Meandering Catawba boasts numerous fishing spots

The Charlotte ObserverSeptember 8, 2013 

People are surprised to learn the Catawba River eventually empties into the Atlantic Ocean in Charleston.

A look at the map shows the Catawba River has its beginnings 20 miles east of Asheville, N.C., in McDowell County. Along its 400-plus-mile journey through the Carolinas, it changes names several times and fills a dozen lakes.

The river system is populated with a variety of freshwater fish. Its upper reaches teem with trout, walleye and smallmouth bass, as well as other cold-water species. As the river flows south and warms, largemouth, striped bass and catfish take center stage. The river basin is the home of deer, bears, alligators, ducks, geese and other wildlife, which makes it a paradise for nature lovers and hunters.

Lake Norman, the largest freshwater impoundment in North Carolina, is a popular destination for tournament bass fishermen. The lakes of South Carolina’s Santee Cooper are famous for striped bass and trophy catfish.

Fishermen tend to overlook the smaller lakes along the river system, and that’s the way the locals like it. For those who wish to try a different fishing hole, here’s what you can expect to catch on a few of them.

Lake Wylie is known for its abundance of Arkansas blue catfish and crappie. While not as large as those taken from Santee Cooper, 10-pound blues are plentiful. Largemouth bass fishing is so good that Wylie hosted the 2004 Bassmasters Classic.

Lake Wateree is noted for crappie, shell cracker and catfish. Anglers targeting blue catfish and striped bass find Wateree a good alternative to Lake Murray, also in South Carolina. Lake Wateree is about 30 miles north of Columbia; it has 14,000 surface acres and 190 miles of shoreline.

In North Carolina, Lake James is near Nebo. It has 150 miles of shoreline and covers 6,812 acres at full pond. This cold-water lake holds smallmouth bass, muskie and walleye, as well as largemouth, crappie, catfish and a variety of pan fish.

Lake Hickory, near Hickory, covers 4,223 acres with 105 miles of shoreline. Hickory has always been popular with striped bass anglers, but a recent resurgence in largemouth bass fishing has given it a new life. Five-bass limits, weighing 18 pounds or more, are common at tournament weigh-ins.

Tip from Capt. Gus

While it’s easier to fish out of the wind, the windy side of a lake usually produces better catches.

Gus Gustafson is an outdoor columnist and a full-time professional fishing guide.

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