The early worm gets the bass at this Yadkin-Pee Dee system lake, even during February.
It’s deep and clear, tucked in some of the world’s most ancient, worn-round mountains. It has no warm-water discharge, no hot hole, and it’s not a particularly big reservoir. No exotic grasses famous for jump-starting bass fisheries grow in its depths, no hydrilla or milfoil. It has its share of boat docks, brush piles, tree laps, rocks and stumps, but there’s nothing really to distinguish it from other Yadkin-Pee Dee River system impoundments.
So what sets Badin Lake apart from other bodies of water as far as bass fishing is concerned?
In a manner of speaking, at Badin, the early bass gets the worm. Well, it may not be a worm, but you get the idea. When tournament promoters start to put their schedules together, they seem to write “Badin” on their February calendars because the season seems to start a little earlier at the 5,650-acre reservoir on the Yadkin River southwest of the Davidson County town of Denton.
Named for a town in France and built in the 1920s to provide electrical power for an aluminum-smelting plant along its banks, Badin is the place where many anglers kick off their seasons in North Carolina’s piedmont.
Three such fishermen are Kevin Chandler of New London, Jerry Lowder of Cooleemee and Don Rabon of Winston-Salem. Between them, they’ve fished Badin Lake for almost 90 years. If there’s one thing they agree upon — and there are several — it’s that Badin is as good a late-winter, early-spring lake as there is in North Carolina not to have a warm-water discharge.
When they back their bass boats out of their driveways for the first time every year, normally, they’re headed to Badin.
“Tillery and Badin are by far the best early lakes of all the lakes on the Yadkin system, and Badin is much better than Tillery,” Chandler said.
“I’ve seen it so good from the 15th of February on that you couldn’t believe it,” said Lowder. “That’s when the big fish will hit. The big ones are the first to move up. You go to tournaments, and you’ll always see two or three great big fish weighed in.”
“They’ll start biting when the water temperature gets to about 46 or 47 degrees,” Rabon said, “and when it gets up to about 50, you really start getting more bites.”
There are theories, but no definitive answers, about why bass become active at Badin earlier than at neighboring lakes. One theory is Badin is so much clearer than other lakes that when the sun shines on its surface, it penetrates more easily and warms the surrounding water much more quickly, getting bass in the feeding mood.
One theory holds that because Badin is so clear, bass more easily see baitfish cruising above them, and after a couple of months not doing much feeding, that’s all it takes to ring the dinner bell. A third premise is that because Badin has such a good population of striped bass, largemouth have to be more aggressive, earlier, to compete for available baitfish.
Fishermen really don’t care about theories; they care about results. That’s what sends Chandler, Rabon and Lowder to the lake before they go anywhere else, and once there, they agree on the kinds of places they like to find Badin’s February lunkers.
“I think you’ll catch ‘em better earlier on the north-side banks, the sunny banks where the clear water warms up faster,” Rabon said. “You want to find little rocky banks close to deep water. There are lot of good places in the Lake Forest (marina) area, in Machine Branch and Buffalo Creek.
“You want to fish places where you’ve got your boat in 15 to 20 feet of water, and you can cast parallel to the bank because most of the fish will be about 5-feet deep. There are a lot of little places that are close to channels and deep water.”
Chandler concentrates at channel banks and points.
“You want to fish anywhere that the channel swings in close to a bank or point,” he said. “You might find a stretch of bank 50-yards long where the channel hits up next to it. I’d say about 50 percent of the fish are suspended out off points. They don’t have spawning on their minds; they hang around because that’s where the bait hangs out.”
And just as Badin cranks up earlier than surrounding lakes, one section of the lake normally produces more early fish than others.
“You’d think that, no bigger than this lake is, that if they were biting at one place, they’d be biting all over,” Chandler said. “But I’ve been fishing it for 25 years, and every year I can remember, the fish turn on first around Lake Forest, Beaver Dam (Creek) and Glady’s Fork before they do around Alcoa.
“I’ve been out there when the surface water temperature as 52 or 53 degrees, and they’ll be hitting like crazy in Beaver Dam, but you can’t get bit around Old Whitney.
“The one thing I think plays into it is that the water may be clearer on that end of the lake than it is around Old Whitney (at the main river channel). I know the water has to be clear for ’em to see that jerkbait.”
Ah, yes, that jerkbait.
If there’s a lake that’s married to a certain lure, it’s Badin and the jerkbait. When the long, minnow-shaped plugs became popular in the 1990s, there was probably no other reservoir in North Carolina where they took off the way they did at Badin early in the season. It’s the perfect union of a lake and a bait that perfectly matches conditions — slow presentation, suspending, clear water.
