On cold winter days when most people don’t even want to venture outside the warm and cozy confines of their home or office, John Uszacki can often be found on Lake Norman throwing a line in the frigid water trying to hook a fish. “For me, it doesn’t matter how cold it is out there,” he says. “Really, winter is my favorite time of year because there are a lot less people on the water.” Uszacki, who lives in the Matthews area, has been making the hour-long trek to Lake Norman, his main fishing destination between November and February, ever since he moved to North Carolina from New York about 15 years ago. While temperatures sometime dip below the freezing mark, that doesn’t cool Uszacki’s enthusiasm for one of his favorite hobbies. “Fishing can be an addiction just like golf or tennis,” says Uszacki, 42, a former teacher and current stay-at-home dad to his twin boys, Taylor and Dillon. “In the winter months only the die-hards are out there on the water.” One of those die-hards is Capt. Gus Gustafson, who has fished Lake Norman since its inception in the early 1960s, and offers guided fishing trips through his company Lake Norman Ventures, Inc. Gustafson, who offers three-, four- and eight-hour fishing trips year-round, says for those who don’t mind the icy temperatures, the winter months can be a great time to catch everything from stripers, bass, catfish and crappies. In fact he says his fishing guide business usually thrives during the winter. “A lot of people would rather go out now than when it is 100 degrees outside,” he says. During his winter Lake Norman fishing trips, Uszacki often brings along friends and family who all pile into his 21-foot Sea Hunt boat. Uszacki typically goes after stripers, a member of the bass family that averages between 2 to 7 pounds. He says the crafty stripers can often be found in the deeper sections of the lake, and it’s not unusual for him to drop his line anywhere from 20 to 50 feet below the surface to snag one. Gustafson says that while stripers typically prefer deep water, other fish are more likely to swim closer to the surface in the winter compared to the summer when the sun is beating down directly on the lake. “Many fish tend to bite more in the colder months, and of course that is what every fisherman wants,” Gustafson says. Another plus to fishing in the winter months is that the lake isn’t as crowded, and you don’t have to worry about getting rocked by the wake of a speeding pleasure boat or stuck in a traffic jam around the docks, Gustafson says. The colder months also offer a different experience on the water, with ducks, geese, deer and even loons constantly in view on or near the lake. Gustafson says that for him and other dedicated anglers, winter fishing is just part of the experience, and he encourages others to give it a try. “It really never gets too cold for me as long as the water’s not frozen,” he says. While Uszacki says the results of his outings vary, he often returns home with some good fishing stories—and dinner. “My wife (Dawn) doesn’t mind me fishing at all, as long I bring home some good food. “Everybody who loves fishing has the dream that each time they go out it’s going to be the perfect day and they’re going to catch the big one,” Uszacki continues. “Days like that and the stories that come from them are something you can talk about forever.”
Winter fishing checklist
Before you try your luck at winter fishing on Lake Norman, make sure you have all the proper equipment. “You always want to be as warm as possible on the water, which is usually 10 to 15 degrees colder than on land,” says Capt. Gus Gustafson, owner of Lake Norman Ventures, Inc. “People tend to underestimate how cold it is on the water.” Below is a list of items that will help make your winter fishing trip comfortable, enjoyable and safe. A wet suit made out of a waterproof, breathable material such as Gore-Tex to help keep you dry
At least one outer layer of warm clothing
Wool socks and boots
Insulated hat that covers your ears.
Portable catalytic propane heater
Source: Capt. Gus Gustafson.