Other Sports

Fishing with Capt. Gus: Crappies are biting so it must be spring

Capt. Gus Gustafson holds a crappie.
Capt. Gus Gustafson holds a crappie. GUS GUSTAFSON

Crappies are the first fish to move to the shallows each spring. Their spawning migration is anxiously anticipated by both adults and children. Kids love the way they tug on the line, and parents enjoy catching them, too. But, it’s even more fun to cook and eat them.

There was a time when crappie fishing wasn’t good on Lake Norman. However, once the North Carolina Wildlife RC began regulating the size and creel limit, fishing improved. In recent years, spring limits of 20 fish per person per day have been easy to achieve, and, more fish than not, exceeded 10 inches in length. This year is seeing some large crappies fill the live wells, with a few longer than 15 inches.

Crappies travel in schools, so when one is caught, more should be in the same area. The best baits are small minnows, known by locals as crappie minnows, and a one-thirty-second ounce to one-eighth ounce lead head jig, garnished with a colorful skirt and tail made of soft plastic or Marabou hair.

Crappies like to hang out in the shade, which is why they can be found around bridge pilings, covered boat docks, submerged stump fields and underwater brush piles. Creative anglers spend the winter dropping Christmas trees, hardwood branches and stalks from bamboo plants in the lake to create habitats that will attract crappies in the spring. Brush piles can be found with a fish finder equipped with down and side scan imagery.

Fishing peaks in April. When the spawning is complete, the fish will return to deeper water. In the meantime, fishermen will concentrate their efforts in water less than 10 feet and move shallower as the spawning season progresses. At the peak, fish will locate in 1-foot to 5 feet of water, depending on conditions. Try different depths until you find them.

The best advice for catching crappie is to fish gently. Move the bait slowly, give the fish plenty of time to nibble, and play it carefully to the boat. The larger the crappie, the more likely its body weight will cause the hook to pull from its paper-soft mouth.

The Lake Norman creel limit is 20 fish per day per angler, with an 8-inch minimum size limit. Crappie can grow to legal size in one year. After that, they gain body weight, but only add an inch to their total length annually. Large crappie, 12 inches or longer, are called slabs.

Tip from Capt. Gus

Net each fish, particularly if you’re planning to eat it.

Upcoming events

▪ The Lake Norman Shrine Club will hold its 36th annual Dogwood Bass Fishing Tournament April 4 at The New Midway Marina in Terrell. Email William Cork at wcork@yahoo.com for information.

▪  Corey Oakley, inland fisheries Piedmont research coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, will discuss the changes in Lake Norman’s fish population leading up to the introduction of hybrid striped bass. 6:30-8 p.m. April 15 at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, Mooresville. Free. Information: 704-658-0822.

▪ “How to Navigate Lake Norman Day or Night” will be held at The Peninsula Yacht Club, 18501 Harbor Light Blvd., Cornelius, at 6:30 p.m. April 23. Becky Johnson and I will cover “Understanding LKN’s Channel Marker and Buoy System,” “How to Avoid Shallow Water,” “10 Most Dangerous Spots” and “Interpreting Lake Maps.” Details: Ashley at 704-892-7575.

Hot spots

Plenty of bass can be found off creek and river points. A-Rigs, swim baits and drop shot rigs are the baits of choice. Bass are beginning to spawn in the back coves of Ramsey and McCreary creeks. White perch are being caught with Sabiki rigs and live minnows along the edges of creek and river channels. Crappie fishing is good to very good in Mountain, Hager’s and Terrapin creeks.

Lake conditions

The surface water temperature varies by location, but is mainly in the 50s in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 2.9 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 3.9 feet below full on Mountain Island Lake.

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