NC: Little-Known Walleye Fishery in Lake Gaston Offers Unique Fishing Opportunities

LITTLETON, N.C. (Feb. 15, 2012) – Lake Gaston, a 20,300-acre
reservoir located in Halifax, Warren and Northampton counties, has
long been a favorite fishing spot among striped bass and largemouth
bass anglers.

But what may be a surprise to many anglers is that the lake also
contains a little-known and rather robust fishery for walleye, a
coolwater species found mainly in larger reservoirs in western
North Carolina.

Kirk Rundle, a district biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources
Commission, says that walleye, also known as pike and jackfish, do
well in Lake Gaston mainly because of the lake’s multiple refuges
of cool, deep water and substantial rocky areas that provide good
spawning habitat.

Since 2000, Commission biologists have surveyed the lake each
spring, during the fish’s spawning run just downstream from the
John H. Kerr Dam. From these surveys, they collect data on walleye
abundance, length-and-weight distribution, sex ratio, and age and
growth.

Biologists from North Carolina and Virginia also have stocked the
lake periodically with walleye fingerlings to supplement the
existing fishery, although Rundle says they’ve documented natural
reproduction in the lake as well.

Based on past surveys, Rundle says fish average about 21 inches and
just over three pounds, which seems to be about the size caught by
most anglers as well.

Because Lake Gaston spans five counties in two states, different
creel and size limits apply.

When fishing for walleye in North Carolina waters, there is an
8-fish daily creel limit with no minimum size limit. When fishing
in the portion of the lake that falls in Virginia, there is a
5-fish daily creel limit and an 18-inch minimum size limit. North
Carolina and Virginia have a reciprocal license agreement for Lake
Gaston, which means that hook-and-line fishing licenses purchased
from either North Carolina or Virginia are honored in Lake
Gaston.

For anglers hoping to tangle with the elusive walleye, Rundle
offers some advice on where to fish, when to fish and what baits to
use.

Where to Fish

Walleye tend to travel considerably and Rundle says that a good
depth finder is essential in locating walleye, baitfish and
suitable habitat. During the spring spawning period, walleye tend
to congregate in the very upper reaches of Lake Gaston,
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, they’re spread out across
most of the lake.

When to Fish

Dusk and dawn are perhaps the best times to catch this low-light
loving fish. The walleye’s most identifiable characteristic is its
large, glassy eyes, which are sensitive to light. Because of this
sensitivity, walleye normally seek deep cover during daylight,
although they may be more active during the day when the water is
muddy or the sky is overcast. On sunny days, Rundle suggests
anglers fish at dawn or wait until dusk, when walleye tend to
undergo their most active feeding periods.

What to Fish

Popular walleye lures include spinners, crankbaits and jigs.
Spinnerbaits are a trustworthy walleye lure, and Rundle says it’s
important to weight them when fishing in deeper water so they get
down to where walleye are hiding.

Sinking and deep-diving plugs, or crankbaits, are excellent walleye
baits because they have the characteristic of getting deep and are
ideal for trolling.

Walleye are very finicky and often take their time when deciding
whether to bite or not, which make jigs one of the most popular
types of walleye fishing lures because they are meant to be
retrieved slowly.

When retrieving a jig, Rundle recommends using an intermittent
reeling action, allowing the jig to rise and fall. Walleye
typically strike when the jig is falling. Slow jigging works best
during the cooler months when the fish are less active, while
faster retrieves work better in the warm months.

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. Rundle recommends a
“float plan” 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.

For more information on fishing in public, inland waters, visit
www.ncwildlife.org/fishing.

 

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