Walleye in Lake Gaston — A Little-Known, But Surprisingly Good, Fishery
1/30/2012 1:20 PM
Earlier this month, we heard from Dave Yow, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s warmwater research coordinator, on walleye fishing in western North Carolina. This week, we’re going to stay on topic, but we’re moving east to talk about a little-known, but surprisingly good, walleye fishery at Lake Gaston.
As many of you bass anglers probably already know, Lake Gaston, which is located in portions of Halifax, Northampton and Warren counties, provides really good fishing for largemouth bass and striped bass. But walleye fishing can be good too, despite the fact that the species is known as a coolwater fish typically found in the mountains in this state.
Kirk Rundle, the Commission’s district 3 fisheries biologist, is quite familiar with the Lake Gaston walleye fishery, having surveyed the lake frequently since 2005. He and fellow biologist, Bill Collart, target walleye in the early spring during their spawning run just downstream from the John H. Kerr Dam. From the surveys, Rundle and Collart collect data on walleye age, growth, abundance, sex ratio, and length and weight distribution.
Rundle will take it from here, giving you the latest information about walleye in Lake Gaston.
Walleye, also known as pike and jackfish, are customarily thought of as a midwestern and northern fish, along with having some popularity in the mountains of North Carolina. However, many anglers are surprised to learn that Lake Gaston, located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina and Virginia, has a good walleye population. Walleye populations east of the North Carolina mountains are rare, and with few exceptions, Lake Gaston is the only reservoir with a considerable fishery for walleye. Walleye fingerlings are stocked during most years in Lake Gaston; however, natural reproduction has been documented.
Walleye success in Lake Gaston may be associated with refuges of cool, deep water, along with substantial rocky areas beneficial as walleye spawning habitat.
Perhaps the walleye’s most identifiable characteristic is its large, glassy eyes, which are sensitive to light. Walleye normally seek deep cover during daylight, due to their sensitive eyes, yet may be more active during this time under turbid water conditions and/or overcast weather conditions. Otherwise, walleye tend to feed most actively at dusk and dawn.
Walleye tend to travel considerably and a good depth finder is helpful in locating walleye, baitfish and suitable habitat. During the spring spawning period, walleye tend to congregate in the very upper reaches of Lake Gaston, followed by transitioning to areas just downstream (in the vicinity of the U.S. Route 1 and Interstate 85 bridges) during the late spring/early summer. During the remainder of the year, walleye spread across most of the lake.
Popular walleye lures include spinners, crankbaits and jigs. Spinners are trustworthy walleye lures. It is important to weight spinners to reach deeper water where the walleyes hide. A bottom bouncer or three-way swivel with a weight and a leader attached to a hook will allow you to fish near the bottom. A minnow or large nightcrawlers can be effective walleye baits used on spinner rigs. Regarding spinner blade color, the transparency of the water is important, with silver and gold working best in clear water and a bright color, such as chartreuse, being a better choice in murky water.
Sinking and deep-diving plugs, or crankbaits, are excellent walleye baits because they have the characteristic of getting deep and are ideal for trolling. The advantage of trolling is the ability to cover a large amount of water in a fairly short period of time, which is helpful in finding the elusive walleye. Long, thin crankbaits that have a wide wobble are preferred over shorter, fatter crankbaits that have tight wiggles. So, your favorite largemouth bass crankbait may not work equally well on walleye.
Walleye are very finicky and often take their time when deciding whether to bite or not. This makes jigs one of the most popular types of walleye fishing lures because they are meant to be retrieved slowly. When retrieving a jig, use an intermittent retrieve, allowing the jig to rise and fall. Normally, strikes occur when the jig is falling. Slow jigging works best during the cooler months when the fish are less active, while faster retrieves are more appropriate during the warmer months. Many types of jigs are available and anglers should experiment with everything from bucktail jigs, to twistertail jigs, to plain jigs with a worm or minnow attached.
Safety is a key concern when fishing a large reservoir such as Lake Gaston, with an abundance of boat traffic during the warmer months and dangerously cold water in the winter. A “float plan” is recommended so that someone knows where you’re going and when you expect to return.
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 Lake Gaston. Consumption advisories are issued by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which maintains an updated list on its website.
Currently, there is an 8-fish daily creel limit with no minimum size limit for walleye in Lake Gaston in North Carolina waters. But there is a 5-fish daily creel limit and 18-inch minimum size limit effective in the Virginia waters of Lake Gaston. A reciprocal fishing license agreement is in effect between North Carolina and Virginia for Lake Gaston. Statewide hook-and-line fishing licenses obtained from either North Carolina or Virginia are honored in Lake Gaston.