Guide Gus Gustafson of Lake Norman Ventures said winter crappie fishing at Lake Norman presents a good news,/bad news scenario.

“The good news is the size of the crappie, with many of them running from 15 to 17 inches,” said Gustafson (www.fishingwithgus.com). “Fishermen who know the location of deep brush piles and deep docks can score at Norman.”

Sadly, Gustafson said the number of small crappie are on the decline.

“There’s not a lot of small crappie at Norman because of  white perch that have overrun the lake,” said Gustafson. “Just like white perch have hurt the white bass population, white perch are hurting the number of crappie.”

To catch big slabs, Gustafson said anglers must fish slowly and meticulously.

The water temperature, except at the hot-water discharges, will be in the 40s and 50s. Cold water pushes fish deep and makes them lethargic. They can be almost anywhere in the water column, depending on the weather.

“The bites you’ll get will be very light, almost undetectable,” Gustafson said. “Norman fishermen either tie their boats to bridges, double-anchor over deep brush or use the new trolling motors with the anchor-lock feature to keep their boats as still as possible while vertical fishing. It’s almost impossible to detect light bites with the boat bobbing up and down or moving.”

Downsizing baits is also critical. Gustafson said fishermen use 1/16- and 1/32-ounce crappie jigs and light spinning tackle and 4- to 6-pound line. Minnows are also effective, fished alone or tipped on jigs.

Most anglers use a count-down method or a deep-drop method to draw strikes..

“Not many fishermen slow-troll at Norman for crappie as they do at other lakes,” said Gustafson, who said the wide-scan sonar units are essential for finding deep brush at Norman, though it’s still a formidable undertaking on such a huge lake.