Sutton Lake is a winter fishing oasis, an 1,100-acre cooling resevoir for Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton Power Plant near Wilmington, N.C., Sutton remains warm through the winter, with February water temperatures usually in the 70s or low 80s, which gives a summertime feel to fishing, with fish active in the warm water.
There is some temperature variety in Sutton, which is a series of smaller ponds created by dikes that force the water to flow in a meandering trail from where it enters the lake to where it re-enters the power plant — cooling all the while. The ponds have different bottom contours and composition, ranging from stumpy flats to an old creek bed, to marl pits, and several deeper channels, so there is a lot of habitat variety for fish.
Bass are the primary target of most fishermen, and many years, the lake has them in spades. The population is cyclic, however, and some years, fishing is a little harder.
Mike Lanier, a bass pro from nearby Winnabow, N.C., said Sutton anglers have had to be on their games recently.
“Several recent changes have made fishing at Sutton Lake a little different,” he said. “The most significant is that new management practices have made the lake much clearer, and it has become very important to use small-diameter or fluorocarbon lines. The fishing might not be as spectacular as it once was, but it’s still consistently good and can be very good. There are places to practice almost any lure and presentation you would like.”
While bass are the primary target of fishermen — from Dec. 1 through March 31, bass fishing on Sutton is catch-and-release only — crappie may bite at any time, but channel and flathead catfish can be nocturnal. Some very large carp live in the lake, but the real surprise catch is flounder. Yes, bass fishermen working jigs and worms along the ledges and bottom will sometimes get a thump from one of the resident flatfish.