BADIN — A pair of pickups arrived at a gate, locked to keep trespassers from the fish-rich waters of the Uwharrie River.
The road was unimproved and couldn't take high traffic. But it gave access to the public trust waters of the river.
Though the lake stretches like a shimmering mirror to those who view it from one of the scenic overlooks at the top of the fabled Morrow Mountain, the Uwharrie river can also look like little more than a silvery ribbon from other views.
The two anglers were Nathan Davis, who owns and operates God's Country Outfitters in Albemarle, and Jimmy Dick, who describes himself as mostly retired from insurance sales and travel businesses. Now he works for SendOutCards, an online greeting card company. The anglers had towed their small boats along a winding road to launch them into the Uwharrie River. Their goal was to catch all six species of bass swimming in the river.
"Even when I was working full-time, I never let work interfere with my fishing," said Dick, 66. "I've always loved fishing the Uwharrie River. Once I'm fishing here, work is the farthest thing from my mind."
Dick and Davis have access to the private landing, but anglers have other options for reaching the water.
"You can launch from the Morrow Mountain State Park Ramp and paddle about 100 yards across Lake Tillery to the mouth of the river," Davis, 34, said. "You can also launch at N.C. 109 and come downstream or from a state road even farther upstream."
The Uwharrie National Forest and private holdings line the river, which Davis said has Class I and Class II rapids. The low-gradient rapids block access by bass boats arriving from Lake Tillery at about one-half mile upstream.
That doesn't stop bassers.
"We catch six species of bass from the Uwharrie River," Davis said. "We catch large mouth bass, smallmouth bass, red-eyes [rock bass], spotted bass, white bass and stripers [striped bass]. We also catch several sunfish species and lots of white perch."
Davis slid his canoe into the water. Using a kayak paddle, he propelled it upstream effort lessly against the weak flow. Dick launched afterward, using a trolling motor to power his craft, a plastic-hulled hybrid combining the attributes of a kayak and a canoe. It could be paddled like a kayak, but it wasn't "tippy" like a canoe. Both craft were constructed of sturdy hull materials capable of surviving scrapes against rocks.
"You're going to hit a few rocks," Dick said, pointing to his motor's bent blade tips.And before the day was through, Dick had to remove the propeller to pound the motor's shaft bearing back into place with a hammer and screw driver to correct a rock-bump wobble.
At the first set of rapids, Dick stopped to make a few casts. He wanted a smallmouth bass.
"It's a bit early. But I've caught nine this year, weighing as much as 21/2 pounds," he said. "By the end of May, we will be catching 25 smallmouth a day."
Not only can the fish be plentiful, they can be large.
"My wife, Tracy, caught a smallmouth that weighed 51/2 pounds," Davis said. "There are some monster largemouth here, too."
Dick said the best places to fish were above and below the rapids. Shoreline cover was everywhere - rocks, felled trees, deep pools and swift ripples. Dick stopped where a dead tree stretched its limbs into a deep pool below the first rapid.
"We caught about 100 white perch here yesterday," he said. "I'll stop here, and you go on up ahead to the next set of rapids."
Davis paddled on, as Dick suggested. He nosed the canoe onto a bar to stabilize it and began casting. Soon he was catching a white perch on every cast. He used small jigs with plastic trailers that most anglers call "crappie jigs."
"Around here, they call white perch 'Waccamaws,' " he said. "Maybe Lake Waccamaw is where they came from, and anglers probably transported them to Lake Tillery from there. Some of the local anglers put a couple of 'r's' in the pronunciation, saying it something like 'Warcarmawr.' But I can't pronounce it the same way they do."
At first, small white perch nudged the lures with gentle taps. But the larger fish soon joined the attack. Davis pulled the first of what would be dozens of white perch from the water. It was a small one. But the biggest of the day would be about 10 inches long, which he said were of "good eating size."
"They're good to eat. But I fish for fun," he said. "I can tell by the laughter from Jimmy's boat downstream around the corner that he must be into them, too."
Paddling downstream, Davis found Dick catching perch. They regrouped, moving upstream until reaching a set of rapids that could not be navigated by either boat.
Dick got out and walked his boat through the rapids while Davis tried paddling through. Eventually, he, too, walked his boat upstream.
Their efforts were rewarded. They caught abundant white perch, plus largemouth, spotted and white bass. The final fish was the biggest.
"Hey, come over here," Dick shouted. "This fish is pulling me all around the river."
The fight took 10 minutes, giving Davis time to paddle close to watch. Dick's boat pirouetted under the shadows of towering oaks and river birch trees like a wind-blown leaf. But the ultra-light spinning tackle won out. Dick lip-locked a worn-down striped bass between a thumb and fore finger. He held it up to admire its beauty then released it.
"Fishing the Uwharrie River is like a gambling addiction," Dick said. "You always want to make that next cast because you never know what species of bass you're going to catch next."