- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

BELMONT, N.C.

It’s the talk of the South. Dozens of reservoirs that provide a huge percentage of the recreational activities Southerners engage in — fishing — have nearly dried up, or at least show much lower water levels than they should. Blame the devastating drought of 2007.

The national news media took note of the Southern dilemma when the giant Lake Sidney Lanier, not far from Atlanta, suffered so badly from a lack of rain that its levels fell more than 20 feet. Lanier delivers drinking water to several million people, as well as being home to sometimes frantic recreational weekend fishing and boating. The angling and waterskiing came to a halt for many as some portions of the lake could be crossed on foot, rather than by boat.

Low water conditions seriously have reduced visits to favorite Southern lakes not only by local residents, but also the Northern bass boaters who in years past knew they could find action when their home states were in a deep freeze. In turn, this has to affect potential sales and incomes of tackle shops, marinas and fishing guides.

In slightly better shape is the famous Lake Wylie that straddles the North Carolina and South Carolina border — a reservoir that not long ago held the exclusive Bassmasters Classic fishing championship. Even after several heavy rains in recent months, the 13,000-acre impoundment continues to be six feet low. Only two launch ramps are able to accommodate trailered boats; both are located in South Carolina, forcing North Carolinians to travel many miles before they reach deep enough launch waters.

Wylie’s not too distant neighbor, the 32,000-acre Lake Norman, also is down by 6 feet or more. 6,510-acre Lake James, in North Carolina’s hill country saw water levels drop 20 feet and it still is 15 feet lower than “normal pool.”

Near Durham, N.C., the popular 12,000-acre Falls Lake these days looks more like a cattle pasture than a fishing lake and water reservoir. Thick carpets of brown grass can be seen covering hundreds of acres where water should be six to eight feet deep.

In South Carolina the 13,200-acre Lake Wateree continues to be seven feet low, and the 56,000-acre Lake Hartwell on the South Carolina/Georgia line continues to be down 12 feet, seriously impeding the launching of boats in many areas of the impoundment. Next month, Lake Hartwell is to host the 2008 Bassmasters Classic.

On Lake Wylie, meanwhile, if the popular bass guide Jimmy “Poss” Drumm is worried, he’s not showing it. Drumm, whose nickname “Poss” had something to do with a beloved grandfather who took young Jimmy on hunting trips, bagging a possum now and then, hence the “Poss” monicker.

Drumm drove a considerable distance from his Mount Holly, N.C., home to reach a South Carolina launch ramp suitable for his bass boat. When he finally got on the water he was certain that he could find willing largemouth bass even though the lake’s depth had changed enough to force the local fish to seek different haunts.

In his pleasant Southern drawl Drumm said, “In these situations you have to back off, poke around a little for [never before seen] rock piles, ditches and underwater obstacles where the fish might hide.”

On a bitter-cold morning, Drumm proved his mettle when he pushed bright chartreuse curly-tailed, plastic grubs onto 1/4-ounce ball-head jig hooks and tied the lures to 8- or 10-pound monofilament line. He pointed to a target area and began casting toward the edges of a lake shore with now exposed breakwater rocks that normally should be covered with water. He slowly retrieved the grub through shallows that fell into deeper lake layers and immediately set the hook to a young bass.

A guest aboard Drumm’s boat, Margaret Helms, of Atlanta, followed Drumm’s example and hooked two bass before my turn came to catch a largemouth.

Roughly 100 yards away, tiny baitfish eruptions and subsequent sea gull attacks on the little fish showed us our next casting target. Again we caught bass by simply executing long casts and steadily reeling in the plastic baits.

When asked if the lower water affected his guiding business, Drumm said, “No, because I know where I can find a launch place and I know I can find bass or stripers even in this cold weather.”

For Drumm such statements are pure fact, never bragging. What a great guy to spend a day with. Interested? He can be reached at 704/827-3018.

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

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