Year in review

2012 fishing and boating highlights on Lake Wylie

December 31, 2012 

Lake Wylie’s waters were busy with lots of fishing and recreational boating in 2012, as well as seeing changes within the groups that watch over it. Here are some of the highlights of fishing and boating on Lake Wylie in 2012:

King of the Lake

Most bass tournaments in Lake Wylie aren’t won with 8.49-pound limits, but newly named King of the Lake Mike Stephens didn’t mind. He brought in the only full bag at the Veteran’s Day final, a five-angler finale to the King of the Lake series started in January with six events, plus the championship. The idea was to test locals in all seasons and conditions to find the best on the lake, according to sponsor Lake Wylie Bait & Tackle.

“I’ve grown up on this lake,” said Stephens, a Gastonia resident who works at Lake Wylie Marina. “People actually got to see you, got to see your boat. My grandfather and my family got to see me. It was a great day.”

Stephens took home $5,000 with his title, which he should get the chance to defend. Already series organizer Mike Stone and the tackle shop are talking about King of the Lake for 2013.

Clean marina

Tailrace Marina is one of the newest commercial additions on Lake Wylie completed in April 2011, and it also is one of the cleanest. In January, the Lake Wylie Marine Commission recognized Tailrace as its sixth Clean Marina. Tailrace joins Lake Club, River Hills and Tega Cay marinas, and Commodore Yacht Club.

“The Clean Marina program is a major initiative of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission, designed to protect and improve the lake’s water quality by reducing pollution from the lake’s marinas,” said Commissioner Bill Campbell, project coordinator.

The Clean Marina designation is “totally voluntary” and is modeled after other Clean Marina programs.

All sorts of items play into Clean Marina certification, from educating marina users on environmentally-friendly practices to staff protocol for an overboard discharge or wastewater spills. Ken Cotte, Tailrace manager, said his marina is involved in recycling and river clean-up, and works toward protecting its environment.

Clean Marina efforts on Lake Wylie sit at the forefront of similar work in both states. When River Hills Marina earned its designation as a South Carolina Clean Marina in 2006, it was the first inland marina to do so. It’s still only one of two.

According to Duke Energy, the company that manages Lake Wylie, the lake has more than 30 marinas. Yet most aren’t the large-scale enterprises like the current Clean Marinas. The program is designed to address the larger, commercial facilities.

For more information, visit lakewyliemarinecommission.com.

Riversweep changes

The 11th annual Riversweep event on Lake Wylie underwent changes in 2012. The annual trash collection event, held the first Saturday in October, was seeing record numbers of volunteers in recent years, including nearly 1,000 in 2011. So a major change was shifting from one centralized gathering location to several.

“In order to expand Riversweep and widen its impact on the lake, we need to go local,” said Ellen Goff, organizer with the Lake Wylie Covekeepers. “Our goal is to gain more participation from people who live around each site and encourage local stewardship of their part of the lake and shoreline.”

New for 2012 was a 12th location, Nivens Creek Access Area. The event also included an improved website for online registration and recycling of eligible materials at lakewylieriversweep.com.

For years volunteers met and signed in at Buster Boyd Access Area, then returned there for food at T-Bones on the Lake after the event. For years numbers tallied no more than a few hundred, though the past couple of years brought record highs. So instead of one after-party gathering, they held four.

“We hope to encourage people to disperse, and in doing so hope to encourage more people to participate,” said Joe Stowe, executive director of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission.

Another volunteer record was set: 1,100 participants.

Lakekeeper Ellen Goff said another trend continued, too, with 20 percent less trash collected from 2011. In 2011, 20.1 tons of trash was collected, down from a record 31 tons in 2009 and 28 tons in 2010.

“I think it not only speaks of Riversweep, but Adopt-A-Stream, Adopt-A-Highway and other programs – and that people are less tolerant,” Goff said of the event’s success to clean the lake and raise awareness.

