Lake Norman holds the state record for spotted bass, a 6.5-pound fish caught in December 2003.
Spotted bass were introduced to Lake Norman in the mid- to late 1990s. Since then they have thrived in North Carolina's largest freshwater impoundment.
Thanks to the spotted bass, Lake Norman, once called "the Dead Sea" by bass anglers, is now among the most popular stops on the FLW and BASS professional tournament trails.
The midget of the black bass family gets its name from the black spots on its belly scales. It can also be identified by a rough patch on the tongue, which helps it hold, crush and eat crayfish.
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While smaller than its cousins (largemouth and smallmouth bass), the spotted bass is tenacious and is famous for giving a hard fight. It often can pull the hook when being landed.
Crayfish are an important part of a spotted bass's diet, but in Lake Norman, shad and herring are its preferred food. Large schools of spots roam the open water, devouring forage fish, either on the surface or in tight balls suspended near underwater structure.
Unlike largemouth bass, which hang out near laydowns and docks, the spot prefers underwater humps, points and sharp dropoffs where schools of baitfish are likely to be.
Some speculate that spotted bass outnumber largemouth 10 to 1 at the lower end of the lake. That raises the question why the size and creel limits are the same for both species.
Regardless, with a lake teeming with spots, professional anglers often catch and release 30 or more during a day of tournament fishing. They use a variety of deep-water techniques.
Popular baits with tournament anglers are soft plastic lures fished dropshot and shaky-head style, and artificial worms and lizards fished on Carolina rigs. Jigging spoons, bucktails and crankbaits are also quite effective, particularly when fish are feeding aggressively in schools.
When conditions are right, spotted bass will crash the surface in an attempt to silence a noisy topwater cast near a submerged brush pile.
For those new to spotted bass fishing, fall is a great time to catch a limit. Spots spend much of the day in water less than 15 feet deep. That makes them easy targets for anglers casting or trolling crankbaits on light spinning tackle. Popular crankbait colors are chartreuse, crayfish, silver and blue. Once you catch a fish, fish the area thoroughly for more members of the school.
On Lake Norman, the size limit for black bass (including largemouth and spotted) is 14 inches. Two can be less than 14 inches. The creel limit is five fish in the combination.
A free fishing seminar, "Introduction to Largemouth and Spotted Bass Fishing," will be 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 30 at Gander Mountain, I-77 Exit 36, Mooresville. As instructor, I will cover simple techniques used to catch bass on live and artificial baits. We'll also discuss the 10 best bass spots on Lake Norman. Details: 704-658-0822.
The lake level is about 3.0 feet below full pond. The water surface temperature is in the mid- to high 80s.