Nature and Biology Make High Rock a Fishing Destination

by | Sep 9, 2021 | High Rock Lake

I had the pleasure of connecting with Casey Joubert, one of the 18 fisheries management biologists working within the Inland Fisheries division of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Normally, when folks hear NCWRC they think of law enforcement, but before laws are created and enforced, research must happen.

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is the state government agency created by the General Assembly in 1947 to conserve and sustain the state’s fish and wildlife resources through research, scientific management, wise use, and public input. The Commission is the regulatory agency responsible for the enforcement of N.C. fishing, hunting, trapping, and boating laws.

The sale of hunting and fishing licenses, federal grants, and other receipts provide financial support to the agency. The Commission has an operational budget of approximately $65 million and employs more than 590 full-time staff across the state, including wildlife and fisheries biologists and technicians, wildlife law enforcement officers, wildlife educators, communication specialists, customer service, information technology, and administrative professionals.

This blog is an introduction to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Inland Fisheries Division.

This group oversees sport fish such as bass, trout, and crappie. But there is more, such as mussels and crayfish, that fall under the division’s Aquatic Wildlife Diversity program. It’s a combination of science and nature that makes a cohesive fish management system that ensures not only sport fish are viable, but other species, such as darters and minnows, are also a sustainable part of the ecosystem for all public waters.

Casey is assigned to District 6, along with her co-worker Troy Thompson. They help manage the bodies of water from High Rock Lake, down the Yadkin-Pee Dee River, to the South Carolina border.

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL YEAR LOOK LIKE?

Seasonal Duty

“Our ‘slow time’ is December and January as we are prepping for the spring, which includes lots of sampling from field (lake) operations. For instance, we sample black bass species, such as largemouth bass, by utilizing boat-mounted electrofishing device. This sampling process basically shocks the shoreline and stuns the fish which are placed into a live well. The fish sampled are then weighed and measured,” shared Casey.

Did you know fish have rings like a tree and biologists can then determine the growth rate, and age of the fish? Some fish are sacrificed so a small ear bone, called an otolith, can be extracted. This bone has rings on it that indicate the fishes’ age.

During the summer months, there is more research and habitat work, and less fishing for samples. Each June approximately 79 thousand stripers are released into High Rock Lake. These fish can often reach between 8 – 12 pounds and are frequently targeted in fall, winter, and spring. Happy fishing.

Another form of data collection happens in the fall months, with trap nets specifically targeting crappie. The process determines if the species may be too small or the quantity too much for a given area. Regulations are corrected or changed from the results of these findings; for instance, currently, there is not a limit on crappie fishing as the division has noted there was a need to cull the stock in order to increase the size of the fish. Science meet Mother Nature!

Later in the year, the focus is on striper collection by means of gill nets. These large rectangular nets are suspended in the water and catch fish when they swim into the net. High Rock Lake collection sites are on a three-year rotation. There are dozens of sites disbursed throughout the reservoir, those sites remain constant for better sampling.

MANAGING AND STOCKING FISH AT HIGH ROCK LAKE

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Inland Fisheries Division operates six fish hatcheries that raise a variety of fish for stocking into North Carolina’s public waters. These hatcheries are designated as “warm water”, “cool water” or “coldwater” hatcheries. Because state-operated hatcheries stock only public waters, people seeking to stock private lakes and ponds must contact a commercial hatchery.

The McKinney Lake Hatchery in Richmond County raises channel catfish exclusively for the state’s public waters. The Watha Hatchery in Pender County raises striped bass, striped bass hybrids, channel catfish, and largemouth bass for the state’s public waters.

While the state fish hatcheries produce various species of fish, striped bass is the only species released into HRL at this time. Watha Hatchery recently supplied sunfish which were stocked into the pond at Salisbury City Park.

“Some harvesting is good for the lake,” shared Casey. “Often times populations can get overcrowded, and harvesting can allow for species to become more balanced. Our surveys help to ensure that this balance is achieved. We also conduct other monitoring studies using techniques such as PBT, parentage-based tagging. This allows us to genetically track our stocked fish using their parents’ genetics. The genetics of adult fish parents, ‘broodfish’, allow us to know which year classes of fish do well and we can assess the growth of these offspring. And we can also see their movement in the lake and to other downstream lakes.”

Catastrophic weather like hurricanes or chemical leaks can certainly wreak havoc on fish populations.  Normally they rebound naturally. Ongoing research takes this into consideration.

HOW CAN HOMEOWNERS AND LAKE VISITORS IMPACT OUR WATERS?

Visitors to High Rock Lake as well as homeowners need to be good stewards of our natural resources. Being knowledgeable in planting along the shoreline, not moving aquatic life, or removing vegetation from the lake is key. Nature and nurture are the rules of thumb here.

Thriving fish habitats work due to natural plants and structures in place. A well-rooted buffered shoreline may include natural vegetation such as water willow and Pickerelweed plants.

And please don’t add other species to the lake environment, actions do have negative impacts down the line. For instance, Alabama Bass were introduced to Lake Norman which became a nuisance to the system there. And that includes aquarium fish! Do not release your pet fish into the lake- this isn’t good for the native fish or your pets. A goldfish was recently caught in HRL and it weighed a whopping 3 pounds!

RULES TO REMEMBER TO PROTECT HIGH ROCK LAKE

You can help prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species by doing these basic steps:

CLEAN ~ equipment of all aquatic plants, animals, and mud?

DRAIN ~ water from boats live well and all equipment

DRY ~ All your equipment thoroughly

NEVER MOVE ~ Fish, plants, or other organisms from one body of water to another.

Please follow fishing regulations to ensure that our grandchildren can enjoy lake fishing for generations to come. 

BENEFICIAL FOR ALL

Did you know that your fishing license, purchase of bait and even boat registration fees all benefit research? A percentage of sales from fishing rods and reels and tackle are collected and re-invested in science and research.

The benefit for our local economy is impactful too as fishermen buy bait, gas, hotel rooms, and even rent guide services. That all financially support our local economy. High Rock Lake definitely has a positive economic influence on our community.

For more information on how you can learn about NCWRC, please go to www.ncwildlife.org,

Or if you have a question, please call Casey Joubert at 910-729-0872.

I would love to hear from you on what your favorite lake activity is, or someone that you would like me to feature in 2021. Please email me at highrock@YourRowan.com

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About The Author

Joyce Caron-Mercier

After decades of working within NASCAR, NHRA, IndyCar, and World of Outlaws, I opened up my own motorsports marketing agency, Mercier Marketing. My husband and I discovered High Rock Lake in the summer of 2009 while looking for a potential weekender home on a quiet lake within commutable distance to Charlotte and Mooresville. Three years ago, we became full-time lake residents on North Carolina’s second largest lake with our two great danes, Max and Molly. I currently serve as Secretary on the Board of Directors for the High Rock Lake Association. I am also active in the community with charitable events such as the Partners In Learning annual “Just As I Am” Fashion Show, High Rock Clean Sweep, and Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival.