Rack’Em & Stack’Em — springtime crappie fishing is great on North Carolina’s High Rock Lake

Anglers such as Ed Yahn of Albemarle come from many cities, towns and communities across the southern piedmont to fish High Rock Lake for crappies each spring.

Crappie fishing is good througout the late winter and early spring months at this Yadkin chain favorite.

Fair-weather anglers mostly fish with remote controls when it’s cold, as is sometimes the case during early spring. Easy-chair sportsmen surf the channels, watching fishing-show hosts land the big ones, while plugging bigger sponsors. As the temperature drops, television fishing is an easy way to stay warm.

At High Rock Lake, living-room adventures don’t measure up to the real deal for hardcore anglers. They dress for the weather to catch fish all the tme — winter and spring.

Last year, Trinity’s John Zimmerman and J.C. Leonard from Southmont caught scores of crappie at High Rock Lake during late winter and early spring. The men have fished the lake for decades and know where to fish.

As the sun warmed the lake after a typical cold spell, they anchored over the channel at Flat Swamp Creek. Still bundled up for chilly weather, they cast from a bass boat.

Spring is obviously the most popular time to catch crappie when the fish go shallow to spawn at woody structure. Live minnows and plastic jigs fill coolers with crappie during spring.

During the mid-spring spring run, anglers can hook them shallow and fast. To catch crappie they move boats from one pier or brush pile to another. But you can forget that tactic before the water really warms. Sometimes, especially during early April, the weather can be cold and blustery.

The first concern then will be to stay warm and safe. Dress in warm layers of outer clothing and always bring rain gear. It’s also a good idea to monitor local weather reports.

Cold winds can blow down the Yadkin Valley during the early spring and sometimes near-freezing precipitation — this year especially, the winter seems to be slow in coming and may not arrive until late spring. You may enjoy a spring-like day, then drive to work in the ice the next morning.

Leonard and Zimmerman stayed comfortable in layered clothes and reeled their lures slowly.

Crappie bite gently, so they set the hook at every little tap. They watched for slight twitches in lines that could indicate bites.

After years of chasing crappie, this fishing team learned to narrow their search at this 15,700-acre lake.

“Flat Swamp is always a great place to catch crappie at this time of year,” Zimmerman said.

During this trip, they anchored just a few yards from the N.C. 8 bridge that crosses the creek. Between bites, they smiled ad waved at passing motorists.

To prove his point, Zimmerman reeled in another keeper, then released it. Anglers can keep 20 crappies per day that meet the 8-inch size limit.

“We must have caught 200 crappie today, but we only kept about 15 or 20,” he said.

Most anglers load coolers with crappie during the spring, when the tasty fish spawn in shallow water. At that time of year when the woods turn green, people can fish shallow from the shore or boats. They cast live minnows and plastic jigs with light spinning rods.

Crappie feed in deeper water as the weather cools. As winter moves in, Leonard follows them there.

“I have caught crappie from High Rock for more than 60 years,” he said. “Crappie fishing here is the best ever. In December, we catch them about 20 feet down with live minnows and jigs. December is the best time of the year to catch larger crappie.”

Leonard, now retired, fishes every day “if the weather doesn’t stop me.”

He also targets stripers and catfish on the Yadkin lakes.

Cool weather didn’t stop Leonard and Zimmerman this morning. The sun tried to warm up things all day, but biting crappie kept the fishing friends warm.

Anglers enjoy a quiet lake in the dead calm of winter. Few water skiers and PWC riders use the lake during colder early spring weather.

“It was 24 degrees when we started fishing.” Leonard said. “Seems like we always catch better fish on the cold days.”

Leonard keeps a few fillet-sized fish for meals, then releases the rest.

The year before Leonard hooked a 3-pound crappie from High Rock while fishing at night.

“We only fish at night during the summer to avoid all the pleasure boat traffic,” he said. “All those boats spook the fish. At this time of year, there are not that many boats on the lake. Fish will bite all day long.”

Some people don’t have time to fish all day.

Tommy Burch from Lexington took a break from other outdoor pursuits to fish this cold day. He arrived during the midle of the day to fish from the bank at Flat Swamp. Burch always keeps fishing tackle in his truck, along with hunting gear.

“I just fish deep water with chartreuse or red jigs,” Burch said. “It’s tight-line fishing.”

