• March 2013 - Volume 20, Number 3


    Sooner or later, record harvests will stop, so North Carolina hunters should take advantage of a burgeoning turkey population while it lasts.

    No other type of hunting in North Carolina offers a challenge to match the pursuit of wild turkey gobblers in the spring.

    According to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, 57,233 hunters spent 286,501 days in the woods during the month-long spring season in 2011. The average hunter chased longbeards five days that season, and only 38 percent tagged a bird, giving them a daily success ratio of around 7 percent.

    Almost every hunter has to make around a half dozen realistic turkey sounds — using a mouth, slate, box or other kind of call — in order to fool a gobbler into believing a receptive hen is interested in him.

    Lake Hartwell isn’t known for crappie because it doesn’t look like a crappie lake, but those in the know simply move deeper and catch loads of the tasty fish.

    For years, Lake Hartwell has maintained a strong reputation as a largemouth bass and striper reservoir. Its 56,000 acres of deep, clear, open water and an abundant forage base of blueback herring and threadfin shad have made for great fishing for both species. Even the on-and-off drought that began a decade ago hasn’t done much to curtail those two fisheries.

    Through it all, Hartwell’s abundant crappie population has been swimming under the radar. They tend to be overlooked and underfished, and the reason is a matter of perception.

    March is prime time to slow-troll or drop minnows and jigs into Lake Wateree crappie hangouts for fish ready to move shallow to spawn. Here’s how to catch them.

    Take a random sample of anglers and ask what species of fish Lake Wateree is best known for, and you're likely to get three main responses: largemouth bass, catfish and crappie.

    The trio definitely dominates the mind-set of fishermen who visit Wateree, but in March, crappie is king. With water temperatures warming enough for crappie to move in from the deep to spawn, they are easy to find, and many anglers hit the water for the first time of the year to stock up on these tasty panfish.

    So it's a great time to catch crappie on Wateree, and to Capt. Buster Rush of Rush Guide Service that means back-trolling with jigs in the creeks.

    This Denton hunter has filled in the gap between hunting seasons and helped preserve his deer herd by targeting coyotes.

    Coyotes do more than howl. Along with their usual diet of small game — and anything edible that gets under their noses — these cagey predators can do some damage to a deer herd.

    Deer-density maps compiled by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission show that North Carolina’s Piedmont, in particular the Uwharrie mountains, are loaded with whitetails, but these days, deer hunters have four-legged competition. They share the old, round-topped mountains with coyote packs that howl deep into the night.

    From Charleston to Georgetown, you can go for bull reds or numbers of smaller fish this month; it’s your choice, and there’s no bad option.

    Successful fishing is all about choices. Redfish angler have two choices this month, and both are winners.

    There’s the popular pattern for fishing for lots of redfish back in the flats, but the allure of hooking really big bull reds at the ocean’s edge is also strong. From Charleston to Georgetown, the opportunities abound for both big reds or bundles of them.

    Capt. Steve Roff of Barrier Island Guide Service said there’s no wrong choice, because great fishing exists for quality and quantity. In March, his clients make the decision to go for trophy fish 40 inches or larger, or to fish for numbers of good-sized redfish.

    Early season longbeards might have plenty of female companionship, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tie a tag around a gobbler’s leg this year.

    There’s one word that will make a turkey hunter discharge a mouth call with a dry-mouth gag, flip his friction call to the ground or toss his tube call in abject frustration.

    It is the dreaded “h” word — hens.

    For some, it may as well be the “H bomb,” because many feel the morning hunt is blown when they encounter a gobbler with hens.

    These two anglers shoot jigs rather than bullets when plinking away at Lake Wylie crappie.

    Slowly motoring up to a marina in the South Fork River, Mike Parrot cut the controls and eased his trolling motor into the water. A past Crappie Masters national champion from Charlotte, Parrott leaves behind his “heavy artillery” when he’s fishing for fun on home waters of Lake Wylie.

    Just like a big-game hunter who enjoys a day of plinking at cans, Parrott heads for the nearest set of boat docks with only a 5 ½-foot ultralight rod in hand.

