There's a large sign on the concrete dam at Lake Norman's Marshall Steam Station. Duke Energy makes it clear to "KEEP OFF," but your journey isn't over when you reach the forbidding message. See the sign and you know you’ve reached the spot for large striped bass.
Warm weather has brought stripers up to the plant's no-go zone, and anglers are making the most of it. Water temperatures jumped 10 degrees last week, and while it’s still lower than necessary for optimum feeding behavior, stripers seem to be waking up from the long winter.
"It's been the best season for stripers in my lifetime, in terms of size," said guide Shannon Miller (704-929-2525). "The average size is probably 25 inches long. [There are a] lot of 30-inch fish being caught. Not as many numbers, but the bites you do get are real good ones.
"It's just started to get good this last week," Miller said. "We had that thermal shad kill, and through that period of time— which I think starts about the beginning of the year depending on the area of the lake—from then until last week, the water was in the low 40s."
Miller, a Mooresville native who guides on Norman and also runs an Outer Banks charterboat part of the year – the Blood Vessel out of Wanchese – said that with the water temperature in the low 50s this past weekend, stripers had moved back into the shallows and started feeding more.
"I've been mainly trolling, trolling umbrella rigs, Alabama rigs," Miller said. "I have caught them casting and jigging. Guys are catching them on live bait."
The Pinnacle Access Area is right across the river from the plant. Hang out in the shallow areas around the plant early and late and head to the deeper waters upstream of the NC 150 bridge during the middle of the day. Stripers still prefer the colder, deeper water when the sun is out, regardless of the warmer temperatures.
Air temperatures still haven't risen enough to bring recreational boaters back to the lake, so fishermen have the 32,500-acre lake pretty much all to themselves. But nearby access areas were full last weekend, full of anglers. That’s not likely to change with extended forecasts showing more warm weather ahead.