Late February and March mark the annual spawning run that walleyes make up rivers that feed mountain reservoirs across western North Carolina, and nowhere do anglers have more options that Fontana Lake near Bryson City, N.C.
Guide James McManus of Sylva, N.C., said walleye will head up the Nantahala, Tuckasegee and Little Tennessee rivers, which feed 10,200-acre Fontana from its eastern, upstream end.
“They usually start up in late February or the first of March; when it warms up a little, they’ll head on up,” said McManus (828-421-8125), who said the spawning run may be better in a certain river one year, then in another river the next.
“It changes. Lately, it’s been better up the Tuck, but it used to be a little better in the Little T. Last year, it was better in the Tuck, and quite a few walleye went up the Nantahala.
“Usually, the fish start up the Little T and Nantahala before they go up the Tuck.”
McManus said tactics are fairly simple: trolling or casting crankbaits or jighead/grub combinations.
“Some people will troll Shad Raps or Flicker Shad or red jigheads with a chartreuse tail,” he said. “You can troll in the shallows as you can go or out to 20 to 25 feet deep. Or you can cast them up against the rocks.”
McManus likes natural colors for crankbaits, but he said he likes his baits to have some flash of chartreuse.
The move upstream by walleye is often in waves, as fish stage at various spots on their way up. But the fish will keep moving upstream until they run into a barrier they can’t pass — usually a set or rocky shoals. That location may vary by year, depending on Fontana’s water level, which can go up and down like a yo-yo.
“It’s good to go up and fish a set of shoals you can’t get past,” he said. “They’ll drop back during the daytime, then move up in the shoals at night. Right before dark is one of the best times to fish for them. They’ll go right to that flowing water.”
McManus said that January fishing for walleye on Fontana was excellent, and he expected the good catches to continue through the spring.
“We’ve been catching good numbers of fish; it’s getting better,” he said.
Fontana’s walleye are managed with an 8-fish daily creel limit and no size minimum.