Dog Days = Bass Days?

Piers and docks provide shade and slightly cooler water, two factors that make them favorite spots for bass to hold.

Dog Days can be great days for bass fishermen on Lake Norman.

The dog days of summer. Hot, lazy, sultry days. Many believe the term “dog days” developed because it’s so hot that all dogs do is laze around the yard and pant. Yet the origin of the phrase goes back to ancient times; Romans believe the hottest days of summer were caused by Sirius, the so-called “Dog Star” — the brightest star in the constellation “Canus Major” or “Big Dog.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac defines “dog days” as the time between July 3 and Aug. 11. Fishermen know the dog days are tough times to catch bass.

But Lake Norman, the largest man-made reservoir entirely within North Carolina, offers some dandy opportunities to catch largemouth bass and spotted bass, the latter of which began appearing a decade ago. The state record spot, a 6-pound, 5-ounce fish, was caught by guide Eric Weir of Belmont in Lake Norman.

These days, fishermen who catch a lot of dog days bass at Lake Norman invest in three main “patterns” — fishing piers or docks, humps and other deepwater structure, and upriver areas.

Maurice Freeze of Concord, a top area angler, likes to target docks and piers for dog days bass on Norman, where he fishes a lot of local tournaments.

“There will be a lot of fish; some will be shallow and some deep, but I concentrate on the shallow ones,” Freeze said. “I fish from about one foot to 10 feet deep. I know there are lots of people who fish deeper brushpiles and stuff, but I’m not one of them.

“For the most part, I fish piers and docks. In the hottest days of summer, piers and docks provide shade. The water’s a little bit cooler, and the shade serves as excellent cover for predators like largemouth bass and spotted bass.”

Freeze approaches dog days bass with two different baits: small topwaters and jigs.

“In the middle of the summer, there are plenty of bass shallow,” Freeze said. “They’re up chasing bream (which) makes for a lot of topwater action. The best lures are a Pop-R or a Pop’n Image.”

The Premium Pop-R comes in a bluegill color, and the standard Pop-R comes in purple shad, both of which simulate the coloration of bream in the shallows. The Pop’n Image comes in a red-ear sunfish pattern.

Freeze also fishes a half-ounce jig ‘n’ pig combo, pitching his baits back under piers and docks where bass are hiding.

“I am usually throwing a green pumpkin, brown or black-and-blue jig ‘n’ pig,” Freeze said. “Those are colors that have stood the test of time for me.”

During dog days, Freeze fishes the upper end of the lake, from the NC 150 bridge upstream.

“There’s lots of water there, and I just seem to do better,”
he said. “On practice days, I determine whether to fish piers or docks in the creeks or along the main channel. When the tournament comes, I stick with whatever produced in practice.”

Freeze’s most-productive creeks are Stumpy, Cornelius and Terrapin.

Dan Duval of Charlotte is a fan of humps, having spent “countless hours, gallons of fuel and gallons of sunscreen” searching for Lake Norman’s bass.

“I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in the lower end, from Governor’s Island down to the dam, and up to Davidson and Reeds creeks,” he said. “I’ve found them over open water … in reference to ledges, long points and humps. They aren’t on this stuff, but they relate to it.”

Duval recommends looking for feeding fish, with diving gulls and other birds being a great clue to their whereabouts. Finding fish breaking the surface is a big deal.

“Keep an eye on how long the feeding lasts, from chasing on the surface to single, small breaks that look like a baitfish flipping,” he said. “When they are on the surface, the area of feeding fish are small. They are more likely to swirl and boil when feeding, as opposed to busting the surface, chasing a shad.”

Once fish are found, it’s a matter of narrowing down which lures to use.

‘Offshore’ fishing in deeper water with smaller lures is often the ticket to catching Lake Norman’s dog days bass.

“I use this order: size, speed, depth and color,” Duval said. “I start with surface lures like soft-plastic baits, hard-topwater baits, baits with blades on them like in-line and safety-pin spinnerbaits and some blade baits.

