The largest fish in Lake Norman are catfish. The largest ever caught was an 85-pound Arkansas blue. It held the state record for a couple of years, until an 89-pounder was caught on a lake in the Yadkin River chain.
We don't see many 80-pounders, but Lake Norman contains more than enough 20- to 40-pound blues and flatheads to entice anglers to target them exclusively. Most people have never caught a fish over 10 pounds, so catching a trophy catfish is special.
A big cat fights like a freight train highballing to the West Coast and can be caught in every nook and cranny on Lake Norman. Hooking them isn't that hard, but landing them on light tackle is a challenge.
Those who specialize in fishing for big ones use relatively heavy tackle: a 7- to 9-foot rod and a bait-casting reel loaded with 30-pound-test or heavier line; 5/0 to 10/0 circle hooks; and at least 50-pound-test leader material. Big cats use their weight to wear down the angler and tear up equipment; heavy tackle evens the odds.
Best baits for blue cats are fresh-cut gizzard shad, bream and perch. The head or sides (scaled and cut into strips) are preferred. Some use the whole fish or chunks.
Anglers targeting flatheads use both live and cut baits. Live white perch are popular, but bream, shad, herring, big shiners and even goldfish attract lots of bites.
You can use a variety of techniques to catch lunker cats, but slow trolling or drifting works well on Lake Norman. Boat speed is critical. It should be less than one mile per hour so cats can follow the scent and catch up to the bait. That allows the angler to cover a lot of the lake bottom.
Once you find the fish, anchor the boat. Use two anchors to prevent the boat from swinging and tangling lines. If you don't have a boat, find big cats around docks and piers.
When you get a bite, don't try to set the hook too quickly. Give the fish time to take the bait. When the line starts moving off and the rod bends, begin reeling. A big fish will rapidly pull line from the reel, so set the drag to about half the line's breaking strength.
Stay calm and keep a tight line. Eventually the big cat will give up and get close enough to net. Big fish will measure 3 to more than 4 feet long, so keep a deep-webbed, wide-hoop landing net at hand.
A free seminar, "Introduction to Largemouth and Spotted Bass Fishing," will be offered 6:30 p.m. April 29 at Gander Mountain, off Interstate 77 Exit 36. I will lead the 90-minute session, covering simple techniques for fishing with live or artificial baits. We also will discuss 10 of the best fishing spots on Lake Norman. Details: 704-658-0822.
Bass are bedding close to banks. Stripers and perch are offshore in water from 10- to 40-feet deep. Crappie fishing is very good with small minnows around docks, boathouses and brush. Cat fishing will continue to improve as the water warms. A lot of boats are fishing in and around the State Park (Hicks Creek) and on points and coves near the D markers in Reed Creek.