“Badin is an excellent, excellent jerkbait lake,” Lowder said. “What makes it so good for the jerkbait is that it’s clear as a bell. I like both sizes of the Lucky Craft Pointers in crawfish and shad colors, and I like a Rattlin’ Rogue in shad or pearl.
“I like to get those baits down to about 6 or 7 feet and work it real slow. You want it suspending in front of those bass.”
Chandler is even more enthusiastic about jerkbaits.
“I know for the last two or three years, every tournament fished at Badin at this time of the year has been won on a jerkbait,” he said. “Ever since they became popular, it’s been that way. You can wear ’em out on a jerkbait at Badin. They hit it there better than at most of the other lakes.
“I think most of the fish you catch at Badin with a jerkbait are feeding on shad. I know bass prefer crawfish over shad, but the shad are just a lot more abundant at Badin.”
Using 10-pound Bass Pro Excel mono, Chandler fishes both sizes of Lucky Craft’s pointer, the “78” that will get down 3 or 4 feet, and the deeper-diving version that will get down 7 or 8 feet. He likes the “ghost minnow” and “blue aurora” colors.
“One key is to find bait on your (depth-finder),” he said. “If you can find bait, the fish will be there, and where the bait is will tell you how deep to fish. Sometimes they’ll be 3- or 4-feet deep, and sometimes they’ll be 8- or 10-feet deep. If we have a good warming trend in February like we usually do, they’ll be in 3 to 4 feet, and that’s where a Pointer 78 shines.”
“And I never go to Badin without having a jig tied on, because when you catch one on a jig, he’ll be a big one. And I’ll throw it on some of the same places where I’ll throw a jerkbait.”
Rabon relies more upon small crankbaits, favoring a No. 7 Shad Rap, a Speed Trap or a Model 6A Bomber — baits that will run down to 5- or 6-feet deep with no problem.
“I think I catch more fish later in the day after the sun gets out and warms up the water, and I use a real slow presentation,” he said. “I like to use crawfish colors on my crankbaits because I think they’re feeding up on crawfish around the rocks. Shad colors are okay if you’re fishing in real clear water, but crawfish colors are always good at this time of year.
“Once in a while, you’ll catch a fish on a log or a laydown, but that’ll be with a spinnerbait or jig. Most of the time, you’re throwing a little crankbait or a jerkbait like a Pointer. I love to fish a Pointer in ‘clown’ color because you get it down, and it just suspends in front of ’em.”
Chandler loves to find places where he can combine a number of different kinds of structure or cover.
“Most of the places I fish early in the year are rocky places because bass will come up on them quicker than other places,” he said. “If you fish a rocky place with a sharp drop, and if it has a few stumps out on it, you’re fixing to get bit. Those stumps will hold baitfish like anything else that breaks the current a little bit.”
At heart, Lowder and Rabon are spinnerbait fishermen, and they admit there are times during early spring when a blade can produce an extra fish or two a day.
“When I fish Badin, I’m looking for clear water, but if you get a heavy rain, it’ll get stained, and that’s when I’ll fish a spinnerbait,” Rabon said. “I’ll look halfway back in the creeks because the water will warm up a lot quicker being dingy, but I know the bass won’t be all the way back. And I’ve found that later in the day, the fishing will be better, because the sun beats down on the water better after lunch. I’ve always caught ’em better on sunny banks.”
Lowder likes to fish a spinnerbait in some of the same places he fishes a jerkbait — at steep, rocky banks.
“I really like to fish a big Zone spinnerbait at Badin, just slow-rolling it down those banks 6- or 7-feet deep,” he said.
Each of these fishermen agree in early February, fishing can be a tough. A handful of bites a day will be a great outing, picking up a fish here and there that have moved up. Later in the month, however, things can get exciting.
“In early- to mid-February, the fishing has always been spotty,” Chandler said. “You might get one fish here and one there. But later in the month, if you get a little warming trend, three or four warm days in a row, you’re more likely to pull up on a bank and catch 10, because they’re start ganging up more.
“Once I catch two or three, I’ll slow down and throw a green pumpkin, half-ounce Rattleback jig with a Zoom Super Chunk trailer.”
There’s never been much of a question among fishermen that Badin can spit out some quality fish. Six- and seven-pounders are good fish at Badin, but it’s not unusual to hear of eight-pounders being caught in the late-winter/early spring period.
“Badin will spit out some really good fish,” Lowder said. “It’s not as big a lake as some of the others, so it doesn’t produce as many fish, but there are some good fish in there.”
“The quality of the fish at Badin is really good,” he said. “But it seems to me that the numbers of fish you catch have fallen off over the past few years.”
Rabon has experienced the same thing, but isn’t sure there are fewer fish.
“I don’t think Badin has the numbers of fish it used to have, but that may have to do with all the development that’s taken place the last few years,” he said. “I wonder if it just hasn’t messed up a lot of the spots we were used to catching them on.”
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