“Once the size and speed are determined, pay close attention to the length of time they’re feeding,” he said. “While they’re feeding on top, start with a dead-stop once the lure lands, move to a slow retrieve and gradually to fast as you finish. Then, reverse the process. Once the single, small breaks begin, they are starting to go deeper.”

Duval has spent plenty of time studying baitfish at Lake Norman, and he now keys on alewifes or blueback herring.

“These species are more prone to roam deep, open water over creek and river channels,” he said.

How do you match Duval’s pattern? He fishes in water that’s at least 50 feet deep most of the time. Using a depthfinder and topographic map in tandem will reveal ledges, humps and long points.

Clyde Osborne of Charlotte, a frequent visitor to Lake Norman, prefers fishing well up the lake in the more river-like portions, roughly between Long Island and the I-40 bridge. Often in mid-summer, the surface temperature is a little lower there, partly because the water coming off the bottom of Lookout Shoals Lake upstream is cooler, and partly because the shorelines are more shaded than the rest of the lake.

“First thing in the morning, there will be a topwater bite,” Osborne said. “I throw a Pop’n Image Jr. (in threadfin shad) or Spook Jr. (in black shiner). They’ll tear them up.”

Osborne will also fish a Carolina rig up the river.

“A Carolina rig is a top choice,” he said. “I use a quarter- or half-ounce sinker, depending on the current. Typically, my leader is only 18 to 24 inches long. That way, my worm or lizard stays close to the bottom, and I have better feel and hook-setting with a short leader.

“I pretty much stick to Yum green pumpkin or electric blue worms and lizards. I dip the tails in chartreuse dye; I’m confident that
makes a difference.”

Current is a key, he said.

“Current makes all the difference up the river,” Osborne said. “Where there’s some current, it (positions) the fish. They will be on the lower (downcurrent) side of points, facing into the current. Cast upstream, into the current, and let the lure drift down to where the fish are holding.”

Topwater baits fished early and late can be the ticket to some fine bass action on Lake Norman.

Osborne said dozens of small points and cuts will create areas where bass can hold, facing the current, and bass locate around the abundant laydown trees. Current also creates holding spots near pilings that support bridges at Buffalo Shoals Rd. and US 64/70.

In addition to soft plastics, Osborne also fishes a 3/8ths- or half-ounce spinnerbait. Cast upstream and retrieve down the current, keeping just enough tension on the line to feel the blades turning. Best skirt colors are blue/white or white. Tandem baits with a willow-leaf and a Colorado blade work best. Osborne is also a fan of tube baits as well.

Lake Norman attractions

• North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Located at Exit 36 off I-77, it is dedicated to all forms of auto racing, with more than 35 cars on display. Many of racing’s most-exciting moments are show in the Goodyear Mini-Theater.
Call 804-6633-5331 or www.ncarhof.com

• NASCAR Hall of Fame. In downtown Charlotte, off I-277, the hall features interactive exhibits, simulator rides and films
at High Octane Theater. See www.nascarhall.com

• Discovery Place. In downtown Charlotte, this state-of-the-art science museum has displays and exhibits for the entire family. The IMAX Theater shows films. Call 704-372-6261
or www.discoveryplace.org.

• U.S. National Whitewater Center. Just off I-85 west of Charlotte, the center provides training facilities for U.S. Olympic whitewater canoeists. Rafting is available on Class II to Class IV rapids. Kayaking, hiking, rock climbing and zip-line rides are also available. Call 704-391-3900 or info@usnwc.org.

• Lake Norman State Park. Take Exit 42 or 45 off I-77. The state park has boat access to the upper end of Lake Norman, plus 33 campsites and two picnic areas. In addition to Lake Norman, the 1,362-acre park also has a 33-acre lake, hiking trails and a swimming beach.

Contact lake.norman@ncmail.net.

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