WHITE LAKE — Bass fishing is a commonplace activity across the large reservoirs of the Piedmont, with anglers playing trolling-motor follow-the-leader in their bass boats and casting to the same shoreline structures already flailed by dozens of spinner baits, crankbaits and soft-plastic lures.
In spring, muddy water conditions prevail at the reservoirs, so bass anglers are accustomed to seeing and fishing them.
A visit to a coastal lake such as White Lake will give any reservoir angler a refreshing change of scenery.
A family team of father, mother and son launched an 18-foot Stratos bass boat at lonesome ramp. Theirs was the only vehicle in the parking lot at White Lake Water Sports and Marina. Though most visitors come to the lake to vacation in hot months, to sunbathe or swim on sandy beaches or water ski on incredibly clear waters, crowding the only available public launching area, the Foust family had come from Fayetteville to fish for White Lake's largemouth bass in solitude.
"Most bass fishermen think I'm crazy to fish here," said Mike Foust, 38, a heating and air conditioning worker. "But I fish White Lake from February through April. Before the water skiers take over, the bass fishing is good. I've caught two bass weighing more than 7 pounds here."
Foust used a trolling motor to maneuver his boat 50 yards offshore. He said private docks rimming the lake are located in water too shallow to hold many bass. But his first bass fishing experience at White Lake was a potshot from one of the piers.
"My parents had a place here, and I caught six bass casting a spinner bait from their dock on a whim," he said. "I've been fishing here ever since, about seven years. I mostly use crankbaits in 4 feet of water. The bass stay pretty deep in spring."
Dawson Foust, 10, showed off a 10-inch perch he had landed and dropped into the live well. Although the fish was no bass, the Armstrong Elementary School student said it was fun to catch.
"We've caught six perch," he said. "They're good to eat. But I really want to catch a bass."
The youth was casting a Road Runner -- a type of spinner -- while his dad and mother, Kim Foust, were casting Shad Raps, a type of crankbait.
"I like coming here because there are no other boats this time of year and the lake is so beautiful," said Kim Foust, 37. "The water is so clear you can see the bottom all the way across the lake. It's not very deep."
Only two other boats were on the lake. One boat held a pair of perch fishermen. The other boat was out for a speed cruise.
A place for fish to age
While Mike Foust told stories of catching more bass at White Lake than he could in muddy, weed-covered lakes nearer in Fayetteville, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's District 4 fisheries biologist, Keith Ashley, said in a telephone interview that White Lake isn't known for its bass fishing.
"We've sampled White Lake twice in the last 25 years," Ashley said. "Largemouth bass average 10 to 13 inches long at age 4 to 6. The lake is coastal water, a size limit of 14 inches and bag limit of five black bass. It takes much longer for White Lake bass to reach 14 inches than it does in nearby rivers."
Ashley said the lake's bass also have poor reproduction when compared to nearby waters, which are much more fertile. But he also said a largemouth can live 10 years in the wild. With little fishing pressure, White Lake largemouth may have a good chance of living long lives.
"Acidic water -- the pH is 3.5 -- not only keeps White Lake bass from growing quickly, it also makes it an extremely difficult lake to sample from a gear standpoint. The low pH means the conductivity is extremely low, which limits how many fish we catch with electro-fishing gear. Some researchers are studying other techniques that could be more efficient. But it's been 10 years since we sampled White Lake. We have typically seen more acid-tolerant species -- yellow perch, warmouth and chain pickerel -- than largemouth bass in past samplings."
Not bad for anglers
Though sampling shows White Lake may not be the best place to catch largemouth bass, it certainly shows they live there, perhaps even growing to much larger sizes and abundance than limited sampling has shown.
"I usually catch three or fourbass a day, but all I've caught today is a big jackfish [chain pickerel]," Mike Foust said. "A 6- or 7-pounder is the biggest bass you're likely to catch, and most are much smaller. But the reason I fish here is that it's a pretty place without any competition, at least not until the ski season begins."
White Lake is a 1,095-acre natural Carolina bay lake. Its origin remains a subject of scientific debate. By a legislative act, all Carolina bay lakes are state parks, yet White Lake has no publicly owned access. A private pay ramp is located at White Lake Water Sports and Marina Inc. The fee is $8 per day or $100 per season.