bass fishing in July? Because Harris is one of North Carolina's best hot-weather fisheries, outstripping even High Rock Lake, Lake Wylie, Buggs Island and Jordan Lake.

The reason: grass, the stringy green kind that grows off the lake's floor to the surface or within a few feet. Hydrilla.

Harris has always been a fine summer fishery, but until the past few years, it was fine because of the number of bass you could catch schooling on top out in open water. Lately, the bite has moved toward the bank - but not all the way. Fishermen like guide Phil Cable of Cary have figured out that a lot of bass will spend the summer tucked under the deepest edges of the hydrilla beds, using those grass lines as ambush points to feed on whatever swims past.

And Cable and others have figured out that a lot of the soft-plastic baits that were spawned by the "Senko" craze are right for catching grass bass. Just rig the worm "wacky-style" - with a single hook through the middle of the worm, the egg-sack area, flip it to the edge of the grass and let it sink to the bottom. If it gets to the bottom, jig it one time, let it fall, and reel it back in. Normally, the strike will occur when the worm is sinking past the grass, its ends wobbling. And since the hook point is bare, you're likely to get a good hookset. You'll likely need one, because Harris is probably this state's top trophy lake, with a 16- to- 20-inch slot limit protecting fish out to about the five-pound mark.

August? Who cares about August? Even I can't think that far ahead.

Dan Kibler can be reached at 727-7383 or

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2005 Winston-Salem Journal. The Winston-Salem Journal is a Media General newspaper.