Falls Lake bass-fishing can be magic in spring for North Carolina fishermen
It might not be a rabbit out of a hat, but high numbers of bass out of Falls Lake is totally possible during the postspawn period.
|Photo by CHRIS GINN|
This hefty Falls Lake chub nailed a topwater lure. Many times at the lower lake section, bass will corral schools of shad against the rock walls and slash through them, a good spot to try a topwater lure.
Antsy bass anglers who have been struggling to get bit look forward to these times with the anticipation of a child awaiting Christmas. These magic moments are also well documented in the annals of bass fishing by outdoor writers who craft their words in ways that make these moments seem surreal.
“I can’t wait until the bass are up spawning,” anglers often say.
“I wish fall would hurry up and get here so I can get on those feeding fish,” another might wish.
But rarely does any angler hope for the postspawn to make a speedy appearance.
Look at the annals of bass fishing, right next to magic moments, and see the documentation about how tough the postspawn is supposed to be. There are numerous reasons from how the bass are in a funk or how they are trying to recover from the rigors of the spawn.
It ain’t necessarily so, depending on where an angler happens to wet his line.
The postspawn may be tough on some anglers, or at some lakes, but that isn’t the case at Falls Lake.
Lying in the shadow of Raleigh between Durham and Wake Forest, the lake has a split personality, with the upper portion from the N.C. 50 Bridge to Interstate-85 resembling more of a flat, lowland lake, but the lower section from the N.C. 50 bridge to the dam in Wake County being more like a river-run lake with bluffs, rocky banks and little backwater. It’s the lower part of the lake where most of the postspawn magic occurs.
The magic moment on Falls Lake is best described by two anglers who either catch fish at Falls Lake or they go hungry. Joel Munday has been running Outdoor Expeditions Guide Service (919-669-2959) for over six years, and he frequently has clients requesting trips to Falls Lake.
Jeffrey Thomas also guides on Falls Lake when he isn’t busy competing against the best anglers in the nation on the FLW and BASS tournament trails. Both anglers know that there is a two-week period sometime during May that can make the spring spawn and the fall feeding frenzy seem like dry spells.
“One of the best bass binges in North Carolina happens at Falls Lake when the shad are moving in to spawn and the bass are moving out after their spawn,” said Munday. “When these two worlds collide, it creates some of the fastest action of the year.”
Thomas knows all about the meeting of these two different worlds as well. He has figured out what causes this magic May moment is the bass have completed their spawn and have moved back out to suspend in open water to recuperate. These fish are going to eventually move back shallow looking for something to eat. When they get there, they find a virtual shad smorgasbord waiting on them.
According to Munday and Thomas, this two-week free-for-all is somewhat easy to predict.
“The shad traditionally move in to spawn in the latter part of May,” Munday said. “Of course the exact timing is going to depend on lake conditions like water level and temperature. Once the water reaches the high 60s and low 70s, you can bet the shad are going to be moving in.”
Thomas agreed the optimum temperature is the upper 60s and lower 70s, but said there’s a sure-fire way to know when the shad are spawning.
“It’s real simple,” he said. “You’ll see shad running the bank in little packs … almost like they washed up on shore.”
“I’ve seen them doing that too,” Munday said. “You can see the shad coming completely out of the water and up on the bank. I think the bass are hemming them up and pushing them toward the bank. The shad are trying desperately to escape, and they wind up out of the water.”
Another way to tell this magic moment is about to take place is when you stop catching spawning bass and start catching bass with empty bellies that obviously have finished spawning. Munday said once anglers know the main bass spawn is about over, they should start keeping an eye out for spawning shad.
The guides agreed the lower half of the lake is the prime area to catch bass that are eating spawning shad. This section offers deeper banks, a lot more rocks and good main lake and secondary points.
Munday said there are several reasons he concentrates at this end of the lake.
“From Highway 50 down is the better area for me because the water is clearer and there are more rocks down there,” he said.
Thomas agreed, and said the upper portion of the lake is more of a flatland lake with lots of stumps and mud clay banks.
“There are few rocks in the upper end, other than the rip-rap,” he said. “So I guess if you were going to try this in the upper end, I’d say to get on those rip-rap rocks.”
Saying to fish the lower end of the lake doesn’t really narrow it down very much, Thomas pointed out a few areas to fish and a few details to keep in mind.
“Upper Barton, New Light, Horse Creek and Honeycutt Creek near the dam have all been productive for me in the past,” he said. “I look for straight banks that have little indentions in them … we call them ‘eyebrows.’
“What happens here is the shad that are grouped together are running down the bank. When they hit these little indentions, they stop and bunch up even tighter. If you’ve got some wind blowing into those little areas, it can be awesome.”
