Fishing has come back from the dead

What a difference a few years make. It wasn't that long ago when a fishing trip on Lake Norman was just that - a fishing trip. Catching fish was another thing. It was so bad that savvy anglers chose to go to Lake Wylie, High Rock and Lake Murray, where the fish were bigger and more plentiful. In fact, disgruntled anglers nicknamed Lake Norman "The Dead Sea."

At the turn of the century, Lake Norman's fishing fortunes turned better with the introduction of spotted bass, a member of the black bass family. They adapted quickly to Norman's deep-water habitat and, before anyone knew it, there was resurgence in bass fishing. The once Dead Sea fast became a Mecca for tournament bass anglers who enjoy matching wits with the feisty spotted bass.

How white perch came to the lake is a mystery, but like the spotted bass, they have become so plentiful that they are easy to catch in large numbers. White perch feed on the same baitfish schools as spotted bass, so more times than not, when you locate one, the other will be feeding in the same area. The introduction of spotted bass and white perch, combined with a recovering crappie population, has come a long way toward polishing Norman's once tarnished fishing image.

To make matters even better, anglers in October began catching 8- to 10-inch hybrid striped bass. The hybrid grows quickly and exceeds 10 pounds in some area lakes. This deep-water fish is the perfect match for Lake Norman's extremely hot summer water temperatures and low levels of dissolved oxygen. Hybrids are known for their tackle-busting tenacity and grow quickly to the minimum creel size limit of 16 inches.

Herring, a forage fish, were planted to supplement the lake's fragile threadfin shad population. It was originally thought that herring would be just what the mismanaged striped bass fishery needed. But, instead, they are providing fodder for the fast growing population of spotted bass, white perch and hybrids.

If you haven't fished Lake Norman in a while, give it a try. You will probably catch a lot more fish than the last time.

Tips from Capt. Gus

January is a great month to take advantage of closeout specials on rods, reels, GPS and fish finder units. Check the internet, catalogs, newspaper inserts and local tackle shops for the best deals.

Upcoming Events

Free seminar: "How to Safely Navigate Lake Norman Using Sonar and GPS." Join me at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 11 at North Point Watersports, 112 Doolie Road in Mooresville and learn the "Basics of Sonar and GPS." Bring your questions and instruction booklets to this 90-minute boating safety session. Call 704-799-1994 for information.

Free seminar: "Use Your Lowrance or Humminbird Fish Finder to Catch Bass, White Perch and Stripers." Jake Bussolini, Bill Hassig and I will conduct this all-new fish-finder seminar at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at Gander Mountain, Exit 36 in Mooresville. Bring your questions and instruction booklets to this 90-minute seminar. For information, call 704-658-0822.

Hot Spots of the Week

For anglers tough enough to weather the cold, bass, white perch, crappie and occasional stripers can be caught. Spotted bass are in major creeks, some along the banks, but the large schools are feeding in the deeper parts of coves and along the edges of river and creek channels. Colder water temperatures have also driven crappie and white perch to deeper water. Look for them at the 30- to 45-foot mark. Best bets for spotted bass are the coves and finger channels that feed into McCrary and Reed Creeks.

Lake Norman water temperatures are in the 50s, and the lake level is about 1.9 feet below full pond. Mountain Island Lake is 2.4 feet below full pond.