Two Claremont men reeled in a big surprise on Lake Hickory a month ago, but it was no surprise to biologists. Joshua Franklin caught a walleye while fishing at night for catfish with his friend, Evan Hendershot.
“He was holding his rod, I was holding mine, and then all of a sudden we saw a bite yank on his rod,” Hendershot said. “The drag went off so we were like ‘Oh, we got a bigger one.’ He fought it for a second and got it closer to the boat.”
Franklin and Hendershot were fishing with night crawlers near the US 321 bridge. The fishing had been steady, with each catching several small catfish before Franklin hooked the walleye. At first, Hendershot thought Franklin had caught a largemouth bass, because of the walleye’s green color, but he changed his mind, remembering a television show he watched the week before on walleye fishing.
“I kind of had an idea of what they were and said, ‘Dude, I think that’s a walleye.’ Then I saw its mouth had a lot of teeth in it and the back fins,” Hendershot said.
The two debated about whether to keep and eat the fish but ultimately decided to release it.
Although Lake Hickory does not have a large number of walleye, biologist say there is a population that has been present for at least a decade. Christopher Wood, a fisheries biologist with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said the agency did not stock fish in Lake Hickory, but they had found their way in anyway.
“We do not stock (Lake) Rhodhiss or Hickory, but both of those reservoirs tend to have a halfway decent population of walleye,” Wood said. “It’s one of those places that you don’t hear of a lot of people catching walleye, but the ones they do are usually really big.”
Franklin and Hendershot were not able to weigh their fish on the boat but estimate it at 4 to 5 pounds. Kin Hodges, another Commission biologist, said he encounters walleye semi-regularly during annual striped bass surveys.
”Depending on the year, we’ll occasionally bump into a number of walleye as well,” Hodges said. “It’s a small number. If we catch 80 or 90 stripers, we might catch, on the average, four to eight walleye mixed in with them.”
Hodges said the two species occupy the same open-water habitat, and both prey on shad, but he added that the small population in Lake Hickory did not threaten the striper fishery.