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What effects will the closing of Wilmington’s Sutton Plant have on Sutton Lake and the fishing there?

Amy Hotz

The lake at Progress Energy’s L.V. Sutton Plant has long been a popular fishing spot for locals.

So when Progress Energy Carolinas recently announced plans to replace the coal-fired electrical plant with natural gas technology beginning in 2014, some outdoors lovers began to wonder how the changes would affect their hobbies.

“We don’t foresee any changes to access for the bow hunting or fishing on the lake,” said Drew Elliot, a communications specialist for the company.

Elliot said the land and water are managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and that relationship will continue. If any restrictions to access are needed to work on dikes or other areas, Elliot said, those restrictions will be temporary. So far, though, none are planned.

Water from the lake is a source of cooling for machinery in the electrical plant.

“We will still actively manage the lake from that perspective,” Elliot said, adding that the gas-operated plant will actually use less water per megawatt hour than its coal counterpart.

This is welcome news to locals. Chuck Weidner, a fly fisherman who usually goes out to the lake about once a week, said he’s seen some monsters in there. He is a little concerned about whether the temperature in the lake will change drastically and if so, whether that will help or harm the fish.

Elliot said he does not know the answer to that question yet. An engineering study is expected to be submitted sometime this month which will be able to shed some light on that.

Weidner usually fly fishes for bass and bream on Sutton Lake. The bass, he said, are a Florida strain of large mouth.

And then there are the catfish.

“I saw a guy there with a 20 pound flathead,” he said.

According to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Sutton Lake was formed in 1972 when Carolina Power impounded Catfish Creek, a tributary to the Cape Fear River. Its maximum depth is 25 feet (in the old creek channel) but averages five feet in depth. Standing timber was not removed before the area was flooded to form the lake. This has left many stumps and logs, which provide ideal habitat for largemouth bass. The lake is located about three miles northwest of Wilmington off U.S. 421.

The peak fishing season for largemouth bass at Sutton Lake occurs between March and June and from September through November. Because of the warm water discharge from the power plant, winter bass fishing can also be good. Night fishing is also very popular at Sutton Lake during the hot summer months. The water is relatively clear, requiring the use of fairly light line (6-8 lb. test). The spring spawning period (April to June) is the most productive time to fish for sunfish. From Dec. 1 until March 31 no black bass (including largemouth, smallmouth and spotted) may be possessed.

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