Winter Walleye Fishing in Western North Carolina
1/17/2012 11:15 AM
Although most people think of trout fishing when visiting the mountains — and no doubt North Carolina has some of the best trout fishing opportunities in the Southeast — fishing for walleye also can offer some exciting fishing action as well as some excellent table fare — if you’re lucky enough to land one.
Walleye, also known as pike and jackfish, thrive in cooler waters. While most of North Carolina’s mountain reservoirs have walleye populations, the best walleye fishing can be found in Fontana and Hiwassee reservoirs and in Lake James. That’s according to David Yow, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s warmwater-research coordinator and an expert on walleye fisheries.
Fontana Reservoir, located on the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City, is a large, deep reservoir that provides plenty of forage and habitat for its walleye population. Further west, Hiwassee Reservoir near Murphy has a walleye fishery that has rebounded due to annual walleye fingerling stockings. On the eastern side of the mountains, Lake James provides a walleye-fishing experience within easy driving distance for anglers in the central part of the state.
Regardless of where you fish for walleye, be sure to bring a good depth finder, Yow advises, because this species tends to avoid sunlight and often is found in deep water associated with baitfish or structure.
“A good depth finder is essential for determining trolling depth or locating schools for still fishing,” Yow said. “Walleye schools may be as deep as 90 feet or more this time of year. That also affects the way you handle your catch.”
Bringing a fish up from that depth may affect its ability to survive if released, and some studies have indicated that the deeper a fish is caught, the less likely it is to survive.
“For that reason we have no length limits for walleye in our mountain reservoirs, with the exception of Lake James, which has a 15-inch minimum,” Yow said.
Popular baits include spoons, jigs and plastic worms. One technique that works well is to cast the jig parallel to the boat and let it sink. Start a hopping motion using only the wrist, not the arm. Make the jig hop six to 12 inches from the bottom while retrieving the jig between hops. Slack the line after each hop.
Safety is a key concern when fishing mountain reservoirs in winter and Yow recommends that anglers have a “float plan” so that someone knows where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
“Because water levels are lower, shallow points or submerged ridges present more navigational hazards in winter than in warmer months when the reservoirs are full,” Yow said. “There are also fewer boaters on the water to help if you get into trouble, and there is no cell phone service in some of the more remote areas.”
While walleye is considered by many to be one of the best tasting of all freshwater fish, anglers should note that there is a consumption advisory for walleye due to mercury levels in Fontana and Santeelah reservoirs. Consumption advisories are issued by the Department of Health and Human Services; visit its website for an updated list.
If you didn’t get a chance to read about trout fishing on the Ararat River, check out last week’s blog.
In addition to helping provide walleye-fishing and trout-fishing opportunities, the Wildlife Resources Commission helps manage more than 500 sites across the state where the public can cast a line. Check out the fishing sites, as well as the life history and fishing techniques on 33 of the most popular freshwater fish species that swim North Carolina’s lakes, streams, rivers and ponds.
(Photo shows David Yow, the agency’s warmwater-research coordinator, with a walleye.)