February Fishing Forecast for Murphy Area Lakes…

and a Few Proposals for Local Fisheries

By Aaron Kephart

January, I suppose, is supposed to be cold, but the first week of this one was just ridiculous. Hiwassee Lake was frozen from Grape Creek to the headwaters, as of two days ago (1/6), although the extreme lower end of the lake was substantially warmer than I expected (45 to 47 degrees). In spite of the weather, we are still catching fish, primarily smallmouth and brown trout, although we have seen a walleye or two in the mix some days, and have run across stripers on other days.

There is some warming rain in the forecast, and I have very high hopes for February. February is traditionally one of my favorite months to fish and, over the years, a disproportionate number of our biggest largemouth, smallmouth, spots, brown trout, walleye, and stripers have come during the month. Patterns will vary depending on weather and water color, but generally speaking, the month provides a great bite, and I would love to show you what it can offer!

I would like to change gears for a minute and talk about my “wish list,” so to speak, for the three lakes I guide on the most: Hiwassee, Apalachia, and Chatuge. I know not everyone will agree with these proposals, but I would like to present them as food for thought, and give my rationale for each.

Hiwassee– I would like to see two things happen on Hiwassee. The first involves the spotted bass. They have taken over the lake, and they have had a huge negative impact on the smallmouth. I know we are stuck with them, but if they are here to stay, I would prefer for them to get bigger. The only way to accomplish that in a spot lake is for anglers to keep a bunch of the smaller ones. Many of you reading this remember back 20-25 years ago when Chatuge was absolutely full of small spots, and an 8 pound limit was decent. Now it is rare to catch a small spot on Chatuge, and it is a fantastic trophy spotted bass lake. I am a firm believer that the reason they grew up is because a majority of anglers on that lake kept a bunch of small spots. I am not advocating keeping big spots, and in fact I strongly discourage it if for no other reason than genetics (keep the big ones in and take the little ones out), but I would love to see Hiwassee go to a 15 per person limit on spots under 15 inches, with no minimum size limit. I think this would benefit both the spots and the smallmouth greatly. This same thing would probably also be beneficial on a lake like Fontana.

My second proposal for Hiwassee involves the walleye. In my opinion, the current bag limit is way too high for the population that we have. In reality, the only time you can routinely catch limits of walleye given their current numbers is when they are spawning, which is not a great formula for the continuation of the species on Hiwassee. They have it hard enough with the herring, and keeping a bunch of spawning fish only compounds the problem, and leads to fewer and fewer fish every year (there are simply nowhere near enough stocked in the lake). I would love to see Hiwassee go to a 3 fish per person walleye limit. Three of them is a fine meal for a big family, and is hard to come by the majority of the year anyway. I would also love to see the stocking numbers increased by about 10 times the current rate.

Apalachia– My three ideas for Apalachia are pretty straightforward. The first would be to designate it as a trophy smallmouth fishery, and only allow anglers to keep one smallmouth per day, with that fish being a minimum of 22 inches. I have seen this work with tremendous success on other bodies of water, primarily in Tennessee, and I would love to see it tried out on Apalachia (it also wouldn’t hurt my feelings to see this size and bag limit on smallmouth implemented on Hiwassee, or possibly even state wide). My second proposal for Apalachia is for a complete removal of any size or bag limits on spotted bass. Luckily there are not a ton of them in the lake at this point, but I am seeing more every year, and I would encourage anglers to keep all of them they legally can out of there. My third proposal for Apalachia is to stock 30,000 to 50,000 walleye fingerlings a year. I know the herring have essentially eliminated natural reproduction for them, but Apalachia is the perfect lake to stock a reasonable number into (and walleye have to be much cheaper than raising trout to put in the lake).

Chatuge– My proposal for Chatuge is very simple. North Carolina should return to a 5 fish bass limit on the lake. I know that Georgia allows anglers 10 spotted bass per person and Chatuge is a border lake, but two wrongs don’t make a right, and we do not have to follow their lead. Way too many big spots are being taken out of this lake, especially in the prespawn, and if people won’t police themselves game laws have to do it for them. We have a jewel of a trophy spotted bass fishery in this lake, but I am a firm believer that excessive bag limits, combined with a few fish hogs, are going to destroy this awesome fishery if nothing is done about it.

I hope everyone has survived the deep freeze of early January. If you are like me you are looking forward to spring at this point, although I do love winter fishing. Regardless, thank you for your time.

Aaron Kephart is the Owner of Mountain Lakes Guide Service. To book a guided trip on one of the Murphy area mountain lakes, contact him by phone at 865-466-1345 or by email at [email protected] Check out his website at http://www.mtnlakesguideservice.com and catch him on [email protected].