Lake Norman's flip side

For the third time in the past four years, North Carolina’s Lake Norman plays host to a Bass Pro Shops Southern Open. This event challenges the competitors with very different conditions than in the two preceding Opens here.

The earlier events, held in the spring, were dominated by largemouth bass. Ohioan Fletcher Shryock sacked 57 pounds in late March of 2011 by fishing a ledge and flippin’ bushes. That victory launched his Elite Series career.

North Carolina homeboy Tracy Adams won in early April the following year. He sight fished bedding bass to boat 45 pounds, 6 ounces over the three-day tournament.

This time the largemouths won’t be locked into predictable prespawn and spawning agendas. Spotted bass, which are far more abundant at Norman, will dominate the catch.

However, largemouths will likely be essential to nab victory, claims North Carolina Elite Series pro Hank Cherry.

“Whoever wins will need at least one kicker largemouth every day,” Cherry said. “Depending on the weather conditions, 121⁄2 to 14 pounds will be a big limit.”

Cherry, who will be fishing the Open, lives within 12 minutes of five different boat ramps at Lake Norman. He has been closely monitoring the lake in preparation for the tournament.

Several factors will work against the anglers, points out Cherry. One is that the lake level is down only 11⁄2 feet.

“The lake is normally down 5 feet by this time,” Cherry said.

Lower lake levels tend to pull bass away from shoreline cover and stack them up offshore.

Also, the autumn feeding spree usually doesn’t get underway here until mid October, Cherry claims. Bites are harder to come by until that happens.

 

The biggest hindrance is that Norman is in the throes of the dreaded fall turnover, a phenomenon that shuts down the bass. It begins upriver and works its way down to the dam, Cherry explains.

“Part of the lake is cleaning up from turning over, part is turning over and part of it will turn over soon,” Cherry said.

Cherry will avoid water that is turning over, and all the competitors would be wise to follow his lead. This isn’t hard to do because, “the bad water is as black as night.”

There’s a chance for rain Monday, the first official practice day for the Norman Open. If it turns out to be a deluge, the dam operators will let more water pass through. That will pull the nasty black water farther down the lake, Cherry claims.

An area that produces bass one day could be void of them the next.

“The fall turnover makes the bass move around more,” Cherry said. “You’re not going to catch them in the same places or the same way every day.”

Since the turnover will eliminate some areas of the lake, it could make for crowded fishing conditions. Despite these hindrances, Cherry believes limits will be common thanks to Norman’s abundant spotted bass population.

“Norman has so many bass it’s ridiculous,” Cherry said. We don’t have lots of 4 to 6 pounders, but there are bunches of bass that weigh 2 1⁄2 pounds.”

Norman’s Catch-22 is that the lower end of the lake has more spotted bass and is the best bet to secure a limit. Kicker largemouths are more abundant on the upper lake, and they are needed to clinch victory.

Docks, rocks, laydowns and brush piles anywhere on the main lake will have good bass potential. There is very little aquatic vegetation at Norman.

“You could win here from 25 feet deep to as shallow as you want to fish,” Cherry said.

The weather during the tournament will dictate the tactics, Cherry believes. Calm, sunny weather will reward those who fish deep with shaky heads and drop shot rigs. Overcast, blustery weather will open the playbook to topwater baits and other power fishing presentations.

“The bass are just starting to gang up,” Cherry said. “You might pull up on a wolf pack of 10 or 12 fish and sack a quick limit.”

Cherry predicts that it will take 14 pounds a day to win the pro division and 101⁄2 pounds a day to claim the co-angler title.

Shane Lineberger, another North Carolinian competing on the pro side, believes he will need 39 to 42 pounds to nab the top spot.

“It’s kind of tough out there right now,” Lineberger said. “There will be a lot of 8- and 9- pound limits caught on a shaky head and drop shot.”

The odds for cashing a check will favor anglers that fish down the lake for spotted bass, Lineberger claims. The odds for winning are with those that fish shallow up the lake were there are more largemouth bass.

The downside with the latter strategy is that limits will be harder to come by.