North Carolina Bass Fishing
North Carolina bass fishing: a phrase filled with splendor having two of America’s quintessential treasures in one. The State of North Carolina, lovingly called, "the Old North State," is a cornucopia of all kinds of wonders and pleasures, not the least of which is bass fishing for the first timers and challenges for the old pros alike. NC rivers and streams, lakes and ponds brim with bass of every kind from the most western part of the state in the Appalachian Mountains, to the most easterly part of the state, the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. NC, also referred to as "the Tarheel State," is a bass haven and when you get to the coast, you can board a boat and drop your line out in the deep to try your luck or test you skill at the abundant sea bass.
Or- if you're more of a land-luber, you might want to cast a hook from NC's generous, over 3,000 mile, tidal coast line for a channel bass, adoped in 1971 as the State's official symbol of salt water fish. Large channel bass can weigh as much as 30 to 40 pounds, but some of these babies have been known to weigh up to 75 pounds!
From Murphy, which is a farthest point west near the Tennessee border, to Manteo, a farthest point east on the coast, and from South Carolina which borders on the south to the border of Virginia on the north, there’s something for everyone in North Carolina! And that is especially true when it comes to bass fishing. The good thing is NC is centrally located on the eastern seaboard of the USA, which puts it within easy access, 500 miles, of over half of the population of the USA, to come and partake of the bountiful bass fishing and enjoy the other wonders and pleasures of the state. For the residents inside and non-residents alike, NC is one of, if not the most, vacation and bass fishing friendly states in the nation.
NC is home to the most common inland bass fish, the largemouth, the small mouth and the spotted bass. Ocean fare includes the channel bass and sea bass or black sea bass. Other kinds of bass found in NC waters are the striped bass, white bass, redeye bass and the hybrid.
Bass in NC are part and parcel of all species of bass which belong to a bigger order, the Perciformes, the largest order of vertebrates. Perciforms means “perch-like”. These fish comprise over 10,000 species containing upwards of 160 families, (How’d you like to go to that reunion?), the most of any order within the vertebrates ranging in size from 7 millimeters (0.28 inch) to 5 meters (16 feet). Wow! The word, bass, is derived from the Middle English word bars which means, “perch”, which is derived from the Greek word, perke, which means, “spotted” and the Latin word, forma, which means, “shape”. Bass is a fish distinguished by spots and bars (and stripes).
How did bass fish get here in North Carolina? Are they natural and native to the state? Some authorities say no. In fact, bass fish are not native to the Americas at all. Bass origins are in Africa, some say. How they got to America is anybody’s guess. Most likely they hitched a ride with enterprising early adventurers as America became an alluring (pun intended) destination, and they didn’t want to give up the fight a bass fish makes when hooked, nor the culinary splendor of a bass fish dinner.
Whether they were already here to greet the new arrivals from far off continents or whether they were passengers with them, bass got a new birth of inland proliferation into America as railroad tracks began to web across the land. We’ve all heard the story of Johnny Appleseed who trooped about the country carrying a bag of apple seeds and sowing them generously so that apple trees sprung up all over and provide for one of today’s most beloved deserts, apple pie. Believe it or not, early railroads with their water powered steam engines are the Johnny Appleseed of the bass fish inland proliferation in America. It is the innovations of bass fish enthusiasts in the 1800’s that is credited for inland stocking of largemouth and smallmouth bass in the rivers, streams, creeks, lakes and ponds. It all began when large numbers of “tank” ponds to supply water for train steam engines were made by damming creeks which intersected the tracks. It was discovered that bass fish could be transported in containers and carried by rail to every outback or backwater inland where these railroad “water stops” were located and there deposited. From there they made their way into every nook and cranny they are now found, which, by the way, finding them is part of the game and satisfaction of bass fishing.
Starting west and heading east, there is a gamut of rivers and streams, lakes and ponds well stocked and fishing ready. There are 301 miles of general coastline and 3,375 miles of tidal coastline. The fishing license, size and bagging regulations are not excessive and make ample room for a satisfying fishing experience. If you are local or a visitor, whatever your forte, be it largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, striped bass or sea bass, they’re all waiting in North Carolina for you to come get ‘em!
