On a recent warm afternoon, Duke Energy biologist Tom Thompson pulled up to a boat ramp on Harris Lake in New Hill, N.C., where an angler was eager to show him his catch: a net full of large crappie, each weighing about a pound or greater.
According to Thompson, this was not an unusual site. “Harris Lake has an ideal balance of nutrients and aquatic vegetation, plus little to no shoreline development, which has resulted in enhanced fish production,” explains Thompson, who has been monitoring fish populations at the lake since 1994.
Harris Lake, part of the Cape Fear River drainage basin, was constructed in the 1970s to provide water to the Harris Nuclear Plant cooling tower to make up water lost through evaporation. The lake, accessible by two boat ramps operated by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, provides year-round opportunities for boating, fishing and duck hunting. Water skiers frequent Harris Lake during the warmer months.
The lake is especially popular for sport fishing, with largemouth bass the most sought after species, followed by black crappie, bluegill, and several species of catfish. The average size of bass ranges from two to four pounds, although biologists have occasionally collected and released bass weighing up to 10 pounds.
Company biologists sample Harris Lake four times a year. Shoreline boat electric fishing, similar to what the Wildlife Resources Commission also uses, is conducted at 10 standardized locations for 15 minutes each. The temporarily stunned fish are netted and placed in a holding tank for processing, where they are identified, counted, measured, weighed, and inspected for diseases and deformities.
How can we ensure the lake continues to support a healthy fish population?
According to Thompson, it’s all about keeping people informed. “We need to educate people not to release other species into the lake, such as spotted bass, which is native to the central region of the U.S.
“This has the potential to diminish largemouth bass populations due to competitive interaction,” he explained. Thompson also cites an article in the July-August 2012 issue of Wildlife in North Carolina, which indicates competitive interaction between the two black bass species in Lake Norman and in portions of the Cape Fear and Yadkin River basins.
In addition to the two boat ramps, the lake is also accessible from Harris Lake County Park, which is operated by Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space. Situated on 680 acres leased from Progress Energy, the park includes an accessible community fishing pier, picnic shelters, hiking and mountain biking trails, primitive group camping as well as a non motorized boat launch area.
Harris Lake Facts
Surface area - 4,100 acres
Maximum depth - 58 feet
Average depth - 18 feet
Length of shoreline - 40 miles
Length of dam - 500 feet
Spillway elevation - 220 feet