She credited Duke management for getting derelict boathouses removed or fixed “to help eliminate some of the Styrofoam trash.”

This was the first year nine sites had dumpsters, instead of everything coming to Buster Boyd Access Area. In all, volunteers collected 16 tons of trash and more than 100 bags of recyclable trash.

The annual event is sponsored by the Covekeepers, parent group Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and the Lake Wylie Marine Commission. Other partnerships include recycling and solid waste workers in York and Mecklenburg counties, and Clover High School.

For more information, visit lakewylieriversweep.com.

New rules

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources Freshwater Fisheries Section announced a series of changes to South Carolina state statutes (Chapter 13) regulating freshwater fishing, effective July 1.

The goals: promote consistency and modernize the laws to ensure proper freshwater fisheries management.

Some of the changes include:

• Definitions of water bodies and gear types.

Types of nongame devices allowable by location.

• An angler may possess a total of no more than five combined total per person per day of largemouth, redeye, smallmouth or their hybrids.

• Largemouth bass size limits.

• A 12-inch size limit on smallmouth bass statewide.

• An angler may possess no more than five coldwater trout per person per day statewide, except on Lake Jocassee where the limit is three.

• Statewide crappie 8-inch size limit and a maximum of 20 fish per person per day.

• An angler can possess 30 bream per person per day, of which not more than 15 can be redbreast sunfish. Bream includes bluegill, flier, redbreast, warmouth, pumpkinseed, green sunfish, redear and spotted sunfish.

• It is unlawful to take freshwater mussels without a permit except for Asian clams (Corbicula spp.).

For a complete list of changes, visit dnr.sc.gov/fishregs.

Listen to the music

Organizers of Lake Wylie Music Fest, the free concert by boat held during the summer, announced earlier this year they’d take a break in 2012 and plan for a return in 2013. Into that gap came Lake Wylie Water Music with shorefront concerts June 10, July 8 and Aug. 12.

Organizer Eileen Klimkowski hosted the events from her home on Mill Creek. Concerts were free and accessible by boat. The idea was spurred in recent years by Jan Pendleton, the main organizer behind the Music Fest.

Heading up music is David Zoernig, parish music minister for All Saints Episcopal in Gastonia. Music included flutes, guitars, keyboards, electric basses and even an organ playing folk music, blues, sing-along standards, Broadway tunes and classical music.

Fueling up

Gas stations in Lake Wylie revved up for more competition by thinking about boaters.

Kangaroo Express, off Charlotte Highway near Buster Boyd Bridge, began selling ethanol-free gasoline in late June, reporting an increase in sales. The store converted two pumps that sold racing fuel to an 89 octane ethanol-free, which runs about 30 cents per gallon more than the standard 87 octane they also sell.

But the ethanol-free gas is still cheaper than what was the only other local option for the fuel when Kangaroo Express added it, said district sales manager and Lake Wylie resident Craig Pembroke.

“As opposed to having to buy it at the marina, we’re about a dollar cheaper than most places,” he said.

There’s a reason marinas sell ethanol-free gas. In the past two years, several studies have shown gas with higher ethanol concentrations can wreak havoc on boats, corroding fuel lines, pumps, carburetors and other critical parts. Boating industry experts warn against using the fuel, and several repair shops locally reported an uptick in repairs the past couple of years as a result of ethanol fuel.

Bruce Graham at the BP station in Lake Wylie said ethanol-free is the best gas customers can buy, since it isn’t “stretched” out. The station last week switched out all of its midgrade pumps to ethanol-free.

Boats benefit, but so, too, do motorcycles, older cars and motors in general, staff says. Ethanol-free helps protect seals and valves from failing, Graham said.

Big win

Getting a winning angler on Lake Wylie to share his secret often proves trickier than hooking all those heavy bass in the first place. Parks Jones didn’t mind attributing his win Oct. 27 in the CS Motorsports Fall Classic.

