Lake Norman & Mooresville

Know your top-water lures

Gus Gustafson holds a winter crappie taken on a chartreuse jig.
Gus Gustafson holds a winter crappie taken on a chartreuse jig. GUS GUSTAFSON

What are they biting? That’s a question bass fishermen ask over and over again. Due to Lake Norman’s diverse habitat and water conditions, the list of productive lures is lengthy.

Lures that buzz, swish, gurgle and pop across the surface are categorized as top-water lures. While very few replicate any particular creature, the disturbance they create while moving across the water’s surface draws the attention of bass and other predator species.

Depending on conditions, the same lure can be twitched slowly to create only a slight ripple, or quickly to create a violent commotion. Usually somewhere in between produces the most strikes.

Bass primarily depend on the senses of sight and sound to snare their prey. Top-water lures are a good choice in the spring when insects, snakes, birds and other animals swim the shorelines.

Since bass are already nearby breeding, any surface disturbance can prompt a strike. Interestingly, bass don’t have to be hungry to hit. Often times, they strike out of meanness.

Conditions dictate the type of lure, its color, size and the technique required to produce a top-water bite. As a rule, when the water is very calm or very shallow, a small lure fished with a slow stop and go action fits the bill. On the contrary, when bass are holding in deeper water, a quick and noisy presentation works best.

There are a variety of lure types to choose from.

▪ Stick baits and darters are pencil- or cigar-shaped lures with or without propellers on either end.

▪ Poppers have a concaved nose that produces a popping sound when fished with a stop and go action.

▪ Buzz baits are V-shaped wire baits with a jig head fitted with a skirt covering its hook on one end and a propeller, which lifts it to the surface, on the other.

▪  Jerk baits are buoyant minnow-like lures that dart, dive and return to the surface when using a twitch–stop-go technique.

▪ Floating worms and flukes resemble snakes or wounded baitfish.

▪ Frogs and mice resemble aquatic critters. Mouse look-a-likes are used in boat basins frequented by muskrats.

Tip from Capt. Gus

A common mistake when fishing top-water lures is to initiate the hook set immediately upon seeing the fish swirl at the lure. To improve your strike-to-hook-up ratio, don’t set the hook until you feel the bite at the rod.

Hot Spots of the Week

Last week, bass were super shallow on clay points and shorelines with button bush plants growing in the water. Others were being caught under deep docks and around underwater drop-offs.

Stripers and hybrids continue to roam the main channel, where they’re feeding under diving seabirds. White perch and crappie remain deep but are aggressively hitting when enticed with live bait and small jigs. Deep water catfish in Reeds Creek and at the entrances to the hot holes are hitting cut-bait and chicken parts.

All bets are off this weekend considering the subfreezing temperatures in recent days.

Upcoming event

Free Safe Boating class: “How to Navigate Lake Norman Day or Night” will be held 6:30 p.m. March 12 at The Peninsula Yacht Club, 18501 Harbor Light Blvd., Cornelius. Becky Johnson and I will cover understanding Lake Norman’s channel marker and buoy system, how to avoid shallow water, 10 most dangerous spots and interpreting lake maps. For information, call Ashley at 704-892-7575.

Lake conditions

The water level on Lake Norman is about 4.3 feet below full pond and is 2.9 feet below on Mountain Island Lake. The surface water temperature is in the high 30s and low 40s in water not affected by power generation on Lake Norman.

Gus Gustafson is a freelance writer and a professional fishing guide on Lake Norman. Have a story for Gus? Email him at