Notwithstanding the ice, snow and rain dumped on John H. Kerr Reservoir’s watershed over the last few weeks and all the runoff that has poured into the 49,500-acre reservoir, at least one fisherman said March is the best time to be on the lake.
“It's Rat-L-Trap and spinnerbait time,” said Matt Priode of Henderson's Kerr Lake Bassmasters. “Most of the guys usually find fish up the river this time of year.”
By “up the river,” he meant the StauntonRiver arm upstream from Clarksville, Va., especially near Bluestone and Buffalo creeks about a mile upstream from the city. Most anglers are avoiding the Dan River arm, not because of the coal-ash spill, but because the water has been extremely dingy and cold.
“Buffalo Creek is across the main river from Bluestone, and it's popular with crappie fishermen, but it also has bass this time of year,” Priode said.
Priode, who has lived in North Carolina and fished club tournaments for the past 15 years, said bass are definitely in the prespawn this month, when female bass swell with eggs, and they're ready to eat 24/7 to store energy for the spawn.
“They're staging right now, but when the water temperature warms up, that's when the bass will come up to the flats,” Priode said. “They'll get really shallow at times.”
When bass move shallow, Priode tries to find rocky shorelines to fish Rat-L-Traps because their treble hooks hang up too easily on wood cover. If water is cool and no warm fronts have broken winter's grip, he'll cast a trip at channels in five to 10 feet of water. Those types of places are actually roadways for largemouths that will trade back and forth, depending on sunlight, wind, bait availability and structure, while preparing for the spawn.
“If you're throwing a Trap, I like to bounce it up and down off the bottom while I'm bringing it back to me,” he said.
A spinnerbait also is a good choice, especially in stained water around woody cover, but not just any bait will do.
“If bass are oriented on wood, blowdowns, buck brush or gum trees, I like a 'Splatterback'-color spinnerbait,” he said.
A few years ago at a club tournament, Priode discovered a ½-ounce bait with white and red stripes and black or chartreuse spots when a co-angler fishing in the back of his boat waxed him while he was casting a Rat-L-Trap. He usually chooses a willow-leaf blade.
The “pockets” he’s looking for are about an acre in size, he said. “It helps to see baitfish flickering on the top at such places, too.”
He said anglers who are wary of traveling to Kerr/Buggs should discard past worries.
“I think the lake has really come back,” he said, “especially bass numbers and sizes. At one time, Largemouth Bass Virus really hurt them in this lake, but I see a big difference the last two years.”