another one! And another. Look at
that one on that stump over there!
That one must be eight pounds!"
I bubbled with excitement and my guide
for the morning just laughed as he
showed me some of Lake Gaston’s
better bass coves full of spawning
It was a perfect fishing day and
time of year. Conditions were clear
and calm with air temperatures of
around 76 degrees and a water temperature
around 72-76. During a quick Destination
File visit last month around the
full moon and the final spawn, we
had hit the big lake just right.
Guide Dennis Gilmer of Fishing Lake
Country Guide Service was on fish,
and I was along for the ride.
Lake Gaston is a 34-mile long,
20,300-acre impoundment created
in 1962 by Virginia Power to serve
as a source of hyroelectric power.
The lake was formed by the damming
of the Roanoke River, below the
Buggs Island Dam. Gaston is much
different than Buggs Island, though.
Most of the difference comes from
the more constant water level in
Gaston that allows the presence
of aquatic vegetation so absent
in Buggs. The stable water levels
have also allowed Gaston to become
heavily developed in spots -- there
are literally thousands of boathouses
and piers. There are also plenty
of stumps along the lake bottom.
All this adds up to a shallow water
angler’s paradise for much
of the year. Put in a healthy dose
of striper stockings, a good crappie
fishery, enough chain pickerel to
break a line or two a day and lots
of bream and you have a premier
fishery on the border of Virginia
and North Carolina.
Since we visited during the middle
of the week, boat traffic was minimal.
Gaston can get busy during summer
weekends so a full-sized fishing
rig is nice. The Anna Point Boat
Sales ProCraft Pro 205 with Mercury
200 EFI outboard was the perfect
tool for fishing this full-sized
impoundment. While we did not have
to travel more than three miles
to fish our pattern, the 20’4"
rig allowed us to fish comfortably
and gave us the option to run safely
all over the lake if necessary.
I met Gilmer at the AmeriCamps
ramp on Holly Grove Creek at 9:30
and after a brief settling in period,
we backed our rig into the lake.
Once onboard, Dennis noted he had
several bass follow up his soft
plastic jerkbait around the campground
docks as he waited for me. With
this in mind we quickly tried to
establish the stage the bass were
in so we could pattern them for
the rest of the trip.
We did a thorough circuit of the
dock systems and discovered some
largemouths were spawning and some
were already guarding fry. There
we plenty of bluegills and even
some post-spawn crappie holding
on the pilings and willow grass.
With our campground cove experience
we set out beyond the No-Wake buoys
into the main lake. Dennis knew
of more coves with docks and willow
grass. In fact, most of the upper
portion of Lake Gaston is full of
boat houses, piers and grass beds.
We were to find out, just about
all of them had bass in mid-May.
Dennis’ pattern keyed on
pockets and coves just off the main
river that had grass and wood structure.
Areas/coves we fished included Holly
Grove Estates, Pine Bluff, Gaston
Heights, Turkey Run and pockets
off Poplar Creek. Checking your
GMCO Lake Gaston Pro Series map
(see Woods & Waters Marketplace
to order or visit www.woodsandwatersmagazine.com),
you will notice none of these areas
are very far from the AmeriCamps
I chose to stick with a pearl Berkley
Power Jerk Shad and an Eagle Claw
2.5 FeatherLite hook. Dennis fished
a MoJo rig dressed with a watermelon
lizard. At each stop, we kept the
trolling motor running until we
reached a big boat house or grass
bed. At each we either saw fish
cruising or caught fish -- most
on the soft plastic jerkbait. The
fish we caught were fiesty males,
most about one-and-a-half pounds.
So where were the females? Oh,
we could see them alright. I saw
more big bass cruising the shallows
that I have ever seen, we just couldn’t
catch them. They were much more
interested in finding boyfriends
than eating, unfortunately. It was
Dennis and I could have caught
100 bass with the pattern we established
that morning, but I had to get back
to the campground. I was thoroughly
impressed by Gaston and Dennis.
Just this year, Gilmer has personally
caught three citation largemouth
bass from the lake. While he is
a rookie guide, he knows Lake Gaston’s
largemouths because he lives there
(on Holly Grove Creek). Most importantly,
Gilmer knows how to put his clients
on Gaston’s bass. He loves
to teach his MoJo tactics and has
the patience of a preacher with
all levels of anglers. Dennis Gilmer
is a good resource for anyone preparing
to visit the lake for a tournament
What Gaston lacked in size, it
made up in numbers during my visit.
