Big fish hit homemade lure at 40 feet
When Bryan Justice felt something 40 feet below the surface of Lake James slam his homemade jigging spoon at daylight on Dec. 7, he didn’t figure it would be a trophy walleye. He thought it was one of the fish he was targeting, a largemouth bass.
“It felt like a largemouth hitting. It immediately shook its head and came right up. When he took it, I said “‘Whoo, be a good one,’” said Justice. The 30-year-old warehouse manager from Arden, N.C. is an avid bass fisherman. “I told the guy who was fishing with me, Tom Wilburn, ‘Get the net. It’s a giant. If it’s a bass, it’s a 10-pounder.’”
A few seconds later, the big fish came into view.
Yep, it was sure green, and it was surely a giant. But it surely wasn’t a bass.
It was his first walleye. And a trophy walleye at that.
“It came up and almost swan-dived into the net,” Justice said.
That must have been some kind of dive, since the huge green fish in the net was 28 1/2 inches long and weighed 8.2 pounds — a monster walleye anywhere in North America. And a fish of almost unheard of size in the south and in North Carolina in particular.
Angler was surprised by size of the fish
“I said, ‘It’s a walleye,’” Justice said. “I didn’t think they got that big down south.”
James, a 6,812-acre reservoir impounded on the Linville and a Catawba rivers in 1919 by Duke Power, has a natural reproducing walleye population. But the fish is so popular among recreational anglers that the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission stocks 180,000 fingerlings annually.
Justice has spent plenty of time on the lake. But he’s usually there for the bass: smallmouths and largemouths. The big walleye, which struck before 7 a.m., was hanging around a brush pile in 40 feet of water off a main-lake point on the lake’s Catawba River arm. Justice called it “one of my best bass holes.”
“I’ve caught some big smallmouth at James,” he said.
The jigging spoon he was using was a 1-ounce, homemade version painted white, carrying two treble hooks. Justice said one hook was in the walleye’s toothy mouth, and the other was hooked on the outside of its face.