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I. The Question

Fishing is an acquired skill. Like just about anything else worth doing, it requires practice. Some people are quick to learn the art of casting and tying knots, others require time to learn the basics. Some simply give up. I was tempted on several occasions, before I even began fishing from a kayak, let alone tournament fishing. It’s much easier to just watch people catch fish on television.

In order to fish competitively, you also have to learn about gear, techniques for specific types of fishing and also how to fish certain waters. Add in kayaks, with their specialization and physical effort, and you can understand why some folks buy a bass boat. Kayak fishing is not easy.

I know. As I said, I learned it all the hard way. I competed in kayak tournaments for nine years without a 1st place finish. Over the past three seasons, I have had four of them on three different lakes (Jordan, Shearon Harris and Falls). Each one of those lakes is a different animal, and I have been fishing them all for the past fifteen years (and in the case of Jordan, even longer).

For the purposes of this article, I will focus only on Falls Lake. While some of what I write here applies to the others, it is limited as to how much it translates. “How to learn the water?” has no predictable answer – it’s a question you have to ask every day you fish.

II. Falls Lake

I will begin by saying that Falls was my least favorite of the famous big three area lakes in the Triangle region of North Carolina. It is long and narrow and its ramps are spread far apart, making it unfriendly to kayakers. It is also a busy lake, so its riverine profile makes it dangerous. In fact, only yesterday a boater swiped a kayak angler, causing gear loss and damage (but fortunately, no injury). Admittedly, it is a healthy fishery that produces big limits and trophy fish, but its shallow areas tend to be dead water most of the year, and its deep water can too dangerous to fish on a busy day.

In 10 years of fishing kayak tournaments, I only had one finish in the top 10 of any event I attended on Falls Lake. I practiced on the main lake, but for the life of me, I could not crack it. Finally, two years ago (in 2021) I was pre-fishing the south end, and I gave up. I simply quit on the lake. After several days of pre-fishing with limited results, Falls Lake had beaten me.


III. The Problem

Driving home from another brutal day of practice, I realized I had to change my approach. So I shifted attention to the northern end of the lake. Specifically, I studied where the rivers enter it, and farther upstream, where the Eno and Flat converge. I had fished it during White Bass runs in years past and knew the area a little. I decided to explore.

The result: I have fished the lake in 9 tournaments since 2021. In those events, I have had 5 top 10 finishes. They were:

CCKF: 1st Place (March 2023)

CCKF: 1st Place (Sept 2022)

CCKF: 2nd place (Sept 2021)

CCKF 7th place (March 2022)

CKA: 10th place (June 2021)

In the other four events, I had the following results:

CCKF: 20th place (Nov 2022)

CKA: 38th place (March 2022)

CCKF: Tied for last (April 2021)

KFL: Submitted no fish during a loss (June 2021).

In the top five events, I fished different sections of the Flat River. In the bottom four events, I fished the main lake three times. I fished the Flat River the fourth time (Nov 2022) when the water was low and the river was heavily pressured by anglers.

So, what made the difference? It isn’t that the river contains more fish. Falls is a healthy lake, and anglers win in many different areas. What’s different about its tributary rivers?

Paddling a wide section of the Flat River, CCKF tournament, March 18, 2023.

IV. The Lessons

The Flat River and the Eno River are both long rivers. They are both rocky in some areas, with vegetation in the shallows. The difference is that the Eno has no dams that control water release on it, while the Flat’s flow is controlled because it is is dammed at Lake Michie. In sum, the water current on the Flat is more predictable: a heavy rain will not always blow it out or make it unfishable. This means a number of things:

  1. Because it has a more stable water flow, its fish are residents. That is to say, it looks like a river, but in some ways it is really a narrow lake.
  2. Because the river is stable, its structure is more permanent. Unlike the Eno, the Flat has more submerged stumps, year-round laydowns, etc. The Flat also has man-made infrastructure, which leads to the next point
  3. The Flat has multiple public access points. State gamelands begin on the eastern shore below Michie dam and go all the way to the main lake. Along the way, there are several smaller boat ramps. Additionally, there is a larger boat ramp on the Eno that provides quick access to the lower Flat River, too.
  4.  The river is nearly as stable as a lake, but its fish are still river fish. This means they are used to chasing baits (for a power fishing angler like me, that’s a plus).

By shifting my focus to different water on Falls Lake, I found a compromise: when the main lake would not meet me halfway, the river did. I was able to find a large area that allows me to match my confidence techniques to the water. It’s fun to explore, and it produces fish all along its length.

Nonetheless, I had to learn how to fish the river. I spent many days pre-fishing to study its moods. And even during tournaments, I took mental notes. A recent example:

During my terrible outing in November 2022, the water was low (it was low because the state pumps water from the river to flood gamelands during duck season). While the water was low, I noticed small pipes (about 2’ diameter) that allow streams to enter the main river. The pipes were placed under man-made roads in the woods, and I thought to myself “I bet these would be good to fish in the spring, when water is running through the pipes.”

Sure enough, I caught my first keepers from those pipes in March 2023. One of them was my anchor fish. The lesson: I am always learning, even on the bad days.

V. In Conclusion

When I fish the rivers at the north end of Falls Lake, I am reminded of the famous saying by Heraclitus that you never step into the same river twice.

You never fish the same river twice, too. Versatility in tournament fishing requires adaptation to seasons, water levels, bait, vegetation and other factors that affect fishing. Those factors change more rapidly in a river than in a lake, making it a dynamic environment. I have never fished the river in the same way twice, and my fish have generally come from different areas along a stretch of water that spans nearly three miles (granted, different events have different boundaries).

I figured that out by applying lessons I learned from other rivers, lessons from White Bass fishing, and accumulated experience of two years of mix results (not to mention the previous nine years of poor finishes). Learning never ends. Life is a process, not a result. You can count on rivers to teach you that lesson, and the two rivers at the north end of Falls Lake are a great place to start.

©  Henry Veggian. All Rights Reserved.