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Winter Fishing in NC Centers on Trout, Walleye

Winter is usually not a good time to go fishing for freshwater species in North Carolina. The reasons are many.

The main one is because (duh) is it's too cold. But that does not mean it's too cold for fishermen. Outdoorsmen do not care much about cold; just ask a waterfowl hunter's wife.

Guys who chase swans, geese and ducks like bad weather. If it's sleeting and the season's open, you'll find them shivering in blinds at Currituck or standing waist deep in a beaver pond they had to crack skim ice to wade through, waiting for wood ducks to come zipping over the tree line at dawn or dusk. If the specks or reds are stacked up at Cape Lookout, boats will be lined up thick enough to walk from one end of the jetty to the other when the temperature's so low ice forms in the line guides. Ever been in a Donzi a mile off the beach north of Oregon Inlet in January and hear on the radio the stripers are thick at the Boiler, 6 miles south? Get ready for a screaming, wave-topping run to get where the action is. You can worry later about frostbitten noses, checks and ears.

But fresh fishing is different. Bass and crappie get lethargic and go deep where they'll sulk until March, eating one baitfish a week as their metabolism slows to bear hibernation levels.

Only a few big-lake freshwater fish remain active in winter across the Tar Heel landscape. They include walleye (yes, walleye swim in North Carolina) and mountain trout.

Winter trout fishing, believe it or not, is a big deal in North Carolina, especially in delayed-harvest streams stocked, maintained and regulated by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

Income figures of the WRC from trout fishing license sales are stunning. Altogether trout chasers spend more money to fish for rainbows, browns and brook trout than on any other species in the Tar Heel state – and have for years. Why do you think the WRC has tossed all that money at hatcheries to stock 3,000 miles of mountain streams, plus lakes each year (where do you figure the money coming from)? Last year the two remaining coldwater hatcheries (Marion and Pisgah) produced 850,000 rainbows, browns and brookies and dumped them into NC waters. An estimated 130,000 anglers fish annual for trout in western NC, spending $ 174 million, not including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee Indian Reservation.

Delayed-harvest streams provide the best opportunities for winter trout anglers. They're marked with stream-side signs, and anglers may keep fish until 7 pm, June 1, 2012, but the season reopens at 6 am June 2, 2012 (after re-stocking).

Harvest-supported hatchery waters are fishable until February 29, 2012, then close April 7-July 31. Hatchery-supported waters have no lure restrictions (live or artificial bait may be used) while delayed-harvest waters are restricted to artificial lures with a single hook and no live bait.

Wild trout, wild trout-natural bait, catch-and-release / artificial-lure-only, catch-and-release / fly-only, special-regulation and undesignated trout waters have no closed seasons.

One of the newest, most fishable delayed-harvests streams is the Ararat River in Mt. Airy between the NC 103 bridge and NC 52. It was designated delayed-harvest in August 2011 and opened to the public this fall.

Delayed-harvest signs nailed on tree trunks are black-and-white. Anglers can fish on a catch-and-release basis from fall through spring.

"Given its relatively low elevation – approximately 1,000 feet above sea level – the Ararat River should stay a bit warmer and provide good fishing further into the winter months than many other delayed-harvest streams," WRC district fisheries biologist Kin Hodges said.

Mt. Airy recently completed three "greenway" walking areas along the river's bank at Riverside Park on NC 103; HB Rowe Environmental Park on Hamburg Road; and, Tharrington Elementary School Park upstream of NC 52. Anglers may fish the Ararat River from the banks at these parks.

Walleye fishing in winter is good at Fontana Lake on the southern edge of the Great Smokies near Bryson City; Hiwassee Lake in the far-western corner (near Murphy) of the state; and Lake James, east of Asheville.

Anglers will need a good fish-finder because walleye like to hang out at depths ranging from 40 to 80 feet because they avoid bright sunlight. Night fishing is popular during spring and especially summer and fall. Walleyes often are found near really deep structures that hold baitfish.

Spoons, jigs and plastic worms are good walleye lures.

One technique that works well is to cast a jig parallel to the boat and let it sink. Start a hopping motion using only the wrist. Make the jig hop 6 to 12 inches from the bottom while retrieving the jig between hops. Slack the line after each hop.

While walleye are one of the best-tasting freshwater fish, anglers should note a consumption advisory for walleye because of mercury levels in Fontana and Santeetlah reservoirs.

Source by Craig Holt

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