North Carolina’s Kerr Lake
Kerr Lake (pronounced “Car”) is a 48,900 surface acre body of water straddling the Virginia-North Carolina border. Officially known as John H. Kerr Reservoir and also locally known as Buggs Island, the reservoir has an 850 mile shoreline and lots of fishing water to cover.
I-85 passes just east of the John H. Kerr dam providing easy access to one of the regions top fishing destinations. The lake is 45 miles from Raleigh, North Carolina and less than a two hour drive from Richmond, Virginia. North Carolina and Virginia have a reciprocal fishing license agreement, so a license valid in either state permits anglers to fish anywhere on the sprawling lake.
Fishing Kerr Lake
Beneath the surface of Kerr Lake, the reservoir bottom has a few sharp drops worth locating when on the water. Other notable underwater terrain includes gradually sloping underwater banks in the reservoir bottom that lead to an old river channel bed. The reservoir bottom consists mostly of gravel and clay substrate. Unlike other man-made lakes, Kerr Lake overall has a fairly consistent lake bottom, making it a fishing location that anglers with a range of skill level and experience can find worth a day on the water.
Largemouth bass are a main attraction for anglers at Kerr Lake. And the lake is regarded as one of the best spots in the Southeast for numbers of two to four pound largemouth. Ten pounders exist, but are somewhat rare.
Kerr Lake is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In contrast to a power company reservoir, shoreline development is prohibited. Consequently, unlike many reservoirs in the Southeast, there are fewer piers and docks to target for primary largemouth cover.
Water level is key to the location of largemouth at Kerr Lake. The water level of the reservoir fluctuates based on power and flood control needs managed by the Army Corps. A consequence of the water management over the course of a year is that weed beds and large grassy areas in the water are not common.
Thinking Like a Fish at Kerr Lake
In spring, when water levels reach 300 feet above mean sea level the reservoir often rises into shoreline covered by willow and sweetgum trees. Spinnerbaits thrown into the flooded trees can work great in these areas. Floating jerkbaits are also productive. Casting between the trees, as close to the shore as possible, can be effective in getting largemouths to chase bait in shallow water.
Consider also flipping into flooded button bushes by using a ½ ounce or heavier weight to penetrate through the bush. And be ready to snatch the fish with a quick retrieve, not playing the fish out, when it is at the bottom of the dense bush. Texas rig worms or jig-and-pig are prime choices. Good examples of productive flooded bushes are in Nutbush and Little Nutbush Creeks on the North Carolina side of the reservoir and the islands east of the bridge on Grassy Creek, also on the North Carolina side. In spring, anglers should consider creeks and coves off the front third of Grassy Creek. Rocky points in the main portion of Grassy Creek are good to explore in pre-spawn spring.
Check out a Baitstick Box for North Carolina and fish local water out of the box with bait and tackle handpicked by Baitstick team members with local knowledge. Seasoned anglers can resupply with essentials and new anglers can go fishing right out of the box. Just specify the fishing locations of interest in the note section of the order form. The Baitstick team will take it from there to assemble the lures needed for specified locations and season of year.
Kerr Lake is large enough that the lower parts of the reservoir are rarely mud-stained. If the water is clear, fish Butchers Creek/Rudd Creek and the incoming creeks and coves in those areas. Eastland Creek on the Virginia side of the reservoir is usually clear. It has good rocky and gravel shorelines. In spring, suspending jerkbaits work well. Later in the year, as fish move deeper, deep diving crankbaits or Carolina rigs can catch largemouth on the gravel banks and points.
In mid-summer, as the water heats up, largemouth fishing at Kerr can get more challenging. Deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina rigs off gravelly points may be your best bet to find fish that have moved to deeper, cooler water.
As summer turns to fall, largemouth commonly move to shallower water. The shoreline will not typically be as flooded as in spring, but fish will be in the same creeks. Further cooling of air and water towards the end of the year pulls shad into the backs of coves and creeks. Mid-level crankbaits and poppers are good lures to try at this time of year, while matching the color of the abundant shad in the water.
Beyond Largemouth Bass
Kerr Lake has a well-earned reputation as a catfish destination. For years, channel cats were most common, but more recently flathead and blue catfish have become more abundant.
In spring striped bass are often found at the upper end of the reservoir in spawning mode. As the water warms the fish moved to the cooler water of the lower part of the lake, roughly Mile Marker Nine to the mouth of Nutbush Creek. During the heat of summer, anglers are urged to limit striper angling to reduce high mortality rates of released but stressed stripers.
Crappie anglers know Kerr Lake as among the best spots in North Carolina and Virginia. Early spring, February through April, is prime crappie season at Kerr Lake. Buffalo, Grassy, Bluestone and Butcher Creeks are known as go-to crappie locations.
Access to Kerr Lake
For anglers with boats and watercraft, there are great boat launching facilities scattered all over the reservoir. For anglers fishing from shoreline, the Community Dock in Clarkesville, Virginia and Occoneechee State Park are good spots for casting a line. On the North Carolina side of the lake, there are seven state parks and all permit shoreline fishing. There are also fishing piers at Bullocksville State Park and Henderson Point Recreation Area.
Regardless of how an angler accesses Kerr Lake, there is some of the best fishing in the region to be found at the reservoir. And with Kerr lake only an hour drive from Raleigh and less than a two hour drive from Richmond, Kerr Lake serves as a great fishing destination for area anglers of all levels of skill and experience.