April offers a piscatorial smorgasbord at North Carolina’s Fontana Lake for bass, with anglers having a chance to catch smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass. It’s commonplace to catch one species while fishing for another, as they often mix together.
When the water temperature climbs from the mid-50s into the 60s, the bass in the 10,200-acre lake leave their deep-water winter haunts for the shallows where fishermen can catch them with less effort.
Smallmouth bass move to gravel points in 5 to 10 feet of water that serve as staging areas before the spawn, while largemouth bass migrate to shallow pockets on the north side of the lake. Spots linger in deeper, more open water near extended points and often thrash shad at the surface.
Guide James McManus of 153 Charters (828-421-8125) started fishing at Fontana Lake more than 40 years ago. He recalls when live lizards were the secret weapon for slaying smallmouth.
While some anglers still target smallmouth with live bait, most today employ artificial baits for catching them, in conjunction with high-tech tackle and electronics.
Small crankbaits, like a Rebel Wee-R, a No. 5 or 7 Shad Rap or a Norman Baby N in crawdad and shad patterns, are used for catching staging bass from gravel points, rock banks, ledges and tree laps. Other choices include spinnerbaits, doll flies, jigs, jerkbaits and tube baits.
Whatever the lure, Fontana’s clear waters dictate light baitcasting or spinning gear and reels spooled with 6- to 10-pound test line.
McManus said small threadfin shad make up the main forage in Fontana, though some blueback herring are present, so small crankbaits and jigs are more effective.
One old-time lure that’s still deadly for smallmouth is a Rapala stickbait, retrieved with a tantalizing twitch-and-pause action.
McManus recalls an outing years ago near the mouth of Hazel Creek when he and a buddy wore smallies out with Rapalas.
“Wanting to switch tactics, I threw a Rapala jerkbait to the bank, twitched once, paused and came tight to a really nice smallie,” said McManus. “Two more casts, two more fish, and my partner began throwing one also. For the next several hours, we caught 54 smallies without a single spotted bass.”
McManus said catches like that rarely occur now with the introduction of spots into Fontana about 15 years ago by fishermen.
“Spots are more aggressive, take smallie spawning areas and interbreed, gang up in feeding venues, and have quickly changed the balance of smallies and spots,” said McManus. “Keep a few spots, return the smallies and enjoy one of the most beautiful lakes anywhere.”