FLW Professional and local guide Matt Arey previously offered this site’s readers a guide to fishing Lake Wylie in the winter, a time when the lake is known as a particularly strong bass fishing lake - in part because of the presence of a heated water discharge from a nuclear power plant. Nonetheless, as on many lakes, spring is still the most popular time to catch bass on Lake Wylie. As fish emerge from late winter lethargy they move into pre-spawn mode, and they feed up heavily in preparation for the spawn. Bed fishing on Lake Wylie is good, and then after a brief post-spawn funk Wylie bass prey heavily on spawning shad and bream – another great time to catch fish. Overall, late February to June is an ideal time to target Lake Wylie bass.
When surface water temperatures pass 50 degrees, Matt says that Lake Wylie bass move directly into pre-spawn mode. Bass will feed all spring, but their number one biological imperative in the spring is to spawn. Accordingly, Matt believes that the key to spring fishing is knowing where the spawning locations will be. If you know where the bass are going to spawn, you can predict their movements the rest of the season, and so Matt and I first talked about where bass will ultimately spawn.
Bass have several requirements for spawning locations. They would like to find wind protected, sun-warmed pockets, and another top requirement is a good, firm bottom. Bass try to avoid silted areas. Fishing the heavily silted Ohio River, Matt has seen bass spawn on stumps, but where possible bass will try to find a firm bottom, including pea gravel or a hard, sandy lake floor. Unlike bream that spawn out in the open, bass will try to find some cover to protect at least one side of the bed – be it a stump, laydown or post. While anglers traditionally think of bass as spawning up the creeks, and they certainly will, a number of fish will actually spawn out on the main lake or in bigger parts of the major creek channel.
To find pre-spawn fish, Matt works backwards from the knowledge that bass are ultimately moving towards protected pockets with firm bottoms and good cover. He also uses his knowledge of where bass are likely to be found in winter – namely proximate to deep water in areas with bait. Readers may remember that his two favorite patterns in winter are fishing fairly steep clay or rock banks that heat up quickly, or fishing deeper structure such as “drops” where depths change quickly. The main lake holds bass during winter as do the major creeks, but Matt generally believes that fish are in outer part of creeks and not in the backs.
To get from winter haunts in the main lake or outer part of creeks to spawning pockets, Lake Wylie bass typically follow creek beds. Matt says that usually one side of a creek will be deeper than the other, and bass will generally follow the deeper side. Before they ultimately move out to search for beds and then spawn they will stack up tightly, and large numbers of bass will be found in small staging areas. Traditional staging areas on most lakes include secondary points, especially those with some natural cover, and to a lesser extent creek channel bends. On Lake Wylie docks, especially those on the deeper side of points, are also important staging areas.
For prespawn fishing Matt’s favorite lures include spinnerbaits, shallow crankbaits and jigs, and he is generally targeting depths from 4-10 feet deep. Spinnerbait fishing Matt likes to throw a large 1 ounce homemade bait in white or chartreuse, and roll it slowly along the bottom. This bait is particularly good crawled across rocks. Matt’s go-to crankbaits include Luhr Jehnsen Speed Traps, Lucky Craft 1.5s and Shad Raps, and prespawn he likes baits in crawfish colors such as red and orange. Finally, when he is fishing specific spots such as docks or rocks (which are commonly found off secondary points on Wylie), Matt will often pick up a jig. He commonly uses the Gambler Ninja Jig and a local, hand-tied jig.
Staged fish will move directly to search for beds and then spawn, and Matt believes that the ideal water temperature range for spawning activity on Lake Wylie is 63-68 degrees. Not all fish will spawn at the same time, and of course the South Fork below the heated discharge is the first area where spawning activity occurs. Back in late February and early March Matt was already catching some spawning fish there with bloodied tails. Typical spawning areas have already been discussed, and Matt points out that while fish will orient to cover during the spawn, they usually won’t be in the middle of a tree because some light penetration is necessary for the eggs to hatch.
