Lake Wylie, covering 13,443 acres on the Catawba River chain of man-made lakes straddling the border between North and South Carolina, has long been known as a highly productive crappie fishery. With fertile waters and visibility up to 10 feet, Wylie provides anglers with plenty of black crappie action, along with an occasional white crappie encounter. But the big news on Wylie this year is the record numbers of young this year, signifying a healthy fishery for years to come.
The mid-2000’s saw a dramatic decline in Wylie’s crappie population due to cyclical low reproduction rates and a rising white perch population that fed on crappie eggs. It wasn’t unusual for trap nets to yield a half dozen fish under 90 millimeters. Fast forward to fall of 2016 for trap net yields numbering in the hundreds, tournaments almost every weekend, year-round boat fishing, and big crappie biting from the shoreline in spring and fall.
Contributing to this rebound are the aggressive fish habitat replenishment efforts of state natural resource agencies and local volunteer groups like Gaston County’s Piedmont Area Wildlife Stewards. Lakeshore development in the Charlotte region has increased dock construction along Lake Wylie’s 325 miles of shoreline. More brushed in wooden dock structures make for happy crappie, while anglers targeting white perch have restored balance to fish population numbers.
All these factors translate into some great panfishing just minutes outside Charlotte in Gaston County. March and April are peak season for black crappie spawning in shallow water around docks and nestled in structure surrounding buoys marking habitat enhancement sites. Moderate water temperatures and an abundance of baitfish keep crappie in the shallower waters close to shore throughout spring, even pre- and post-spawn, and during the fall. Anglers will find the best bite on frontal conditions with pressure dropping.
One of the most exciting things about the crappie population boom in Lake Wylie is the increase in four-season fishing opportunities. While summer and winter take crappie to depths of 30 to 35 feet in the main channels, there’s less competition on the water and, once the fish have been located, less movement as crappie settle into the temperature, oxygen levels, cover, and forage they require. Electronics can be especially helpful during these seasons to locate crappie at greater depths.
Ask any Lake Wylie veteran what bait will land a slab and you’ll find half recommending crappie minnows while the other half swear by baby shad crappie bait, particularly blues and silvers that perform well in Lake Wylie’s clear waters. Tap into the expertise of the seasoned Carolinas anglers at The Great Outdoors in Cherryville, N.C., to answer any questions before getting on the water.
Since Lake Wylie sits between North and South Carolina, a North Carolina fishing license is required for the waters off any NC boat landing and shoreline. A 10-day permit is $7; annual permit $20 with options for lifetime, senior, and disabled permits. A $2 transaction fee applies with permits available online, by phone, and in person. Once out on the water, the state border is marked in some but not all locations, so many anglers rely on the navigation app Navionics for lake contour and state border information.
South Point Access off South Point Road in Belmont is well-known for ample parking and six lanes, meaning no wait time getting on the water, even during peak lake recreation seasons. The South Point launch is also an ideal spot to end a day on the water close to a variety of great local restaurants in downtown Belmont, like tapas and wine bar Luna Hombre, Nellie’s Southern Kitchen (with live music most nights) and The String Bean Market & Bistro.
Close proximity to unique and thriving downtown Belmont, Mt. Holly and Gastonia make it easy to combine a day catching slab crappie on Lake Wylie with shopping, drinks, and a meal at some of the best local stores and restaurants in the Carolinas. It’s yet another reason why Lake Wylie is a tournament favorite for many veteran anglers who enjoy the variety of accommodations and amenities close to competition sites in Gaston County.
Crappie USA will hold its Lake Wylie tournament on Saturday, April 1, 2017. Tournament details are available at crappieusa.com.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated in partnership with Gaston County Gov.