After Dennis put me on the pattern
and some great areas, in the late
afternoon I started casting a Frenzy
Popper and had bass just about every
10 yards along the weedy shorelines.
It was the grass that allowed the
fish to spawn successfully and the
boat docks that many fish were guarding
their fry under. It also allowed
anglers the chance to catch the
North Carolina Wildlife Resources
Commission Research Biologist Scott
VanHorn notes Gaston’s largemouth
population continues to maintain
itself at a high level.
While total numbers of bass will
never equal those in the early days,
the lake is in good shape.
VanHorn explained Gaston currently
has a very liberal 14" minimum
size limit with two fish under 14"
allowed for a total of a five fish
"The reason for this was originally
to avoid stockpiling of fish under
a straight minimum size limit. We
wanted to stimulate growth rates.
It’s all a moot point now
because no one keeps any fish anyway,"
says the biologist. "The ability
of size and creel limits to manage
fish is up to anglers harvesting
fish. It’s been a long time
since we’ve seen lots of sizes
and ages of fish in Gaston artificially
engineered by angler regulations."
Regardless, every year VanHorn
and his fellows sample the fish
just to ensure things are okay.
For the past 15 years they have
done the sampling, seen everything
is good, and put any changes back
on the shelf for another year.
Perhaps the most effective way
to best manage the lake these days
it to protect the littoral zone
-- or shallow water next to the
shoreline around the lake. Virginia
Power is undergoing relicensing
this year for their hydroelectric
dam so VanHorn and the Commission
are trying to influence both the
power company and landowners to
better manage the lake and shoreline
"We are trying to get Virginia
Power to issue rules to landowners
for when they decide to develop
their shorelines," says VanHorn.
"We are trying to soften that
development process and get some
natural structure protected in the
Other parts of VanHorn’s
Gaston management plan include asking;
"How much weed control is
going to be going on and what it’s
purpose will be";
"Asking for less severe tree
"Asking for some rip rap in
front of a bare bulkhead";
"Trying to protect water willow
grass lines in front of shoreline.
(We want as little of it destroyed
So with all the development around
the lake, what continues to make
Gaston’s bass fishery so prolific?
VanHorn notes a diverse pantry.
"Our forage base is a mix
of gizzard and threadfin shad, alewives
and blue back herring. The fact
that all four species are in the
lake guarantees on any given year
when one doesn’t do well the
How big do Gaston’s bass
get these days eating all those
"It is rare to see a Gaston
bass much over 10 pounds. I see
eight to 10 pounders from Gaston
every year, but in 26 years I’ve
only seen five eleven pounds or
bigger," notes the North Carolina
According to biologist Wayne Jones,
anglers should visit several creeks
with a high rate of bass caught
during annual samplings -- Songbird,
Holly Grove and Six Pound Creeks
are excellent. The back of these
creeks have green water and plenty
of shad flipping around. It doesn’t
take Rick Clunn to figure out they
have bass, too. A notable annual
hydrilla bed is located Hubquarter,
just up from Easton’s Ferry
Marina, says Jones.
Use this information on your next
visit to Gaston and remember your
source -- Woods & Waters Magazine.
During our brief visit, my wife
and daughter and I were guests at
AmeriCamps Campground. I can highly
recommend this facility for several
reasons. First, the location is
excellent. You have access to some
truly great bass, striper and crappie
fishing. Second, the facilities
were well-tended. From the camper
we stayed in, to the boat houses,
pool and mini golf, the folks at
AmeriCamps were on top of maintenance
and cleaning duties. Lastly, the
place was quiet during our mid-week
stay. I like quiet nights after
a long day of fishing and certainly
only stay at family-oriented establishments.
AmeriCamps has trailer rentals,
tent sites, RV sites and year-round
rental sites. Many are right on
Another place I thoroughly enjoyed
visiting during our Lake Gaston
stay was Grubb’s Place on
Holly Grove Creek. This is an unique
shop because it offers both on-the-water
and roadside service (via Rt. 903).
One morning I pulled up in the boat
with my daughter and picked up some
crappie minnows from the tackle
shop. That afternoon, my wife daughter
and I went back and ate a great
lunch on the back deck over-looking
the creek. Grubb’s Place has
a great tackle shop and everything
else one would want while vacationing
How To Get There:
Interstate 85S is the main road
to the Lake Gaston area. Leave the
interstate at the Bracey/Lake Gaston
Exit. State Route 903 follows the
Virginia side of Gaston. You can
also use I-95 to access the lower
end of the lake