Fishing for spawning fish on Lake Wylie, Matt often prefers to fish on the lower end of the lake where, in general, better clarity facilitates sight fishing. Fish on the beds aren’t thinking about eating; they are in defense mode, and the key to catching them is to irritate them. While Matt believes the most important factor in catching bedding fish is presentation, not the specific lure, he points out that small, compact baits are important. If you give the fish an 8 inch lizard it is likely to carry it off by the tail.
80% of the time Matt is bed fishing, he will use a soft plastic lure, usually a 2 or 3 inch Zoom Little Critter Craw or a Gambler Flappy Daddy, Jr. While some bed fishermen prefer a white bait for visibility, Matt prefers to fish a natural colored bait. The other 20% of the time he fishes a 5/16 ounce finesse jig, such as the Eakins jig. He trims the skirt to make it very small, and the bait is so compact that a bass can not pick it up without putting the hook in its mouth.
Since there are multiple waves of spawning activity, fish can still be caught on the beds at the same time that post-spawn fish are moving off. Post-spawn females generally recover for a period after they bed, and some will go offshore and suspend while they regain their strength. Post-spawn fish that are ready to feed can usually be found around floating docks, marinas and rocks, usually proximate to deep water. Using spinnerbaits, swimming jigs and skipping swimbaits under floats are effective ways to target these fish. As water temperatures approach 70 degrees and overnight lows reach the high 50s, the spawn starts to wind down and most fish will be post-spawn.
As bass recovering from the spawn are starting to feed again, the spawning cycle of two other species provides them with food. While Lake Wylie does not have blueback herring, it has a healthy population of threadfin shad which start to spawn around the time bass finish spawning. Unlike Lake Wateree, Wylie does not have bank grass, and most of the shad spawn takes places against hard cover such as bridge pilings, floating piers and marinas. The bulk of the shad will be in the main channels, near deep water, and Matt says that you can see shad actually jumping out of the water when the spawn is in full swing. While shad will spawn all day, the best bite is generally in the early morning for the first two hours. White swimming jigs, small three blade spinnerbaits and swimbaits are all good lures to use, and Matt emphasizes that the best way to fish is parallel to the bank instead of off it. A typical May pattern on Wylie is to target bass around spawning shad for the first couple of hours, and then fish floating docks.
From mid to late May and into late June or early July, the bluegill spawn provides another good bass fishing opportunity. Matt says that the best way to fish this pattern is to move around looking for bluegill beds until you find them, generally in flats or nooks off the main lake or in the pockets of creeks with good sandy bottoms. Floating docks in these areas also hold spawning bream. Bass will often be hanging just off the bream beds feeding on the small bream in the area. Good baits to throw include weightless Senko-style lures like the Gambler Ace, prop baits in natural bream color or bream-patterned swimbaits. By the time the bream spawn winds down, bass will be fully into a summer pattern.
Matt Arey and his guiding partner Andy Montgomery have been professional bass fishermen since 2005 on the FLW Tour. This year they have each finished in the money at 2 out of 3 FLW Tour events, and Andy avoided the home lake curse and finished 3rd on Lake Norman in March. Matt and Andy have made numerous appearances on outdoor television shows, including on the Fox Sports Network and FLW Outdoors. In the fall of 2008 they opened Rack and Reel Outfitters, a hunting and fishing guide service. In addition to Lake Wylie they take customers out on guided fishing trips on Lake Norman, and other area lakes can also be arranged. For more information check out their website at http://www.rackandreeloutfitters.com/
. You can email Matt and Andy at email@example.com
, and they can also be reached by cell phone at 704-484-7715 (Matt) or 704-692-6642 (Andy).
My thanks to Matt for sharing his insights about spring bass fishing on Lake Wylie.
Matt with a healthy spring largemouth
Matt with a nice spot caught in practice with Dearal Rodgers
Matt and his wife with a healthy sack in a night tournament