Poor Mickey Johnson. He's a confirmed crappie fisherman and nothing delights him more than pulling in one of those tasty speckled perch with a slender cane pole and short line.
Six years ago, he made the mistake of retiring from his job as a concrete finisher in Washington and moving to the shores of Lake Gaston, 3 1/2 hours south on I-95.
His problem? The lake has so many bass Johnson can't keep them off his hook long enough to catch a crappie. Four-and five-pounders grab his backhooked minnows just about every other week. More seven- and eight-pounders have wound up in his landing net over the last six years than most anglers catch in a lifetime.
But only a handful of crappie.
If that sounds like tolerably good bass fishing, consider this. Johnson fishes one feeder arm of the lake exclusively because of the confinements of his rig -- a 1940-vintage wooden boat with a 10-horsepower kicker that he cranks up by hand-wrapping a tattered cord around the starter wheel.
In fact, Johnson has caught all large bass out of one hole in this feeder creek where he fishes for an hour or two each weekday morning and evening.
It would be a disservice to Johnson to divulge the location of his small productive spot. Anyway, there must be dozens of such fecund locations at Gaston, judging by the records the lake has accumulated over the years.
Built in the early 1960s by the Virginia Electric and Power Co., Gaston has long-since passed out of the classic "hot stage" that bass lakes are reputed to go through when they are 4 to 8 years old. But somebody forgot to tell the bass about that. In the '70s, it has been the place to go for big largemouths in the mid-Atlantic states.
In a recent year, Back Bay eclipsed Gaston slightly in accounting for citation-sized fish (eight pounds or better), but for five or six years through the mid 70s, there were no lakes that came anywhere close to Gaston for producing eight- to 14-pound bass.
The last three state-record large-mouths have come from the lake. The latest, pulled in by Bobby Creel in April 1975, weighed 14 pounds 2 ounces. Creel creeled his fish at the Songbird Creek arm of the lake.
For more modest five- and six-pounders, Gaston is as sure a bet as any bass lake can be. I recently had a string of a half-dozen consecutive trips to the lake going where I had caught at least one bass in the five-to seven-pound range. The sequence was broken when a friend and I came down in November. We couldn't catch anything but stripers -- 158 pounds of them in two 18-hour days of fishing.
In spring, you won't have to worry so much about stripers beating out largemouths to your bait.
March is largemouth time on Gaston. Well over half of the eight-pound -plus fish the lake accounts for are typically taken during this fickle-weather month as the bass are stirred by the first warm breath of spring.
After lean winter months, the fish are eager to build up fat and regain then physical prowess for the spawning ritual in April. Some of the finest fishing the area has to offer will occur at this time. But it's not easy fishing. It takes warm clothes, patience to last a long day on the water and a good selection of proven bass lures.
If you live on the lake, like Mickey Johnson, things aren't so complicated.
But if you're driving 3 1/2 hours from Washington, you'll want a speedier boat with a respectable motor so you won't be handicapped in covering the lake's 20,000 acres and 350 miles of shoreline.
Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and grubs are the top three lures for March fishing. These are worked along rock-walls, bridge pilings, docks and deepwater points at depths of six to 14 feet. Warm, sunny days may see bass moving into even shallower water, particularly later in the month and during April.
Plastic worms shouldn't be overlooked this early, either. Al Linder won the B.A.S.S. tournament on Gaston in March 1977 fishing a Mister Twister plastic worm. He also took top fish prize with a 10-pound 6-ounce bass. (Incidentally, this year's B. A. S. S. tournament will be in April, so you won't have to worry about the "cast for cash" boys crowding you this month.
If you're the patient type, fishing live shiners in these same areas can attract very large bass. Use a 1/0 hook, a few split shot and the biggest minnows you can find.