Munday said he looks for banks and points adjacent to deep water that have about the same gradual slope as a boat ramp. He said he believes bass that are moving back out to the main lake will stop at these kinds of spots.
“These best areas for me are the banks that have spotty chunk rock along a clay bank,” Munday said.
According to both anglers, the bite is mainly an early morning and late-afternoon bite. However, there are some conditions that can make it last all day long — and some conditions that can shut it off completely.
“If the weatherman is predicting sunny skies, you better get out there early,” Munday said. “There’ll be a wave of activity first thing, but it will die off as the sun comes on up.
“In that case, you’ll have to back off and start Carolina rigging if you want to keep catching them.
“On the other hand, if you’re faced with a cloudy and windy day, this bite will last all day long.”
Munday said his favorite way to fish the early bite and during cloudy days is to throw topwater lures at feeding fish. His two most productive lures are a Megabass Pop-X and a Dog-X.
“I like those two baits because they are about the same size as the shad,” he said. “I typically throw both on a spinning rod spooled up with about 12-pound-test line. The spinning gear helps me make a long cast with the light topwaters.”
If the bass don’t respond to his topwater lures, Munday said he doesn’t hesitate to switch to a soft jerkbait like a Fluke. He prefers baby bass and watermelon colors.
“I’ll sometimes add a split-shot or a little Sticky Weight to make it cast farther and get down a little deeper,” he said.
Munday said it’s important to be systematic when fishing the shad spawn. Once he selects a bank, he typically goes down the bank, fan-casting all the way.
“I can cover a lot of water that way,” he said. “It’s also important to cast into the wind and reel your lure with the wind, especially on a point.”
While Munday said fishing the shad spawn can produce lots of small fish, he has had days that produce much larger bass.
“Keep in mind that this is post-spawn and the fish aren’t going to be as heavy as they were just a few weeks earlier,” he said, “but you can catch fish up to 5 or 6 pounds fishing this way.”
Thomas said if the sky is overcast, anglers can’t beat a spinnerbait. If fact, a spinnerbait is how he sometimes finds concentrations of shad.
“Those shad get all grouped up, and when you throw a spinnerbait they’ll get all around it,” he said.
“You can actually feel them bumping into your bait. And sometimes you’ll feel the blades stop turning because there are so many shad around it. Once you find a bunch of shad that are following your bait, you can be confident you're in a good area.
“In my opinion, the more areas you can find with shad following your bait, the more success you’re going to have. If you aren’t seeing any shad you might as well move on.”
Thomas relies upon two spinnerbaits to produce bass during the shad spawn. One is a white 1/2-ounce double-willowleaf Hawg Caller with No. 4 and No. 4 1/2-size blades. The other is a shad colored 1/2-ounce Hawg Caller triple-blade spinnerbait.
“I like the bigger blades to give me a big profile in the water,” Thomas said. “I think the bigger profile helps get the shad excited and makes them follow it, and I can find productive areas better that way.
“And if you’ve ever watched a triple-blade spinnerbait in the water, you already know how much it looks like a small school of shad. That thing can really make the bass go crazy sometimes.”
Of course, Thomas also relies heavily upon topwater lures, just as does Munday.
“I’d say topwater is best overall,” he said. “Day after day, you can go out there with a Pop-R or some kind of chugger, get on a bank with some shad and you’ll catch them. I’ve had days of 50 to 100 fish on the topwaters. Of course, when you catch that many, most are going to be the smaller bass that aren’t too smart yet.”
Thomas also said sunny days aren’t the best for fishing near spawning shad, but he does have a way to combat the sun and keep catching fish. His secret is swimming a white Rattleback jig with a white Berkley Power Grub trailer.
“This can work great when it’s real sunny,” he said. “It’s just like spinnerbait fishing. I like to keep it where I can just barely see it under the water. The shad will follow it just like they do the spinnerbait.”
Whereas Munday relies mainly upon spinning gear and light line to throw his small baits, Thomas does the opposite. His routinely rigs his baitcasting gear with 17-pound-test Stren Magna Flex for the spinnerbait and 20-pound line for swimming the jig.
“I don’t worry too much about spooking these fish with big line,” he said. “I’m more worried about getting them in. There’s so many shad in the area anyway, it’s probably pretty difficult for a fish to see your line among all that commotion.”
If you're missing the spring spawn, and you don’t want to wait on the fall feeding frenzy, try going out and fishing this new magic moment. The shad are bunched up, and the bass are bunched up with them.
All you’ve got to do is hit the lake and find them. The bass are going to eat. They don’t care if it’s a real shad or a fake one— they're going to bite.
But this Falls Lake action only lasts a couple of weeks. If anglers procrastinate, they’ll miss out of some of the fastest bass action of the year — and a new magic moment.
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