The lure of fall fishing at High Rock Lake

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 15, 2014

Though High Rock Lake will be half empty come October, the cup will be half full for lake fishermen this fall.
Lake levels will be reduced to 14 feet below full due to Alcoa Power Generating Inc.’s necessary lake drawdown for the N.C. Department of Transportation’s road repair planning on St. Matthews Church Road. The perk? Lower water will make the fishing all that much better.
Nobody knows this better than Maynard Edwards of Extreme Fishing Concepts guide service. A High Rock fishing guide of 21 years, Edwards says that the lower water levels will bring the “fall bite” in early.
“It’s just common sense that when there is less water, there’s fewer places for the fish to hide. It tends to group them and make them more predictable,” Edwards said.
Fishermen aren’t the only ones benefiting from the lower water levels. When the lake levels drop, more of the lake bottom has access to air and sun. Plants and other organisms start to grow, Edwards said. “When the water comes back up that’s all food for the fish.”
Drawdown aside, the best months of fishing on High Rock — October, November, and December — are right around the corner.
“In the fall, things start cooling off and the fish start acting up,” said Edwards. “Fall is just a wonderful time to catch fish. It’s always been that way.”
Teaching people to fish comes naturally to Edwards ,who retired in 2012 from 28 years of teaching for Davidson County Public Schools. Edwards fishes High Rock, Tuckertown and Badin Lakes with clients who most often ask to fish for crappie and catfish. Channel catfish are the best catfish for eating, with the larger catfish species in the lakes being the flathead and blue catfish. Largemouth bass, striped bass and white perch are also popular catches.
Come late fall and early winter the striped bass, or “stripers,” return to High Rock Lake and are especially attractive to fishermen. “They fight so hard, best fight of any fish on the lake,” said Edwards. “And they grow. Your average striper on High Rock is 8 to 12 pounds.”
Striped bass are also excellent for eating, Edwards said, and contain fewer toxins than bottom-feeding catfish since striped bass only eat live bait.
Overall, the High Rock Lake fishery is a healthy one. Striped bass are the only fish stocked annually at the lake, as conditions for the upriver-spawning striped bass are not present in the Yadkin River above High Rock Lake.
“Largemouth bass and catfish fisheries are doing very well,” said Lawrence Dorsey, fisheries biologist for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “The crappie populations are large though the fish are small on average.”
Proposals are under way to remove the size and creel limits on crappie in hopes that the increased harvest will increase the average size of crappie on the lake.
Though the lower water levels will enhance the fall bite, Edwards warns boaters and fishermen to exercise extra caution while navigating the reduced lake.
“When the water goes down, people will be finding things they didn’t know were in the lake,” said Edwards. “There are places in the middle of this lake that will be completely dry.” Both shallow areas and debris present dangers.
For launching boats in the reduced water levels, Edwards advises boaters to use the Abbott’s Creek access, which was designed to be a deep-water launch. The second deepest launch is the Flat Swamp access.
The start of the drawdown, originally scheduled for mid-September, was postponed until Oct. 1 after Alcoa responded to feedback from lake residents.
The Transportation Department inspection will take place the first week of November, after which Alcoa will fill the lake as quickly as possible.
Although a variety of situations necessitate drawdowns, Alcoa keeps the fishery in mind while managing lake levels.
“Drawdowns typically take place in the late fall to limit the impact on recreational users, while ensuring there is adequate time to capture rainfall and refill the lake before the fish spawning season,” said Karen Baldwin, natural resource specialist for Alcoa.
As for Edwards, he will be on the water come low or high lake levels.
“I can’t tell you how much I enjoy helping other people catch fish, especially kids,” said Edwards. “If the fish will bite, I’m gonna catch ‘em.”