He also catches his share of crappie. During this trip, Burch fished for about two hours, and he sent a fellow angler home with a mess of fish for dinner.

“I caught about 10 keepers, them gave them away,” Burch said. “During the winter, I land a lot of crappie that go better than 10 inches. Now is a good time to catch them.”

Burch knows this roadside fishing hole well. He parks beside Highway 8 and walks to the shoreline. During winter, the Alcoa power company will often draw down the lake several feet.

During low-water periods, Burch stands near boulders. Water covers these rocks when the levels are up. From here, he can reach deeper water with easy casts.

For dry feet, he wears rubber boots for splashing along the shore. All he carries is a spinning rod and a green bucket for fish. After one cast, his line twitched a little. He stuck the hook and reeled in another keeper for the bucket.

“Sometimes I can catch crappie on every cast from that sunken brush pile,” he said. “It does slow down through the winter. January is slow for crappie fishing. From February to April may be the best time to catch them here.”

Cold winds keep boat traffic down at High Rock during the winter. During this trip, Burch watched anglers at boats catch crappie at Flat Swamp, just east of the Highway 8 bridge.

Early-spring anglers catch more crappie than anything else at High Rock. Yet, even casual anglers can get lucky here during cold days. The promise of tight lines lures people from cozy homes to High Rock’s cold early-spring shoreline.

This chilly day three Lexington anglers fished west of the bridge at Flat Swamp. Rick Davis, Chris Edgars, and Joe Ofier cast for anything that would bite.

“We use live minnows, stink bait, all kinds of stuff,” Davis said. “Fishing is a good way to get out of the house and have fun. It beats watching television. We live just a few miles away and fish here a lot.”

They fished for more than two hours. Davis caught one keeper largemouth, a small bass, and a bluegill.

“We did not catch a single crappie,” Davis said.

A pair of fishermen from Trinity uses the other side of the creek. Daren Hill and son Nathan fish from folding chairs at the rocky shore. During one trip, Nathan, 13, landed a bonus largemouth soon after they arrived. Most days, they target crappie, bream, and catfish, but the Hills switch to bass.

Daren Hill walked back to the truck for a favorite spinnerbait rod.

“We have been fishing in a pond a lot,” Daren said. “We got tired of that so we came to the lake. It’s time to go fishing again.”

Several people near the Highway 8 bridge thought it was time to go fishing again. A few fished directly under the bridge, while others walked on the bank.

Under the bridge, Darren Helms from Concord kept it simple with live minnows. He caught a keeper crappie his first cast.

Experience counts at this lake, he said.

“I try to fish here every weekend,” he said.

Ed Yahn from Albemarle likes to fish all the Yadkin Lakes. High Rock is the first stop for crappie during early spring, he said, and he fished Flat Swamp this trip. Yahn returned to the ramp with crappie for the table.

“Every year the fish always bite first at High Rock,” Yahn said. “Today I fished black and chartreuse jigs down to 20 feet, and caught seven crappie for dinner.”

Chilly breezes discourage all but the hardiest boaters from the lake during cold spring days. But Southmont’s Rick Crotts doesn’t let the cold stop him from landing crappie. He first started fishing at High Rock in 1975.

On this trip, he concentrated on favorite spots in Abbotts Creek. Crotts doesn’t use minnows. He prefers plastic jigs with light spinning tackle.

“I fish so much that I can’t afford minnows,” he said. “This time I fished around brush piles with black and chartreuse jigs. I caught six fish but only one was a keeper. Most of those fish bit about 12-feet down.”

Anglers often sink brush piles here during late winter to attract crappie and other fish. Crotts knows where many of those brush piles are located. He also knows the right way to fish them.

Early-spring fishing can be challenging before the water clears and especially after heavy rains, he said.

“Fishing is slow when the water is cold and dingy,” he said. “By February I’ll start to see a few female crappies with eggs in their bellies. During winter crappie stay scattered all over the lake.”

Crotts said he tries to fish at High Rock every weekend during winter.

“If the weather is good I will fish every day,” he said. “Right now the water is between 45 and 55 degrees. Crappie will bit like crazy here when the water temperature gets about 55 degrees.”

Crotts said that crappie will start spawning some time in March and hit well through April.

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