WILMINGTON — The parking lot at Sutton Lake was full to overflowing. The boating access area had been closed for four months while the boat launching ramps and the public fishing area were undergoing renovations. The ramp had opened two days before, on Feb. 28, and this was the first Saturday that followed. Fishermen were glad to be back out on the water.
Two anglers launched their boat and headed to the lakes hot-water discharge. Robert Samples and Wayne Sutton liked to catch fish that were good to eat. On this day, they fished for crappie.
Before the ramp reopened, we carried a 12-foot johnboat to the water and caught a few fish, but it was a long way to haul it, said Samples, a 41-year-old sheet metal mechanic who lives in Jacksonville. We kept up with the progress of the ramp construction on the Internet, so we knew when it opened again. Now that the ramp is open, we can fish out of a bigger Ranger bass boat.
The two friends fish together nearly every weekend. When they are serious about catching something, they team up to compete in bass fishing tournaments. This was not a tournament weekend. They were just out to catch some fish for supper.
We have 15 or 20 nice crappie so far, said Sutton, 61, who works at Fort Sill National Bank in Jacksonville. When you are fishing a tournament, there is a lot of pressure. This is low-pressure fishing. We dont care that much whether we catch anything or not. But we will try to catch anything else that wants to bite.
The anglers had tied their boat to a trestle and were fishing with three rods rigged with float rigs baited with small shiners anglers call crappie minnows. The shiners were dangling about 6 feet below the floats on gold hooks, swimming near the bottom of the lake. The rods were set in rod holders and the fishermen seldom took their eyes off the fluorescent orange and yellow floats while laughing and joking with more than a dozen other anglers who were fishing nearby. Some caught bream and shellcracker sunfish. Others caught bass. Very few caught crappie.
They are biting sporadically today, Samples said. When the power plant is generating electricity and pulling water, it creates a lot of flow. That is when the fish usually bite the best. But its a weekend, so they probably arent generating as much electricity. We catch one or two fish, then they quit biting sometimes for a long time.
One of the floats bobbed and began to move off. Samples grabbed the rod and picked it up. The long rod bowed as he fought the fish gently to avoid tearing the hook from its delicate mouth membranes. As soon as he lifted it from the water, he noticed another float moving contrary to the current flow, weaving from side to side.
Theres another hit, he said. Get the rod.
Sutton set the hook and skillfully played the crappie to the boat. In anglers parlance, they had landed a double hook-up. Another fish struck, making it three in a row. After that, their floats didnt move for a long time.
Samples said crappie also struck jigs and small lures, but on this day, fishing with live bait seemed to be the key. When asked about the new ramp that had opened up the lake to fishing from bass boats again, Samples was enthusiastic.
Its much easier to load and unload the boat from a trailer because the ramp has a better slope than it did before, he said. Its a lot easier to use than most other ramps and I think they did a good job on it.
Improvements to the aging ramp include the addition of a floating center dock between two concrete ramps and new, stationary piers on either side of the ramps. The floating dock has rails to make it accessible to those with disabilities.
Sutton Lake covers 1,100 acres and is located off U.S. 421 in New Hanover County. It is owned by Duke Energy and provides cooling water for the L.V. Sutton steam-electric generating plant.