Shorter days, crisp mornings, and sunny, comfortable afternoons are all sure signs that we are slowly drifting into fall. And to an angler this is the beginning of some exciting and rewarding fishing experiences amid Mother Nature’s myriad of colors.  

Whether you are an avid angler eagerly awaiting an opportunity to wet your line or someone content to just head out when the urge arises, Lake Gaston in North Carolina and Virginia is one fishing paradise you can’t afford to miss. Stretching out across the northern part of North Carolina and southern Virginia border, Lake Gaston is considered one of the best kept “secrets” in the Southeast, offering a variety of fishing opportunities to satisfy just about any freshwater anglers’ appetite. 

Anglers and landlubbers alike come to the Lake Gaston area because it is an icon for rural serenity — a beautiful shoreline dotted with lavish lakefront homes and crystal clear water, which rarely fluctuates — an excellent backdrop for a full variety of fishing and boating opportunities. 

First impounded in 1963, Lake Gaston contains 20,300 surface acres with a maximum depth of around 90 feet. Although considered a small lake in comparison to most others, from an angler’s standpoint she fishes big — 350 miles of shoreline, numerous creeks, tributaries, and main lake coves and pockets. There's also submerged stream channels, old roadbeds, and points and humps, all providing a seemingly endless array of fishable locations. Add to the above the throng of manmade and natural features, like riprap banks, bulkheads, stumps, emergent and submerged weed beds, and thousands of boathouses and docks, and it’s easy to see why Lake Gaston is an angler’s delight.

The kinds of fish inhabiting the lake are just as vast as its terrain: largemouth bass, striped bass (rockfish), walleye, chain pickerel, black and white crappie (specks), bluegill (bream), white bass, yellow perch, channel catfish, blue catfish, bullheads, and carp all can be found swimming around somewhere — you just have to find them! And if years of fishing and guiding has taught me one thing, it’s that most people who enjoy recreational fishing really don’t care what bites as long as something does, which is why Lake Gaston’s diverse fish population makes for a great vacation spot.

 What’s Biting When the Leaves Are Falling

Largemouth bass — Without question, autumn is one of my favorite times to be on the lake. Its arrival coincides with a drop in water surface temperatures causing largemouth bass to begin migrating into shallower water as they start feeding in preparation for the even colder water soon to come. Try hard or soft jerkbaits, buzzbaits, lipless crankbaits, or burn a spinnerbait around weed beds and hang on tight because the largemouth bass fishing in the fall is awesome.

Striped bass (rockfish) — Probably the second most sought after and popular game fish found in Lake Gaston. The continued presence of stripers in the lake is completely dependent on an annual stocking program by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The lake is therefore full of schools of stripers representing many year classes from a normal range of three- to eight-pound class to catches as big as 20 pounds and over. Striper action seems to improve once the water temperatures cool. During the fall, it is not uncommon for stripers to chase schools of shad to the surface in a feeding frenzy. And if you’re lucky enough to be in the vicinity when this occurs, throw in anything you have tied down and thank your lucky stars. Watch for diving birds and the telltale surface commotion to find this fantastic phenomenon. 

Walleye — Lake Gaston’s population of this delicious game fish is also the result of a carefully controlled and evaluated stocking program. Best action occurs in the early spring (March - April) and late fall (October - November). The old river section from Great Creek to the I-85 Bridge produces some excellent catches each year. 

Panfish — Fishermen and fisherwomen of all ages enjoy catching these little guys. The lake’s abundant supply and variety of panfish makes for some serious fun for the whole family. Most common are the bluegill (bream), crappie (specks), and white bass, but redear sunfish and green sunfish can also be caught. Panfishing is so appealing because it does not require a lot of expertise or practice, and the fish can be caught just about anywhere and at anytime because panfish feed year round. Once you locate a “honey hole,” or a productive pattern, on the lake, tuck it away for future reference. The tackle needed is also quite simple; a cane pole rigged with a bobber and hook will work just as well as a fly rod. And then there’s bait. It is a rare occasion when a panfish will thumb its nose at a worm, minnow, cricket, grasshopper, plastic jig, or even a piece of bread for that matter. Really, all you need to know is that panfishing means fun fishing — it’s as simple as that! 

Catfish — Whether you are talking about blue cats, channel cats, or plain old bullheads, more and more anglers are discovering that catfish are good for more than just eating. They are aggressive, mean, can be caught using a variety of baits and tactics, and will not put a serious bend in your rod. Hooking them is often a lot easier than landing them. Bullheads and channel cats are the most prominent catfish in Lake Gaston. But, unlike most other species of fish in the lake, when it comes to catching catfish, bait selection is not a major concern. Why? Because I cannot think of very many things it will not bite. Keep it simple. My favorite bait is a big gob of worms or some good-old, commercially-produced stinkbait. The simpler you keep your rig and your tactics the more you will enjoy catfishing. Use a good hook and sinker, 10 to 20 pound test line, attach your bait of choice, throw it out, and let it sink to the bottom. Then just take up the slack and get ready for some action. You can also use a bobber if you so desire. 

Lake Gaston is a rare find in the fishing world. A lake that is diverse in fish populations, terrain, and people. It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert with a rod and reel or if you’ve never baited a hook, Lake Gaston has something to keep everyone casting and having fun!