What do birds and fish have in common? They prey upon one another.
On Lake Norman, blue heron stalk small fish in the shallows, osprey and eagles dive from the sky to snare fish in their talons; crows and buzzards eat dead fish that wash ashore. Bass and catfish even things out by preying upon hapless ducklings and small birds that fall into the water. But, to fishermen, it’s the sea birds – terns and gulls – that are of the greatest interest.
Beginning in November, tens of thousands of sea birds return to area lakes where they spend the winter feasting on shad and other forage fish. On most mornings, they can be seen flying low to the water where they might occasionally pick up a few shad swimming close to the surface. But when shad are chased to the surface by schools of hungry bass, perch or hybrids, things really get exciting. During these feeding frenzies, sea birds screech loudly between dives as they snare the fleeing shad with their sharp bill.
Fishermen look for tight-knit clusters of sea birds through binoculars, and sometimes can see them a mile or more away. The best lures to toss into the fray are spoons, jigs, flukes and swim-baits. If it’s multiple hook-ups you want, attach an ice-fly trailer to your favorite top water bait. The Alabama rig, a multi-lure swim-bait harness, is also effective when thrown in the direction of diving sea birds.
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It is important to note that fish will scatter if you approach too closely or if a big disturbance is caused by the boat. It is best to stop some distance away and use the electric trolling motor to maneuver within casting distance. Sooner or later, the school will sound. Switch to a slow sinking bait while waiting for the fish to reappear on the surface.
When surface-feeding activity subsides, birds will come to rest on the water or on a nearby shoal and wait for a signal from the birds still scouting above, that another blitz is underway. Upon hearing this high-pitched signal, not audible to humans, they will take flight again and renew their diving attack on the forage fleeing from the predator fish.
According to the 2014-2015 NCWRC Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest, a new regulation states: “White perch may be taken when captured in a cast net used to collect nongame fishes in all impounded waters west of Interstate 95 and in the Tar River Reservoir (Nash County).”
Tip from Capt. Gus
Most jigging spoons are made of lead, and can be bent to allow them to flutter slowly as they fall through the water column. Best colors are chartreuse, white, silver and gold.
Hot Spots of the Week
Hybrid striped bass are biting at dawn and dusk in Reed and Mountain creeks and in the main river channel north of the state park. While most of the action has been on the surface, fish are also hitting live and artificial lures fished throughout the water column. Spotted bass are schooling with the hybrids at times, but most are taking lures fished around underwater humps and channel points. Live-bait fishermen are catching crappie and white perch in nice numbers near submerged brush and bridges. Expect overall fishing to improve as water temperatures continue to drop into the mid-60s.
Surface water temperature varies by location, but is mainly in the low 70s in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 2.1 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 3.2 feet below full on Mountain Island Lake.