A few weeks ago, when threadfin shad were dying in the 32-degree waters of Lake Norman's shallow coves, some anglers were bass fishing in the relatively spring-like 60-degree water near the nuclear power plant.
That 30-degree variance in water temperatures is the major reason why the state's largest manmade impoundment is such a great winter fishery.
The astute angler finds schools of forage fish, knowing that bass, stripers and other predators are not far away. As the saying goes, "Find the bait, and you will catch the fish."
Lake Norman's primary baitfish are shad, which prefer warm shallow waters, and herring, which seek the cooler depths.
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Largemouth bass prefer similar water conditions to shad, while stripers frequent the same habitat as herring. Knowing that, anglers search out the water depth and temperature preferred by the baits of their target species. Once located, they fish the area thoroughly.
In winter, water temperature is one force that drives bait and predator fish from one place to another. Warmer is usually better, but sometimes extreme cold can change the dynamics of fishing.
That happened in January, when water temperatures at or near freezing trapped hordes of shad in the shallows. Eventually, they stressed, died and were eaten by predators, including bass, perch and stripers. Anglers tried to snatch stripers from under sea birds that were feeding on the dying shad, but mostly they caught catfish.
Meanwhile, those who fished the deeper sections of the lake caught limits of striped bass and unheard-of numbers of white perch. These fish were suspended in water to 90 feet deep. Why? Because that is where herring, Lake Norman's other forage fish, spend the winter.
A third group, mostly bass fishermen, found their quarry in the warmer waters near the power plants. The water is so warm that bass think it's spring. The warm-water bass are hyperactive compared to those swimming in the colder parts of Norman.
Most fish finders are equipped with a temperature gauge. It is surprisingly accurate, to one-10th of a degree. Be sure your screen displays temperature, depth and speed.
Mitchell College will host a two-hour session, "Understanding Sonar and GPS to Help Navigate and Catch More Fish on Lake Norman," beginning at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. 219 N. Academy St., Mooresville, NC, I'm the instructor. The registration fee is $15. To register, call 704-663-1923.
Snow and rain have made the lake muddy and caused water levels to fluctuate. The best fishing spots are in Ramsey Creek, where water temperatures are in the 50s and low 60s.
Bass, crappie and stripers are in waters from the hot-water discharge to the back of Ramsey Creek. The deeper sections of Reed Creek, between markers D1 and D8, are producing nice stringers of stripers and perch.
The lake level is above normal.