The persistent rains this winter may translate into a bust or bonanza for bass fishermen at Kerr Lake along the North Carolina-Virginia border, where the quality of fishing depends upon the water level. 

Pro angler Tim Grein of Winston-Salem, N.C., who is familiar with the whims of the 50,000-acre lake, said the ideal water level ranges from 304- to the 306-foot mark in elevation. At that level, the numerous buttonwood bushes, gum trees and willows come into play. They’ll be in 4 to 6 feet of water, keeping prespawn and spawning bass within the reach of fishermen’s offerings.

If the water level exceeds the normal pool mark of 300 feet by 7 feet or more, Grein said fishermen can get bushwhacked at Buggs. The water will flood the surrounding woods, spreading the fish out in the endless cover, making them difficult to reach and catch. Ramps may close, and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission may warn fishermen to stay off the lake.

Grein said the bass begin staging when the water temperature is 52 degrees or more, which often happens by late March or early April. At normal pool, likely staging places include points, rocky corners, rock veins and flats back in the creeks, especially if these places are along northern shorelines that are warmed by the sun. 

For staging bass, Grein uses baits that cover lots of territory, including lipless crankbaits and medium-running crankbaits. 

Given high water, staging bass may suspend in the bushes and gum trees. They can be taken with spinnerbaits and lightweight jigs.

Why lightweight jigs?

“If you flip a heavy jig, the jig goes below the fish, because they’re not at the bottom of the bushes,” Grein said. “A light jig falls slowly and gives the fish time to react.”

Once the water temperature reaches 58 to 60 degrees, the spawn begins in earnest, and  the lake becomes a paradise for flipping if the water level doesn’t exceed the 306-foot mark. A fisherman can become arm weary yanking fish from cover. Effective baits include jigs, plastic worms and plastic critters. Stout tackle is required. There’s no give to a buttonwood bush or tree root.

Grein lets the fish tell him the cover they prefer on a given day.