Lake Norman & Mooresville

Fishing with Gus: Diving birds lead to big catches

How many times have you heard the expression, “You should have been here yesterday?”

“Yesterday” happened for 15-year-old Hunter Foreman on Nov. 23. The weather forecast was light rain early, becoming heavy later that Sunday – perfect conditions for catching surface-feeding stripers, hybrids and spotted bass.

From 7 until 8 a.m., Hunter caught hybrid striped bass, after bass, after bass. The fish, mostly between 17 and 21 inches long, were hitting baitfish they had chased to the surface. To add to the excitement, hundreds of screeching terns and gulls were diving and snaring forage fish that the hybrids had missed.

The action slowed, which gave Hunter a chance to catch his breath and rest. At the next spot, the birds were flying higher and were not as active, an indication that the fish were deeper. We switched to jigging spoons and began to vertically jig with Sabiki rigs. Hunter’s good luck continued, as evidenced by the white perch and spotted bass he caught each time he dropped his lure near the bottom. On the way back to the landing, we cast a couple of Alabama rigs under another flock of sea birds, and Hunter landed three of his biggest hybrids of the day, before they sounded.

The common thread on this trip was casting lures under diving birds. At times, like that Sunday, the birds are everywhere. But on some days, they can difficult to locate. Sometimes they might not be flying, or they may have possibly moved to another area. If you are among the many who believe sea birds are where the fish are, seek them out. An easy way to keep track of their whereabouts is to drive around the lake in the comfort of your car or truck. Bring someone with you to watch for diving birds while you drive.

Look for them on either side of the 21-plus bridges that cross the lake. Public boat-access ramps, private marinas, and lakeside restaurants also offer wide vistas. Other great views are from the I-77 causeways that span the headwaters of Davidson and Reeds creeks on Lake Norman’s east bank, the bluffs in the Lake Norman State Park and from numerous empty lots/fields scattered around the lake.

Tip from Capt. Gus

Binoculars are a must for finding birds from a distance. Don’t leave home without them.

Hot spots

Hybrid striped bass are being caught in most major creek arms. Reed, Mountain and Stumpy creeks have been very productive. Best live baits to use are shad, herring and shiners. As for artificial lures, the Alabama rig is popular, but about any lure that catches bass will also tempt hybrids. Bass fishing is very good, with nice catches coming off boat docks and riprap points early in the day. White perch like the cooler lake temperatures. The larger fish are suspended in 30 to 50 feet of water.

Stocking stuffer

“Wildlife in North Carolina” is the official magazine of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Give a one-year, eight-issue subscription for $12; or a three-year, 24-issue subscription for $30. To order, visit

Lake conditions

Lake Norman is mostly clear with surface water temperatures mainly in the 50s in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 2.2 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 2.4 feet below full on Mountain Island Lake.