    To catch crappie hiding under the boats and floats that are associated with a good boat dock, Parrott employs the tactic of “shooting” docks — holding the bait, typically a small crappie jig, in one hand while holding the line tight to the spool of an open bail spinning reel with the other.

    Skinny water in marshes behind North Topsail Beach holds plenty of red drum for patient, quiet anglers. So break out the poles and ease into range.

    Capt. Lee Parsons does most of his fishing along North Carolina’s coast from a large, center-console boat, but when he pulled up to the Turkey Creek boating access area near Holly Ridge in Onslow County, he backed a 21-foot, flat-bottomed skiff down the ramp.

    “You can’t launch anything that takes much water here,” he said, “but this skiff draws only 6 inches of water, which makes it ideal for poking around with a pole.”

    Bass fishermen won’t do much better than a trip to Lake Murray this month, as the spawn approaches.

    By Jason Snyder

    As far as Ben Lee of Columbia is concerned, there is no better month to fish on Lake Murray than March.

    “For a fisherman looking for … other fish, March may not be that great on Lake Murray,” said Lee, who has fished tournaments and guided on Murray for years. “But for the bass fisherman there is no better time.

    “The fish are just coming in leaps and bounds. Bass are on the beds. Bass are in the pockets. They are on the points and the secondary points. They are in the brush piles and in the rock piles. They are pretty much everywhere.”

    Surprisingly, live shrimp can be a staple redfish bait through the winter.

    The mist was thick as Trea Everett buzzed Simons Hane’s flats boat through the winding creek that separates Lady’s and Dataw islands, and gives quick and easy access to the creeks and marshes north and east of US 21 when the tide is high enough.

    Needless to say, it wasn’t your typical March day. A cool, low-pressure cell had worked its way up the coast, bringing grey clouds and lower-than-normal temperatures. Still, Everett and Brad White of Barrier Island Marine in Beaufort said they knew a couple of creeks in Dataw, Lady’s, Judge and Morgan’s islands where a few schools of resident redfish would be feeding.

    Shearon Harris Lake is making a bid to replace Jordan Lake as the No. 1 crappie lake, not only in the RDU area, but across the entire Tarheel State.

    Does North Carolina have a new top crappie venue?

    For years, Jordan Lake was known not only as the best lake in the Piedmont for crappie, but the best in the entire state. That is apparently no longer the case, as Jordan has been supplanted by Shearon Harris — at least in the opinion of one Triangle area guide.

    “As a crappie lake, I’d put my money today on Harris Lake instead of Jordan or Falls,” said Freddie Sinclair of Clayton, who has guided crappie fishermen for the past 16 years. “Harris is where I go most of the time for crappie trips these days.”

    Slow-trolling jigs is most-productive method for filling your cooler with Lake Tillery crappie.

    March Madness isn't confined to basketball courts. Another sports-related frenzy takes place this month on Lake Tillery, an inconspicuous 5,260-acre reservoir on the Yadkin/Pee Dee system that forms the border between Montgomery and Stanly counties in North Carolina's rural, southern Piedmont.

    The madness at Tillery isn't about hoops, but about the crappie fishing that reaches its peak this month, according to crappie sleuths Jim Blair and Robert Patterson, both of whom reside on the shores of the lake.

    The bluewater off North Carolina’s coast holds plenty of aggressive, electric-blue predators — plus some other offshore bonuses like blackfin tuna.

    The short chop finally gave way to a smooth ocean about a dozen miles out of Beaufort Inlet, becoming a small, rolling swell as Capt. Mike Webb’s Pelagic passed the Knuckle Buoy at the end of Cape Lookout shoals. With the water temperature rising a few 10ths of a degree every few minutes and the water changing to a blended blue-green, Webb called down from the bridge, as excited about the day’s prospects as was his mate, Kevin Cowles, and the day’s fishing party. The mild winter had warmed as the first day of spring approached, and reports had the fish — especially wahoo — hungry and biting.

    March is crappie time, and Lake Wylie, Shearon Harris Lake and Lake Tillery are prime targets. Also, bluewater season kicks off with a crazy wahoo run.