Ok, let’s let the cat out of the bag – I am not an angler, fisherman, nor will even attempt to become one down the road in the days of my retirement. Give me a good book with a glass of local wine (or cold local craft beer) on the dock, a kayak on a nice sunny day, or a boating excursion on High Rock Lake and I’m a happy camper. But since High Rock Lake is known for its crappie, catfish, largemouth bass, and more; I figured I may as well jump on the bandwagon… umm, bass boat.
Rather than talking to the hundreds of fishermen that pass by my dock every day and hearing their BIG fish stories, I reached out to NC Wildlife Resources Commission District 6 Fisheries Biologist, Lawrence Dorsey for some insight on what we have swimming in our water and what is ‘good fishing and eating’.
“High Rock Lake and its fishermen are fortunate in the regard that the Pee Dee River chain and its reservoirs are a perfect home for fish populations. We have a higher number of fish per acre than most of the other North Carolina lakes. The nutrient levels are what drives the eco-system, and ours is very good”, says Dorsey.
Fish Population Management
High Rock Lake is known for several species of catfish (flathead and channel), crappie, and bass. High Rock has hosted a few Bassmaster Classics back in the day and that is a feather in our cap. High Rock continues to host diverse tournaments, which is explained as fishing not for consumption. About each weekend you can see several local and regional fishermen out on High Rock. Densities for largemouth bass and crappie are above average when compared to other Piedmont reservoirs. Growth rates for largemouth bass are consistently above average and crappie growth rates have increased in recent years. NC Wildlife conducts surveys every three years to assess the bass and crappie populations and the feedback has been positive.
Since 2016, regulations have been eliminated for black and white crappie. Currently there is no minimum size for crappie nor number of fish that can be caught per day. Check out the NC Wildlife Resources Commission website here for suggested best areas to fish.
Dorsey shared that NC Wildlife does help the fish ecosystem in a few ways including releasing approximately 79,000 striped bass fingerlings each June in High Rock. This species can’t reproduce naturally here, but are good active fishing especially in cool to cold water weather.
Improving Fish Habitats with Attractors
Lake residents with docks are encouraged to create natural habitats by their docks as NC Wildlife will not work around residents’ docks. In 2014, cages with plant fencing were dropped in several locations for the fish population with the ability to protect against ducks and turtles. Whereas many are in popular fishing areas such as Flat Swamp, Crane Creek, and the Wildlife Game Preserve. Research has shown that water willow, which is a native NC aquatic plant, is perfect for fish because their roots don’t go down too deep and the plant is non-evasive.
Years ago, Christmas trees were weighted down and used as fish attractors, but this natural resource was only viable for 1-2 years and became too costly per unit. Some trees became loose and were navigation hazards. For lake residents, follow the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) for what is advisable.
Now, the NC Wildlife utilizes artificial structures made from PVC trees and has installed 100 fish attractors at 20 sites this past January. Check out this link for what they look like or see the image below.
Good Fishing and Eating
For those of us that live at the lake, there is something called a dock permit or ‘party license’ for our visiting guests to try their hand at fishing. Visit the NC Wildlife website for the application. There are no size or creel limits on catfish at High Rock. The way to fish is varied as the species that we have; besides the normal fishing pole, folks use limb lines, pool noodles, and jugs. Though there is a limit to the number of jugs per boat which can become lake litter. Other fishing devices such as baskets and traps require a special device license, which can be obtained by calling 1-800-662-7137.
As for youngsters 15 or younger, you are free to fish off docks, the river bank, bridges, or boat without a fishing license. What a good way to introduce our natural lake resource and its activities to the next generation.
The rule of thumb for consumption at High Rock is smaller is better. Young crappie are best. In general, one portion a week is fine, but keep up with the advisory which is located on the N.C. Wildlife website.
What is a Crappie Roundup?
Hill’s Minnow Farm store has been a mainstay in Rowan County since Raymond Hill built the roadside refuge 54 years ago. The second and third generations of Hills are keeping the multi-faceted oasis going with daily necessities such as food, fuel, live bait, and everything that one would need for a successful day on the lake. Live bait was the original idea behind the store with minnows swimming in several porcelain bath tubs out back. Located on Bringle Ferry Road, Hill’s Minnow Farm is your stop for fishing permits and ‘fast cash’. Oh wait, it’s not that easy… “you’ve got to play to win. $8 will get you registered,” said owner Terry Hill.
Since the late 90s, the Hill Family has been running a game of chance, mixed in with a fishing competition on High Rock called the Crappie Roundup. You do not need to be an expert fisherman; you just need to catch a crappie that has been tagged. Winners are based on the tag on your fish which gives you the prize selection; neither size nor weight of the fish makes a difference. Sounds like a game for someone who doesn’t know anything about fishing, like me.
I learned from the Hills that this 70-day tagged event is a 100% sustainable campaign – how cool?! In the month of February, local fishermen are encouraged to fish, catch, and bring in crappie of all sizes to Hill’s Minnow Farm, which are then placed in holding tanks on the Hill’s property. The catch is monitored to make sure they are healthy and ready to be placed back in the lake for the upcoming Crappie Roundup which opened March 16 and continues everyday through May 25. More than 700 tagged fish were released in several Rowan County watering holes, such as St. Matthew’s Bridge, Goodman Lake Bridge, and several locations in Crane Cove, Panther Point, and Second Dutch Creek. Now you know where to go for some of the best fishing on High Rock Lake. You don’t need a fancy, high powered boat. Most winners catch the tagged crappie from bridges and banks.
Each fish is tagged with a unique number corresponding with a prize – prizes can be either cash or merchandise, with cash prizes starting at $25 and ranging up to $4,000. The cash prizes are sponsored by local Rowan County businesses such as Athena Marble, Ben Mynatt Nissan, Cheerwine, Jones Marine, Land or Lake Realty, Randy Hall Automotive, and Thompson Screen Prints. There are several cash bonuses with receipt of purchase of fishing gear from Hill’s or even non-fishing stuff like fuel or Cheerwine, for those that don’t know the difference between a “Triple Stinger” or “K Grub” like me.
Last year more than 1,400 fishermen looking for a payday participated. There is still time for you to jump in with your fishing pole and find “Cheerwine Red” or “Wahoolagan” for $500! The big payday is catching big “Rustlin’ Raymond” worth up to $4,000! What a fantastic way to honor a man with a vision.
For more information on Hill’s Minnow Farm and their Annual Crappie Roundup check out their Facebook page here.
If you have any fun ideas that you would like to share with me pertaining to High Rock Lake, please send me an email at HighRock@YourRowan.com. Follow me on Instagram (@Joyceonthelake).