Slow down for January’s Lake Norman crappie

Crappie numbers at Lake Norman may not match other North Carolina lakes, but the size of the fish makes up for it.

January provides good crappie fishing on Lake Norman

Guide Gus Gustafson of Lake Norman Ventures said fishermen need to understand the difference between Lake Norman’s crappie fishery and other nearby lakes before they wet a line so they will have realistic expectations.

“The Yadkin (River) lakes have always held a lot more crappie than Norman. But most of the fish are small,” said Gustafson. ( “At Norman, the crappie are not plentiful, and in the winter, they’re scattered out and harder to catch. But they’re much bigger than the fish in Yadkin lakes.”

Gustafson said typical winter hangouts for Norman crappie include old piers and boat houses, tree laps, bridges and deep brush.

“The better piers and boat houses are the rickety ones with age on them, featuring lights and/or rod holders,” said Gustafson. “More than likely, these aged structures are laden with brush, with the better ones adjacent to deep water.”

Tree laps also attract crappie

Gustafson said erosion above the NC 150 bridge at mid-lake has resulted in numerous tree laps that extend into deep water.

“The longer the trees, the better, because they continue out to deeper depths,” Gustafson said.

Deep brush piles are coveted by crappie as well.

If you’re skilled with a side-scan depth finder, Gustafson said to use your units to locate brush piles others have sunk throughout the lake. He warns that you can’t fish one brush pile for hours and expect to catch crappie like you can on Yadkin system lakes.

“Brush piles at Norman hold only a limited number of crappie. You need to run to several brush piles to catch a stringer of fish,” he said. “Brush piles at Norman also take time to replenish.”

If all else fails, Gustafson fishes the bridges.

“There’s always some crappie around the bridges, either at the abutments, pilings or in the channel under the bridge,” he said. “But you must fish them patiently and vertically.”

Fish deep, fish slow

Gustafson said the water can be as deep as 60 feet at many bridges.

“Don’t be afraid to fish vertically as deep as you can,” he said. “Drop your bait close to the piling or abutment, and let it slowly fall to the bottom. Then slowly raise your bait and be prepared to detect bites midway up. Crappie often suspend 40 to 45 feet deep near the pilings.”

Whatever the cover or structure, always fish slowly because winter crappie are sluggish.

Gustafson prefers live bait over jigs.

“It’s easier to feed ‘em than it is to trick ‘em,” he said.

Light-action, 6 1/2- to 7-foot spinning rods paired with reels spooled with 4- to 8-pound line are preferred. Light extension crappie poles also work.

Gustafson’s live-bait outfit includes a tiny split-shot and a No. 10 bait hook running from under the chin of the minnow up through its nose.

If jigs are used, Gustafson recommends 1/32- or 1/64-ounce jigs that sink slowly.

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