Lake Norman’s fishery has changed for the better, according to one guide, and the winter bite is showing exactly how, with a lot of hybrid bass being caught from the 32,510-acre reservoir on the Catawba River.

“The hybrid (striped bass-white bass) bite has been surprisingly good this fall and winter,” said guide Craig Price of Denver. “It’s taken a lot of people by surprise.”

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission quit stocking striped bass and began stocking the hardier hybrid bass in 2013, after eight summers of drought, low-water flows and low levels of dissolved oxygen took a toll on stripers.

“The state started stocking hybrids two years ago,” said Price (704-996-0946). “Of course, there were some non-sanctioned stockings for a number of years by private individuals and small clubs, but they put fry in the lake, not fingerlings, and I think that’s why they didn’t catch on.”

The Commission stocked 162,500 hybrid fingerlings into the lake in late spring and early summer in 2013 and 2014, a number that equaled the previous striper stockings.

“We’re catching a lot of 16- to 22-inch hybrids now,” said Price, who doesn’t think Norman’s hybrids have been negatively affected by a burgeoning population of spotted bass.

“There’s no question there’s a lot more baitfish in the lake then 8 or 10 years ago, so there’s enough for the hybrids to eat,” he said.

Anglers cast Zara Spooks, Rapala stickbaits and Rat-L-Traps at schooling hybrids feeding on the surface.

“You just look for diving sea birds,” he said. “They’ll show you feeding fish.”

Jigging spoons and bucktails are favorites for deeper fish.

Price said another surprise has been the size of the remaining stripers in Norman.

“We’ve had days where we catch a handful of 9- to 13-pounders,” said Price, who believes lower fishing pressure has allowed stripers to survive and grow.

“We used to have days when a 5-pounder was unusual, and an 8-pounder was big news.

“We’re trying to issue words of caution to people take it easy on the first couple of year classes of hybrids,” Price said, “and if people can find it in them to release 10-pound stripers, we could have 14- and 15-pounders again. If people practice catch-and-release, we’d have a real shot at trophy fish in Lake Norman.”