- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

ALBEMARLE, N.C.

Randy Thomas stood in his 23-foot center console boat, peering across the water toward the Tuckertown Lake dam and said, “Look at the mist rising from the dam. They’ve opened a couple more floodgates. It’s not going to help the fishing, that’s for sure.”

He then shook his head in disgust, but we continued casting tiny hooks with live crickets that dangled under thumb tip-sized corks to catch sunfish. The little bream, as Southerners call them, later would serve as bait for blue catfish that we hoped to find below the dam in adjacent Badin Lake — a 12,000-acre beauty that along with Tuckertown and Lake Tillery are part of a chain of Stanly County lakes fed by the Yadkin River, east of Charlotte.

And that’s where the trouble began.

The Yadkin, coursing down from the northwestern parts of the state, had been the recipient of recent, massive, hurricane-driven rain. Monsoons would be a better word for it, and the Yadkin’s color soon resembled coffee with cream — water that would enter the very lakes we hoped would deliver plenty of catfish action.

Thomas, his cooler chest’s bottom covered with bluegills, had a plan. If Badin Lake remained reasonably fishable, we’d cast out weighted bottom rigs tied to stout hooks that held whole sunfish. The baits would drop into a sharply declining area that began with a sandy flat and ended in a deep channel of about 30 feet.

Thomas, 45, a former officer with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission who retired after 18 years in law enforcement, serves nowadays as a hunter education specialist for the state. He is a lifelong angler and hunter who appeared to know every square inch of the lakes we were fishing.

After pulling the boat from one impoundment and launching it in another in the space of 15 minutes, Thomas found the channel ledge he wanted and we released the hooked sunfish. Our gear consisted of high quality Ambassadeur reels loaded with strong monofilament or braided line. In less than half an hour, two of four rods were struck by something. The rods doubled over in their holders, but by the time we snatched them up and attempted a hook setting, whatever munched on the baits had gotten what they wanted and disappeared in the increasingly swift waters of Badin Lake.

“They had to be blue cats,” said Thomas, “and they’re acting mighty spooky in this strong current.”

Something wasn’t right. It bothered the 6-foot-3 Thomas who’s built like an NFL defensive end.

“All those heavy rains we had are messing up my plans,” he said. “Let’s move downlake a bit and see if we can find some quieter water.”

Before he could fire up his outboard, however, two very friendly North Carolina wildlife officers stopped by to see if we had fishing licenses. They even checked their former colleague, Thomas.

The big fellow soon ran his large and comfortable Carolina Skiff downlake and suddenly pointed toward the entrance of a cove. Small, hectic splashes of water could be seen on the surface.

A pack of predator fish apparently had herded a school of threadfin shad into a frightened ball and now was tearing into the little critters.

Thomas and I went into action. While he slowed the boat to a crawl, then shut down the outboard, I was busy tying a silvery metal lure known as a Silver Buddy (actually it was a homemade version made by my friend Dick Fox) to thin, braided line and began systematic casting and retrieving. Bang! On the third retrieve, something powerful struck the little “blade bait,” and the fight was on.

It was a largemouth bass of about three pounds, but it broke off just as Thomas was going to slip a landing net under it. No problem. We caught others, even a channel catfish — all of them going after the treble-hook metal lures. Then, as quickly as it started, the feeding frenzy by the bass stopped.

Minutes later, maybe 50 yards away, another surface eruption occurred. This time, however, the commotion appeared to be caused by white perch or white bass, smaller fish species that totally ignored our lures no matter how often or how accurately we cast into the midst of the feeding fray.

In all, a day that began in disappointment ended well even if a recent hurricane threw a monkey wrench into our plans.

Things turned out even better later that day when a heaping plate of down-home Carolina chopped barbecue soothed a Marylander’s growling stomach.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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