Lake Phelps in Washington County may offer North Carolina's best available topwater fishing for largemouth bass and pumpkinseed panfish.

"The topwater action with fly rods or casting rods for bass and pumpkinseed bream has been really good the last week," said Mike Noles of Conman's Hunting Guide Service (800-668-7124) on the western shore of the 16,600-acre lake near Creswell.


The spring-fed, crystal-clear lake, with an average depth of  4½ feet, is ideal for shallow-water fishing.


"I like to wade and cast," Noles said. "I'll ride in my boat to the grass beds on the eastern side of the lake, get out and wade and cast because that's where the bass fishing seems to be most productive, around those grass beds."


Noles said his heftiest fly rod-caught largemouth this spring weighed 8½ pounds.


"I've probably caught 25 or 30 bass over five pounds, and you can reasonably expect to catch a bunch of 3- to 5-pounders," he said.


Lake Phelps has a slot limit for largemouth bass that has allowed many bass to survive and grow to good sizes.


"You can't keep (bass) less than 14 inches; there's a (keeper) slot of 14 to 16 inches; then you can't keep anything between 16 and 20 inches; then you can keep bass longer than 20 inches," said Noles.


"Most of my bass I catch on a fly rod, and I use Nos. 1 to 4 poppers," he said. "People who use casting reels are throwing small Devil Horses and Wee-Rs," said Noles, who also fishes for the lake's pumpkinseed bream.


"You can catch pumpkinseeds from 10 to 14inches long," said Noles, who prefers popping bugs tied on Nos. 6 to 8 hooks. "We've had some well over a pound, and my daughter caught a 1½-pounder."


The daily limit is 25 fish.


 "People also use live baits such as nightcrawlers, crickets and red worms," Noles said.