“I was able to win one for my boy,” the York owner of Carolina Marine said. “He was shining down on his daddy Saturday.”

Jones and partner Daniel Hill won the 29-year event that regularly draws many of the top names in tournament bass fishing. It was the first win for Jones since his son and fishing buddy, Gavin, died from a rare brain tumor in May at age 9. The Lake Wylie fishing community had pulled together to support the family.

Jones won his first local tournament in 1983 when he wasn’t yet 15 years old, and he’s routinely battled area “big sticks” from the Bassmaster Elite Series, FLW Outdoors and other tours on Lake Wylie. The Wednesday before his Saturday win, Jones didn’t have a boat with a motor on it.

Fishing has been fun his whole life, and lately Jones hasn’t be interested.

“It’s hard to do something that’s fun when you’re mourning,” he said.

When Jones won the CS Motorsports tournament in 2008, Gavin posed with him in the prize check picture. And Jones fished some tournaments during Gavin’s illness, hoping for one last win to honor his son.

Finally getting that win, Jones is no longer so sure it’ll be the last. The joy of competition returned during the tournament. Elite Series angler and tournament host Britt Myers reminded Jones why he loved the sport. Myers and local Gene Webster finished second.

“It got me fired back up,” Jones said.

In third were seasoned pros Todd Auten and Chris Baumgardner, followed by a host of known names and Wylie experts. Perhaps fittingly, it was a comeback approach that netted Jones and his team the win.

He tried crankbaiting a spot with little luck. He returned anyway. When he and Hill hit the scales, they sat almost half a pound ahead of the field.

“We came back,” Jones said.

Riverkeeper changes

Since seeing off its second Riverkeeper in David Merryman in the spring, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has had Executive Director Rick Gaskins taking on both roles. In June, he got help.

Sam Perkins was named director of technical programs for the nonprofit environmental group, taking on water testing and investigation, among other tasks. The plan is to take on “more and more” of Merryman’s former workload in the 5,000-square-mile river basin, Gaskins said. For now, Gaskins will continue to hold both titles.

“Rick Gaskins has been doing an unbelievable job serving as both executive director and Riverkeeper, and I am glad to be taking some of that off his shoulders,” Perkins said.

Marine group

Robert Biggerstaff was named the newest member of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission in April, completing the term of fellow Gaston County resident Bill Campbell. Biggerstaff, like five of the nine-commissioner group, is set to serve through 2014.

“I’m, of course, concerned with boating safety,” Biggerstaff said. “I live right on the South Fork of Lake Wylie. Sedimentation is one problem we’re always looking to address.”

Biggerstaff arrived 15 years ago on Paradise Point, but grew up at a family house on Catawba Cove, near Seven Oaks. He works at the family furniture store opened in 1948 in Gastonia. He even reproduces, restores and collects old-fashioned wooden boats. His familiarity with Lake Wylie should help make a smooth transition to the commission, said Joe Stowe, executive director.

“He knows everybody in the place and knows everything from the word go,” Stowe said. “He’s just a plain-spoken guy, and he’ll be great to have.”

York County Council in September approved George Medler as its newest member to the Lake Wylie Marine Commission. Medler, 72, lived in Belmont before Lake Wylie and is manager at Lake Club Marina. He’s also commodore of Commodore Yacht Club.

Medler’s term is the only new one on the commission this year, replacing the expiring term of commissioner Vernon Peers. The commission’s Sept. 24 meeting in Lake Wylie will be Peers’ last after more than four years, first filling out a vacated seat and later his own term.

“It’s been a great time,” Peers said. “I think we’ve gotten a lot accomplished.”

Next year, terms expire for Ed Hull in York County and Chairman Smith “Smitty” Hanks in Gaston County. In 2014, there are four more, including all three in Mecklenburg County, two in Gaston County and one in York County.

For more information, visit lakewyliemarinecommission.com.

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