Fumbling at Norman

CORNELIUS, N.C. — Turnover. A football fan immediately connects the term with a fumble. Turnover in bass fishing terms has a wider and less understood definition.

Turnover is a frequently spoken word so far at the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open underway on Lake Norman.

It’s bane to some and blessing to others.

Turnover fans like it because it makes this already small tournament lake easier to break down. The opposing side blames subpar fishing conditions on the autumn phenomenon.

Fan or enemy, neither side can declare victory over the true biological meaning of the term. Many environmental factors play into how a turnover happens, if at all on a given lake.

A turnover can be triggered by an early fall cold snap or influx of cool runoff from steady rainfall. Both environmental factors happened on Lake Norman about two weeks ago.

Here’s a very general definition of turnover: The summer thermocline zone separating the warm, nutrient-rich water above cooler water mixes and dissipates. The mixing process draws up organic matter from the bottom.

That’s what causes off-color water and the stinky smell that permeates the lake’s surface.

The process makes the entire food chain turn upside down, but not for long.

“It typically lasts for two or three days or less when moving water is involved,” explains B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. “It can be a very destructive force though, until it cycles through.”

Entire lakes don’t turnover at the same time. Some don’t turn over at all.

“Shallow areas don’t necessarily share the same dynamics as deeper areas,” continues Gillilland, also a veteran fisheries scientist and researcher. “Deeper lakes are more inclined to go through an entire turnover.”

One thing is for certain. Bass fishing success temporarily suffers before bouncing back.

“When the water temperature stabilizes, it dissolves the layers of stratification that held bass in shallow, mid-range and deep areas,”adds Gilliland. “They can be anywhere and that makes them harder to find.”

Gilliland says that bass don’t eat every day, and especially during a turnover.

Many anglers on Lake Norman are finding that out. But only in one area of the lake, says local angler Jamey Caldwell. He’s currently in 11th place and 3 pounds out of the lead with a total of 11 pounds, 1 ounce.

“The turnover seems to be confined to the upper end of the lake. That’s too bad, because it’s where the quality largemouth fishing happens on this lake.”

He says that narrows the productive fishing zone to below the state Route 150 bridge across the lake. It’s located at mile 17 on the lake that overall extends for 33 miles.

That also explains why only about four pounds separates the top 25 places. The lower lake is known for its cookie-cutter sized spotted bass, which make up most of the catch here now.

Qualifying for tomorrow’s coveted top 12 will no doubt come down to a game of ounces, not pounds.

No matter the outcome, the turnover will be a point of discussion - good or bad - when the checks are handed out on Saturday.