CORNELIUS, N.C. — Listen to Hank Cherry describe the nuances of early fall fishing on Lake Norman and you think he’s never read the textbooks of bass fishing.
“The shallower the water, all the better,” he says. “You won’t catch the quality largemouth needed to win a tournament on main lake points or out in the middle of the lake.”
Both statements debunk the autumn standards for bass fishing. Written in stone, the textbooks say the bass forage on baitfish in deeper water. Here, he says the fish are most active in water ranging from 8 feet to the shoreline.
Cherry currently is in 7th place going into the championship round of the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open on Lake Norman. Even so, he’s within striking distance of the lead with only a 5-pound deficit.
Cherry is definitely qualified to validate his claim. Prior to a fast track into the Bassmaster Elite Series, he dominated tournaments for years on Lake Norman and it’s neighboring impoundments.
“It’s different here. If you try to fish by the book then the fish will fool you.”
Cherry says there are two reasons why. First, in full swing is the fall turnover. The layer of nutrient rich water that segregates the fish in a specific range is gone. It’s called the thermocline layer that concentrates bass and makes them easier to find during summer.
With no thermocline, the fish dissipate throughout the water column. The wide-ranging fish are more difficult to locate.
“What’s happened here this week is a lot of anglers unfamiliar with the lake fished too deep,” he said. “The turnover moved them everywhere but in the middle of the lake.”
Second, a little-known fact outside local circles is a catchable, quality population of mostly largemouth and some spotted bass live the year-round in shallow water.
“There are two power plants on each end of this lake that keep the water temperature warmer during the cold months,” he said. “The bass have no reason to leave the shallow water.”
Look for Cherry Day 3 and you’ll most likely find him running the shorelines. He’ll search for roaming schools of big largemouth. He finds them using a rather unorthodox technique. Again, it goes against the grain of the pages of textbook bass angling.
“I make long casts with a big swimbait or jig and burn it across the sides of boat docks,” he said. “The shallower, the better.”
It’s a kind of a bait-and-switch technique. Cherry says the idea is to trigger the predator instinct of the bass and expose their location.
“When one comes out and follows the lure back to the boat there might be three or more behind it.”
That’s what Cherry predicts might happen Saturday.
“All it takes here is finding bass like that in one little pocket with just a few docks,” he said. “It’s really unique to this lake and I’ve never seen it anywhere else.”
The bait-and-switch tactic comes with its own nuances, just like the overall element of fall bass fishing on Lake Norman.
“Once those big packs of largemouth group up they are going to move every day,” he observed. “You’ve got to think ahead of them and stay ahead of the game.”
“With this rain we’ve had there will be some color around the docks and the fish will be super shallow,” he continued.
He added, “In the morning someone is really going to catch them.”
Nuances of Norman or not, that someone might be Cherry.