04/02/10 — White Lake offers surprise for fishermen

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White Lake offers surprise for fishermen

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on April 2, 2010 1:46 PM

White Lake Surprises Fishermen

White Lake is a tremendously popular destination for water skiers and bathers. The water is as clear as glass and the beaches are snow-white sand.

Homes surrounding the Bladen County beauty range from the modest campers set up bumper to bumper in campgrounds to waterfront homes priced in the if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it-range.

Christian Waters, a fishery biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, told me the lake was full of smallish yellow perch and stunted largemouth bass. But he also admitted the electro-shock sampling equipment used by technicians to sample the lake's aquatic wildlife is less than efficient in the Carolina bay lake waters, which are extremely acidic compared to other types of lakes.

The high acidity results in conductivity levels that are not compatible with electro-shock equipment, and low available nutrients and low productivity except for the few fish species that are hallmark inhabitants of North Carolina's natural coastal lakes -- including yellow perch, bowfin and chain pickerel. Another introduced species that inhabits the lake is largemouth bass.

Of the bluegill sunfish and warmouth, it's uncertain whether they are natural denizens or introduced. The lake has no inflow or outflow, and no public access except for the White Lake Water Sports and Marina Ramp, which charges an $8 fee for a daily launch.

Capt. Butch Foster and I headed for the lake to check things out.

We caught several yellow perch on a trolling expedition. Enforcement officer Sgt. Andy Waldrop of the N.C. Wildlife Commission checked our licenses and gear, then had a look inside our ice chest.

"Yellow perch," he said. "They are a common catch here at White Lake. But folks are sometimes surprised at how good the bass fishing is. It's a well-kept secret."

While rumors of 6-pound bass abounded, we had yet to catch any of that size. We caught small bass weighing either a pound or two, and another one that might top two pounds.

Anglers appear insulted when you ask if they weighed a 6-pounder to de-lie the mythology. But when a big bass struck a small crankbait trolled for yellow perch, we knew we had a fight on our hands.

The ultralight rod held 10-pound superbraid line, which helped keep the line taut during the battle. Once the big bass was beside the boat, Foster grabbed the net we had brought along in the event we hooked a bowfin or jackfish.

"Wow!" he exclaimed. "That's a nice bass."

In the excitement of the moment, I estimated the big bass with the single barb of a tiny treble imbedded in his upper jawbone at 5 pounds. But Foster was closer to guessing her weight at 4 pounds. On the digital scale, she weighed 3.9 pounds. But her belly was empty of eggs, since the water temperature was in the 50s, putting her in the pre-spawn feeding mode.

"She would have been close to 5 pounds if she ready to spawn," said Foster. "I've caught plenty of bass that size when I was fishing at Badin, Tuckertown and Fontana lakes."

Those lakes stay busy all year round because they have a reputation for producing lots of species and large individual fish, including striped bass, crappie, catfish and largemouth bass. But the natural bay lakes are a different story. When you fish them, you have to appreciate the fact that they were created by unknown natural forces and be satisfied with the species that are in the lake when you get there.

Foster operates "Yeah Right Charters" for anglers who head out of Southport, so seldom does he get a chance to fish for bass these days. But when he does, he said he would probably head back to White Lake, until the water ski and vacation season arrives around Memorial Day.

"It's a beautiful lake and there's nobody here," he said. "There were only a couple of boat trailers in the parking lot. Catching a bass isn't everything. If you can catch a bass that size in a place where nobody else fishes, the solitude is an added incentive to give it a try."