In 2012, when the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission decided to quit stocking striped bass in Lake Norman, that probably wasn’t the best news for Bob Curan, who grew up fishing for striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay before moving to North Carolina in 1997 and putting in 15 years learning the 32,500-acre lake north of Charlotte.
Of course, it probably didn’t hurt his feelings that the Commission decided to replace them with hybrid bass, which are as close in habit to stripers as any other fish, being a laboratory cross between a female striped bass and a male white bass.
In fact, Curan took to the hybrids so much that in July 2015, he opened a guide business, Fishin’ Lake Norman, with his favorite target being hybrids, which offer a superior-quality fight, grow fast and are willing to bite.
With the Commission stocking 167,500 hybrid fingerlings annually in Norman, beginning in 2013, the fish began to thrive almost immediately, In just two years, anglers started catching 12- to 15-inch fish regularly, with a few larger fish mixed in. Most weighed between one and three pounds, with an occasional 4- to 6-pounder showing up.
Curan’s years of experience fishing for stripers served as an apprenticeship for catching hybrid bass. Fishing for hybrids is similar to fishing for striped bass, with many of the same techniques coming into play.
Though hybrids are willing biters, they’re not homesteaders. Like stripers, they prefer to roam in open water, which makes finding them a daunting task considering Norman’s size. Like other Lake Norman guides, Curan spends hours motoring around the lake, viewing his side-scan sonar unit for schools of hybrids. Since they are new to the lake, consistent patterns of movement have yet to be established.
Curan, however, has noted some trends since their introduction.
“The best hybrid bite takes place from December through March with water temperatures in the 40s to lower 50s,” he said. “The bite begins above the (NC) 150 bridge, then gradually moves to mid-lake as the water cools. Fishing is best on overcast days with light winds.”
Hybrid hangouts include the mouths of Stumpy and Hicks creeks above the NC 150 bridge and Mountain Creek on the lake’s western side, a few miles below the bridge, and between the Nos. 6 and 13 main-lake channel buoys below the bridge. The fish favor points, humps, drops and creek-channel edges.
Curan slow-trolls at .6 mph using medium-action 61/2-foot spinning rods. He spools his reels with 8- to 12-pound monofilament, with terminal tackle being a Carolina rig starting with a 1- to 2-ounce egg sinker threaded onto the main line above a barrel swivel that’s connected to a 3-foot leader of 15-pound fluorocarbon, a No. 1 circle hook and a 3- to 4-inch threadfin shad or shiner hooked through the nostrils.
“The 2-ounce sinkers go on the front C-rigs to prevent tangles when I make a turn,” said Curan, who occasional sets out a free line weighed with just a small split-shot to keep the bait below the surface.
Curan arranges four to five rods on each side of the boat for trolling. Other rods are pre-rigged with Little Cleo, Tackle Town and Hopkins spoons for vertical jigging into concentrations of fish or for casting into breaking fish.
When trolling, Curan makes his baits pass several feet above the forage and fish. Like stripers, hybrids mostly move up to feed.
While searching for hybrids with his electronics, he may troll at 21/2 mph to cover more water using Alabama rigs and crankbaits.
Hybrids, spotted bass and white perch frequently school together along with an occasional striper, so when a rod goes down, fishermen never know what they might catch.
HOW TO GET THERE — Lake Norman is north of Charlotte and within reach of I-77. NC 150 bisects the 32,500-acre impoundment west of Mooresville, with the Pinnacle and McCrary access areas off NC 150 on the east side of the lake very popular. On the west side, Midway Marina is just south of the NC 150 bridge. On the lower end of the lake, Blythe Landing off US 74 at Ramsey Creek provides access.
WHEN TO GO — Good fishing for hybrid bass is from December through March, with the best fishing occurring when the water cools into the lower 50s and upper 40s. Hybrids first become active above the NC 150 bridge, then gradually progress to mid-lake with colder temperatures.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Hybrids are caught by anglers slow-trolling in 25 to 35 feet of water with spinning gear using Carolina-rigged live baits. Other options include casting small spoons or trolling with crankbaits and Alabama rigs. Pre-rigged spinning rods with small jigging spoons are used for casting into breaking fish or vertical jigging. Schools of hybrids can be found with side scan electronics or by looking for birds diving into forage.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Bob Curan, Fishin’ Lake Norman, 704-402-0770, www.fishinglkn.com; Gus Gustafson, Lake Norman Ventures, 704-617-6812, www.fishingwithgus.com; Craig Price, Fish On! Lake Norman, 704-996-0946, www.fishonlakenorman.com; David Clubb Guide Service, www.fishclubb.com; Midway Marina, 704-478-2333. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
MAPS — FHS Maps, 800-ALL-MAPS; Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257, www.kfmaps.com.