Kinds of Bass in NC
Largemouth Bass - Micropterus Salmoides
The most popular freshwater sport fish in NC is the largemouth bass. Anglers go after largemouth bass with gusto more than any other fish, and spend vast amounts of time and money in their pursuit. A great part of the largemouth bass’ appeal is that he is a predator of cunning that takes an equal measure of sizing him up and figuring out how to lure him out for the catch. This is an aggressive fish anglers search for because it puts up a thrilling battle once hooked. It’s a fight a bass fisherman lives for and never tires of telling about.
That big unpronounceable scientific name is scary, isn’t it? But it is just high flalut’in sounding in that, micropterus, merely means, “small fin”, and, salmoides, means “trout”. Well, in some places in NC the fish is referred to as a trout.
The largemouth bass is distinguished by the fact that the corners of its mouth extend back beyond the eye. This makes it possible for this predator fish to open its mouth wide enough to take in something as big as its own head! Typically it likes warm, mostly clear water without discernible current, but can be found in the colder waters of the western NC Mountains. Largemouth bass are found in the slow moving currents in central and costal NC rivers and streams as well as in natural and man-made lakes and ponds.
Until they reach 2 inches in length, newly hatched bass feed on water fleas, graduate to insects and larval and then they begin to eat smaller fish. Mature largemouth feed on other fish, crayfish, frogs, other amphibians and, believe it or not, largemouth has been known to consume rodents and birds. Anything it can swallow is food for it from when it reaches 10 inches on in size, and due to the malleability of its stomach it can digest anything up to half its own length.
Largemouth bass growth is influenced by weather of the seasons and water environment. And, in the South they live up to 10+ years, the females living longer than males.
After the eggs hatch in 3-10 days, the male protects the babies until they grow to ¾ to 1” in length and begin to swim out, usually many weeks after hatching. Adult largemouth on average are 3-5 pounds and up to as much as 8-10 pounds. The standing competition world record set in 1932 was a 22 pound 4 ounce caught by George Perry in Montgomery Lake, Georgia. This record was held until July 2, 2009 when it was matched by Manabu Kurita who caught a largemouth bass weighing 22 pounds 4 ounces in Lake Biwa in Japan. The record for NC largemouth bass is 15 pounds 14 ounces. The average size largemouth bass caught are 10-24 inches weighing 1-8 pounds.
Smallmouth Bass - Micropterus Dolomieu
Recently there has been a surge of interest by anglers in smallmouth bass in NC, particularly in the mountainous region where smallmouth are prolific in rivers, streams, lakes as well as ponds. The reason is attributed mostly to the smallmouth’s spunk and spittle in the fight. It is a tough and tumble, knockdown, drag out fighter. One of his fighting tricks is he likes to jump high out of the water and try to spit the hook out of his mouth. It’s a thrill to see and an even bigger thrill to land him.
His scientific name is Micropterus Dolomieu. “Micropterus” means “small fin”, but in his case, the “Dolomieu” has no reference to the spotted bass per se, but to a French mineralogist, M. Dolomieu.
The average fish caught is 8 -12 inches at 1/2 to 1 pound. While rarer, bigger smallmouth can be up to 15 inches and weigh up to 2 pounds. Even rarer still are the 16-20 inch size in the 5 pound range. This is river and stream fish. Lake fish are usually bigger. In fact, the record smallmouth caught in NC was from Hiwassee Lake near Murphy in Cherokee County, set in 1951 at 10 pounds 2 ounces. And the present world record was set by David Hayes July 9th, 1955 at 11 pounds 15 ounces from Dale Hollow Lake, Kentucky.
Smallmouth Bass get their name from having a mouth considerably smaller than the largemouth. The hinge of its mouth is in line with the eye in contrast with the largemouth whose hinge of its mouth is considerably past the eye. This is why they prefer sections of rivers and creeks, lakes and ponds inhabited by smaller creatures they feed on. Nevertheless, like its cousin the largemouth, it eats about anything it can get into its mouth. While they are found in many different quiet and even still water environments, they like swift water with rocks where their preferred food often lurks. Larger sized smallmouth will go after bigger meals like other fish, frogs and even snakes.
Nesting for spawning begins when water temperature is at 60 degrees F. They choose guarded areas of streams and lakes where the current is slow. They like to build the nests in shallow water near large rocks and wood, and where there are pebbles on the water bed. The female will lay up to 2,500 golden yellow eggs which the male protects, and after they hatch guards the fry until they leave the nest in 12 to 16 days.
