Anglers wishing to escape the early arriving summer heat don’t have many options — except mountain lakes in western North Carolina – and one of the best is Fontana Lake, where the fishing is providing plenty of action.
Fontana was the first Tennessee Valley Authority lake impounded in North Carolina, damming the Little Tennessee, Tuckasegee and Nantahala rivers in 1944, and according to Mark Stephenson at Almond Boat Park in Bryson City, the fishing has been great lately, especially for the lake’s population of rainbow trout, known to many locals as “steelhead.”
“People are catching trout, a lot of largemouth bass and bluegills, with a few trying for walleye at night,” said Stephenson (828-488-6423).
Fontana snakes 17 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains in Graham and Swain counties, covering 10,230 surface acres. A deep, clear lake, it holds a population of trout that attract plenty of fishermen, many of them trolling half-ounce Sutton spoons 40 feet deep on downriggers, lead core line and planer boards.
“A lot of them start (trolling) in 100-foot deep water right out in front of the marina and go down the lake, then they come back up,” Stephenson said.
Steelheads average 16 to 20 inches, but Stephenson said he’d seen a 4-pounder this spring.
“Best times to fish are early in the morning and late in the evening,” he said.
Early and late also are prime times for bank busters to target largemouth bass.
“Forget about mid-day or afternoon fishing,” he said. “The lake also has a lot of spotted bass. Most people throw topwater lures, buzzbaits, Pop-Rs, spinnerbaits and Flukes. They’re chunking at downed trees on the banks.”
Largemouth and spotted bass average 2 to 3 pounds. The best bass Stephenson has seen this spring has been a 6-pounder.
Fishermen are also targeting trout and walleye at night in front of Fontana Dam.
“People use lights to attract baitfish to the boats, and walleye and lake trout come up to feed on them,” he said. “The water’s 480 feet deep at the dam, and they drop down live (threadfin shad) 40 to 100 feet.”
Spotted bass are a recent addition to Fontana’s fishing menu. N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists first saw evidence of a population in 2003, capturing five fish during electro-shocking surveys. By 2007, the number was 73, but in 2008, they found 264.
“I think the spots are taking over,” Stephenson said. “I’ve seen ’em eating little walleyes.”