Many North Carolina fishermen like to target smallmouth bass, but often the lakes in the western part of the state have fish that are tough to find and even tougher to catch. If you’re looking for bronzebacks on red alert for food sources 24/7, you’d have a hard time matching, much less surpassing, two rivers in the northern Piedmont.

“I like to take people smallmouth fishing on the Dan River and upper Yadkin,” said Kyle Hoover, a former guide for the Dan River Company in Danbury. “In fact, I think the next state-record smallie will come from the Yadkin.”

Some anglers know about the New River in the northwestern corner of the state, which Hoover also fishes, but he makes fewer trips to the New than the Dan and Yadkin because it’s a longer haul for him.

But the Yadkin and Dan? Most people associate those two rivers with the reservoirs downstream and with crappie, catfish and striped bass. But the headwaters of the two rivers are fed by cold streams flowing from the mountains. And their water temperature, especially during early spring in the upper portions of those two rivers, is ideal for smallies. In fact, with winter refusing to release North Carolina from its grip, water temperatures in the rivers are below normal for smallies to spawn.

“It’s in the upper 40s, but it’ll reach the 50s soon, and the spawn will turn on fast,” said Hoover. “But you can catch smallies right now, and they’ll be a little bit bigger than later in the spring and summer.”

Most of the smallmouths anglers catch now will be prespawn females that have fed heartily to strengthen their bodies for the spawn.

“Dan River fish are hitting soft-plastic curlytail lures two to three inches long on eighth-ounce jigheads, creature baits with moving arms that resemble crayfish or square-billed crankbaits,” said Hoover, who prefers 5 ½- to 6-foot baitcasting rods spooled with 6-pound green Berkley LowViz monofilament.

“You’ll be floating and moving, so when you get hung, it’s a lot better to break the line rather than the tip of your rod,” he said.

Most bronzebacks will be 14 to 18 inches long in the Dan, but fish in the Yadkin can be much larger.

“We also catch trout at times (in the Dan), all the way to MoratockPark in Danbury, after they stock trout upstream,” Hoover said. “You’re also liable to catch a few largemouths, suckers and lots of native redbreast sunfish.”

The stretch of the Dan River that Hoover fishes is 70 miles upstream from the now-infamous coal-ash spill in Eden.