Spotted Bass – Micropterus punctulatus
The spotted bass is different from its cousins, largemouth and smallmouth, in that its mouth is somewhat in between being not as big as the largemouth and not as small as the smallmouth. It has the appearance of the largemouth in that the hinge of its mouth is farther back on its body beyond the eye, so it looks like a largemouth with a smallmouth body. The high flalut’in Greek name, Micropterus, as seen earlier, is mere scientific speak which means, “small fin”, and, punctulatus is Latin which means “markings”. Spotted bass is known by the rows of spots on the sides of its streamline body. It never gets to the size of the largemouth and smallmouth. The US record for spotted bass is 9 pounds 9 ounces, caught in Pine Flat Reservoir, California.
Normally, the adult fish are 10-15 inches and up to 1 pound or less. But don’t let its usual lesser average size put you off. This scrappy fish is worth all the time and effort to pursue it. When spotted bass hit they jerk hard and it seems like they will pull the rod or pole out of your hands. As to NC, this fish migrated from points south and was also in some instances believed to have been introduced by rogue gamers. It is known to aggressively take over other species, out competing largemouth and smallmouth, so it is not exactly welcomed by everyone. But it is here now and is hotly pursued by many fishermen. Smallmouth like a more rapid current than their cousins and the waters warmer. While they are in some mountainous lakes, they are more easily found in the central to coastal NC regions although they do not enter tidal waters.
Spawning is much the same for spotted bass as it is for largemouth or smallmouth bass. The male clears out a nesting place of rocks or pebble water bed. In lakes they like the protective cover of wood and brush. The male spotted bass steers the female around the nest in a circle while nipping at her opercle, gill covering, and vent which ritual can continue for up to four hours. Romantic, huh? She will lay from 3,000 to 30,000 eggs depending on her age and maturity, with the average number being about 5,000. The eggs hatch in about 2 days normally, but it can be as long as 5 days.
Other kinds of bass found in inland NC waters are the striped bass, white bass, redeye bass and the hybrid.Coastline and Ocean Bass
Channel Bass - Sciaenops ocellatus
Channel Bass is the official NC State salt water fish. Found in the inlets and bays where they spawn, they are carried by water currents to nursery areas. They make their way to salt water within six to eight months. It is not unusual to catch a 30-40 pound channel bass fishing in one of the sounds, or by surf fishing anywhere between Oregon Inlet and Cape Lookout. The world and state record channel bass was caught off Hatteras Island, NC, weighing in at 94 pounds, 2 ounces. NC has the distinction of having 10 of the 16 world records of this fish.
Channel bass are also known as puppy drum, drum, and redfish.
When spawning, the males make a drum sound caused by a muscle they vibrate in their swim blatter. The younger, aged 1-4 years, are called puppy drum and merely drum when matured. The American Fisheries Society call them Red Drum, because they range in color from deep black to coppery to silver with reddish-bronze being the dominate color.
The species is scientifically called, Sciaenops ocellatus. The Greek word, Sciaenops, means “perch-like” and the Latin word, ocellatus, means, “eye-like”. Channel bass is of particular interest in that it has an “eye-like” spot on both its sides near its tail fin. Sometimes there are two or more spots. It is believed these spots are a deceptive “eye-like” mark making a predator think it is attacking the head which gives the channel bass the opportunity to escape.
Sea Bass - Centropristes striatus
An interesting observaion on the black sea bass is that it changes sex from female to male as it makes its way to maturity. The change happens when the fish is 2 - 4 years old at about 8 - 13 inches.
A very sought after food and game fish, sea bass confine themselves to salt water only. They get up to 2 feet in length and up to 6 pounds with some weighing up to 7 ½ pounds. The average catch is about 1 ½ pounds at about 1 foot long. At 18 – 20 inches sea bass will weigh approximately 3 pounds. On the NC coast, sea bass spawn in May. Adult males develop a fatty hump on the back in front of the dorsal fin which is prominent during spawning. By the time the fry have grown to a length of 3 inches, (upwards of 60mm.), they are identifiable as sea bass.
Depending on the time of the year, sea bass likes depths of water from a mere few feet deep up to 70 or more fathoms, (420+ feet). Inshore at 20 fathoms (140+ feet) they like old ship wrecks and wharves pilings. Their usual diet is mollusks, shrimp, lobsters, crabs, other fish and squid. They are easily caught and are a favorite prey of casual and serious deep sea fishermen.
You'll find, like all before you, North Carolina bass fishing, bar none, is the best.
Come on, let's go fish'in!