Lake Norman hybrids give fishermen fits as water cools and fish school up more

Guide Gus Gustafson said hybrid bass at Lake Norman have become a great fishery, especially from November through January.

Guide Gus Gustafson of Lake Norman Ventures said fishermen should take advantage of the resurgence of hybrid bass at Lake Norman, especially in November.

“After the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission stocked 162,500 hybrids in 2013, the fish took hold and had a high survival rate,” he said. “Fishing got pretty good for a time. Fish weighing 5 to 7 pounds started appearing in fishermen’s catches. After a few years, the fishing suddenly went downhill.”

Gustafson ( contends the decline was partly caused by overfishing at the lake’s two hot-water discharges, where hybrids congregate and are easily accessible to fishermen.

Another problem was distinguishing hybrids from white perch. While adult hybrids have obvious broken lines that set them apart from white perch, small hybrids do not have obvious broken lines.

“Hybrids have size and creel restrictions, but white perch do not,” Gustafson said. “Many fishermen unknowingly were taking more than their limit of hybrids thinking they were white perch.”

The past few years, the hybrid fishery has rebounded in numbers and size for two reasons, Gustafson believes.

“The (Commission) has doubled its stocking efforts, putting 325,000 hybrid fingerlings into the lake, and it has increased policing and education regarding white perch, helping to reduce the number of illegal hybrids being kept,” Gustafson said. “Hybrids are now growing to harvestable size again. Still, fishermen would encourage the (Commission) to further increase hybrid stockings to offset the number of harvested fish.”

Gustafson said the best time to go hybrid fishing is November through January.

“Hybrids are more tolerant of water temperature changes than stripers,” he said. “They thrive and become more active in cold temperatures.”

Gustafson said Mountain Creek, Norman’s two hot-water discharges and waters north of the NC 150 bridge near Duke Power State Park are strongholds for hybrids.

“They’ll frequent those areas throughout the winter; they’ll either be chasing baitfish to the surface or suspended in 20 to 30 feet of water,” Gustafson said.

Hybrids crashing the surface will hit any small lure tossed their way. Small topwater lures, jerkbaits, bucktails and thin-profile crankbaits are effective.

To catch suspended fish, fishermen use leadcore lines, downriggers, Alabama rigs and Carolina rigs with live bait and artificials.

Gustafson prefers to cast or jig for hybrids rather than troll for them.

“I know where they linger, so I can go directly to them,” he said.

Gustafson uses 61/2- to 7-foot spinning rods with Penn Battle II spinning reels spooled with 10-pound line. He favors small lures like No. 5 or 7 Shad Raps, Rat-L-Traps, jigging spoons and Alabama rigs with small swimbaits. Color choices include silver and blue to match the shad and herring in the lake.