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Are there really flounder and crabs in Sutton Lake?

Amy Hotz

For this question, I referred to a Wilmington fly fisherman I know, Chuck Weidner, who has explored Sutton Lake more than anyone I know.

Here’s his knowledgeable response:

“First, I have not caught a flounder in Sutton lake in two decades, but I am pretty sure they are there. I think they came in with the river water. There were a few shoals dropping off into deep water where ‘prints’ where they had laid on bottom were common over two decades ago… I used to see some huge ones that had died along the shoreline near the hot water ditch each spring and they were probably in excess of seven pounds. I heard rumors that some locals had gone in there illegally and gigged flounder and since then I have not seen ‘prints’ or seen dead ones.

Regarding crabs, it is the same story, but crabbing took place about 25 years ago. About five years ago I was flyfishing and hooked a huge crab right near the swimmer and had a wing ding of a time getting him off. He was pulling pretty hard on the line, but moving differently and he was over 8 inches across the points.

There are not many legal predators for crabs and flounder at Sutton.”

Weidner also referred the question to his friend, Bob Barwick, District 2 fisheries biologist, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission out of Greenville, NC. Here’s what Barwick wrote:

“Yes, flounder and blue crabs are common in Sutton Lake. Even though they’re both common inhabitants of estuaries, their adult stages can tolerate freshwater very well. However, it’s not clear how they were introduced into the lake. The make-up pumps that draw water from the Cape Fear River are one possibility, but monitoring by Progress Energy has revealed that the pumps are adequately screened to prevent advanced juveniles and adults from being pumped into the lake. It is possible that very early life stages could be passed through the screens if they arrive in the lower river before they grow too large to be screened by the pumps.

“It’s unlikely that flounder or blue crabs can reproduce in the lake since early life stages require salinities that are near full strength sea water for successful survival/development. But despite their limited reproductive potential in the lake, multiple size classes are present suggesting that fish may periodically enter the lake, perhaps introduced by anglers. Largemouth bass will consume blue crabs in an estuarine environment; crabs are likely a part of their diet in Sutton Lake. Flathead catfish are also abundant in Sutton Lake and even though studies back in the late 1990s didn’t document crabs and flounder in their diet, chances are they may also feed on these species from time to time.”

That flounder and crab are found in the lake at all is a bloomin’ wonder. It’s a freshwater manmade lake.

According to Progress Energy, the 850-acre lake was constructed in 1972 by Carolina Power & Light to provide cooling water for the L.V. Sutton steam electric plant machinery. Since then, it has become a popular location for anglers. According the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, its maximum depth is 25 feet (in the old creek channel) but it averages 5 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 old coal-fired plant, though, will be replaced with a clean-burning natural gas plant by 2014. The land and water are managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and that relationship will continue.

For a map, click here.

Related links:

Does Masonboro Sound offer any decent fishing?

Where are some wheelchair-friendly places to fish in the Cape Fear region?

Where are some good spots for spearfishing?

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