A great spot to be in – Anglers flock to Lake Norman for North Carolina’s best spotted bass fishing

A big spotted bass and a big largemouth bass adds up to a nice Lake Norman catch for Carson Orellano of Mooresville, N.C.

December marks the beginning of a several great months of bass fishing on North Carolina’s Lake Norman, thanks in part to an immigrant who might not be what he seems.

One morning last December, a bass tournament was blasting off out of the McCrary Creek boating ramp, aka Queens Landing, but Carson Orellana of Mooresville, N.C., was perfectly content to let the traffic clear before he backed his Nitro down the ramp and pushed off into Lake Norman.

Entered in a tournament the next day, Orellana, a 21-year-old aspiring bass pro, was on a scouting mission to figure out where the lake’s spotted bass and largemouth bass were hanging out, and how he might catch them the next day. Having spent a few days on the water the previous week, he had a general idea, but he also had three questions he planned on answering:

* Are the bass on the main lake or in the backs of creeks?

* If they’re in the backs of creeks, are they on shallow boat docks or deep boat docks?

* What part of the docks are they on: the ends of the docks or the first posts off the bank?

“A lot of times in December, they’re still in a fall pattern,” Orellana said. “We usually don’t get a lot of deep, cold weather until January, so it fishes like a late-fall pattern.

“You can always catch Lake Norman fish on the main lake — there are always groups of fish on points and obvious main-lake structure — but the fall pattern is in the backs of creeks.

“Personally, I like to fish what I call little feeder creeks. I like main-lake and main-lake pockets, but especially creeks that don’t go back too far, maybe a half-mile. We have a few creeks that go back more than a couple of miles, but I’d rather fish main-lake pockets and smaller creeks. The fish are never going to leave the places. They’re not gonna come out, leave, and go back in a creek that’s 3 miles long.”

Norman, which covers 32,500 acres on the Catawba River northwest of Charlotte, has always had the reputation of providing good fishing when the weather cools off in the fall. Maybe it’s the two warm-water discharges from Duke Energy plants — the McGuire Nuclear Station on the lower end and the Marshall Steam Station around mid-lake — but maybe, a lot of its popularity in recent years has been due to a burgeoning population of spotted bass that got into there lake in the late 1990s.

“Norman is probably the best lake in North Carolina right now to catch numbers of bass, and it’s on its way to being one of the best lakes, period,” said Orellana, who turns wrenches at Joe Gibbs Racing several days a week and fishes when he isn’t taking some part off a racecar. “There are so many 3-pound spots now, but there’s also a healthy number of largemouths.

“In December, a good day is 20 fish, an easy 10-pound limit (of five fish),” he said. “It’s all about catching a couple of 3-pound fish; you get them, you’ve got 12 pounds. I’m noticing bigger spotted bass, and the lake is healthier than it’s ever been.”

And in cool to cold weather, it’s at its healthiest. Baitfish — shad and alewifes — start to gang up as the weather cools in the fall, and bass start to shadow their every movement. Find a pod of bait on a secondary point or back in a pocket, and it’s almost a guarantee that bass are going to be close by.

Like a lot of fishermen, Orellana prefers to fish clearer water when it’s cool to cold, so he does most of his damage south of the NC 150 bridge that crosses east-west at main lake. The bait heads in that direction, partly because of the McGuire hot-hole, partly because the dominant seasonal winds are from the north; they push plankton in that direction, and the rest of the food chain follows.

“You see most guys go to the lower end of the lake at the beginning of winter, and they’ll fish there all winter,” he said. “You can catch good numbers down there, and you’ll see some good bass. But if the wind is blowing from the south, it will blow the warmer water from the (McGuire) hot hole all the way up to the 150 bridge.

“I’ve got a depth finder with side-scan, a Lawrence HDS12, and if I go into a cove or pocket and see pods off bait out tot he sides, I can look under docks and see if there’s bait there,” Orellana said. “If I see a ball lot bait, I know to drop my trolling motor and start fishing. If you find a ball of bait that fills up your screen, you know that’s the place to fish.

“They really get on bait better when it gets colder. When you get to late in December, Christmas, they’ll be more related to bait anywhere from the backs of creeks to main-lake pockets. If you have a warm spell, they get on the bank and you can catch ‘em on just about anything. I like to fish the small feeder creeks, where you can fish the whole creek in two hours. You can pick two or three of these little creeks and fish them all in a day.”

Jerkbaits have always been productive baits in cool to cold situations on Norman, but fishermen added an even more-effective weapon several years ago, the jingling, jangling conglomeration of wires and hooks and plastic known as the Alabama Rig.

“December is when the Alabama Rig and the jerk bait start to come into play,” Orellana said. “Some guys will fish swimsuits or shallow-running crankbaits, Flukes, stuff like that, and do well. My go-to bait is a half-ounce True South jig with a trailer, and if I can get them to bite a jig, I’ll throw a jig, but if not, I’ll throw a jerkbait and have an Alabama Rig tied on just in case.

“The (surface) water temperature in December is usually around 55, in the high 50s, and the Alabama Rig is probably better on into January and February. When the jerkbait bite is good, the Alabama Rig bite is better a little bit later, because (bass) are relating to bait more than anything else; I think they hit a jerkbait a little earlier than they’ll hit an Alabama Rig. I’ll retrieve a jerkbait with a jerk-jerk-pause cadence. I’ll fish it faster in December. As it cools down, I’ll fish it slower.”

When Orellana ties on a jerkbait, it’s usually a Megabass 100 in sexy shad color, fished on a 6-foot-6, medium-action Duckett Micro Magic rod mated with a 360 Duckett bait casting reel with a 7-to-1 gear ratio, spooled with 12- to 15-pound Saguaro Abrazx fluorocarbon line. If he’s fishing an Alabama Rig, he goes a little heavier, with a 7-foot-6, heavy-action Duckett Terex rod, the same reel, with 20-pound Saguaro fluorocarbon or 50-pound Smackdown braid.

“I think a lot of people pump an Alabama Rig, and it does look a lot like a school of real bait, but I don’t,” he said. “I throw it and wind it back real slow. I like to cast it out, let it fall to the bottom and drag it back, fish it real slow, just wind it. But it’s more about where you fish it than how.

“It used to be when they got on an Alabama Rig, they were stupid, and anybody could catch ‘em, but now you have to be more specific in how you fish it. They’ve gotten more wise to it.”


WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE — Lake Norman’s headwaters on the Catawba River are just north of I-77, about 10 miles west of Statesville. Cowan’s Ford Dam impounds the 32,500-acre reservoir west of Huntersville. I-77 provides access to the eastern side of the lake; NC 16 will get you close to most spots on the western side. In late fall and winter, concentrate on the lower half of the lake, from the NC 150 bridge south. Public boat landings dot the lake’s shoreline. At mid-lake, try the Pinnacle and McCrary Creek accesses off NC 150 east of the lake; on the lower end, Ramsey Creek and Blythe Landing serve the eastern side of the lake; Beatties Ford and Little Creek serve the western side. Visit www.duke-energy.com/pdfs/norman.pdf.

WHEN TO GO — Fall fishing usually hangs on into mid-December; good winter fishing will run through February before bass begin to move toward spring patterns. Fishing can be great anytime during that three-month period.

BEST TECHNIQUES — Jerkbaits and Alabama rigs are primary weapons in fall and winter, when bass begin to shadow schools of bait. Concentrate on small creeks that feed main-lake areas from NC 150 south. Some fish will stay on main-lake points all winter; especially red-clay and rocky points. Small, square-billed crankbaits and Shad Raps will also produce. When bass are relating to docks, go with jigs.

FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Jerry Neely, Jerry’s Fishing Guide Service, 704-678-1043, www.carolinasfishing.com; Bob Curan, Bob’s Pro Fishing Guide Service, 704-402-0770, www.fishlkn.com. Carolina Fishing Tackle, Mooresville, 704-799-2912; Lake Norman Bait & Tackle, Mooresville, 704-658-1113; Tackle Town, Denver, 704-483-1007. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS —  Lake Norman Chamber of Commercie, 704-987-3300, www.visitlakenorman.org.

MAPS — Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257, www.kfmaps.com; Fishing Hot Spots Maps, 800-ALL-MAPS, www.fishinghotspots.com; Duke Energy, www.duke-energy.com/pdfs/norman.pdf;

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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