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What happens when you take a species biologically driven to reproduce in the spring, and before the spring even technically arrives give them 10 sunny days where daytime highs were in the 70s/ even 80s – with mild overnight lows in the 50s – and for good measure add in the Lake Norman hot hole effect? Lake Norman bass start to move en masse to the banks and spawn!
FLW Tour Pro Matt Arey says that it’s not unusual to have several warm days in March, nor is it unusual for some bass to spawn very early on Lake Norman because of the warmwater discharges. What is unusual, however, is the sheer number of very warm days (and mild nights) we have had this March, and as a result much larger numbers of bass are heading shallow much faster than usual. In fact, it has gotten so warm that even the dogwoods are blooming! On Matt’s last trip to Lake Norman with fellow FLW Tour Pro Jacob Wheel on Friday they found a strong bite and caught several fish off of beds.
To be clear, Matt points out that Lake Norman is a very large lake and actually fishes like several different lakes. There are two warmwater discharges, riverine areas, creeks, and then a lower 35% of the lake (which has good clarity right now). With varying water conditions (including temperature and clarity) fish in different parts of the lake are on different schedules, but everything is ahead of schedule.
There is still a group of fish which is in an early pre-spawn/ staging phase, and these fish can generally be thought of as those in 5-15 feet of water. They could be in pods around secondary points, docks, and channel swings, and they are vulnerable to Alabama rigs, Speed Traps, jerkbaits, crankbaits and more. But this group of fish is rapidly dwindling, and in Matt’s words their next step is to “head for the hills!”
Once fish do head shallow the next stage is cruising around in shallow water, looking for suitable places to make beds. Fish may be up in shallow water just sunning, and these can be some of the harder fish to catch – but they are much easier if you see them before they see you! For cruising bass Matt’s lure of choice is a wacky-rigged worm like a Lunkerhunt Lunker Stick, a Senko-type bait.
A final group of fish is spawning, and as noted above they aren’t just spawning around the warmwater discharges but over a large area of the lake. In the clear lower lake Matt and Jacob saw a lot of bass spawning on Friday. The spawning period takes on an additional complexion on Lake Norman, as both spotted and largemouth can be caught.
Spots certainly will spawn right alongside largemouth bass, but they are also more apt to spawn in more open water. They look for a hard bottom area and will spawn around rocks, wood, turns, and even main lake points that offer some protection from the wind. They will spawn as deep as 15 feet, which means that a lot of times they spawn so deep that they are never seen and could only get caught if someone randomly were to drag something like a shakey head worm over them. On Beaver Lake Matt has seen fish spawn as deep as 13 or 14 feet in clear conditions that allow sun penetration, and on the lower end of Hartwell (site of the next FLW Tour event) he suspects the same happens. In contrast, largemouth are more apt to look for shallow, protected areas in the backs.
As mentioned in the last Lake Wylie report, Matt likes a 4 ½ inch swimbait such as the Swim Bento for spawning fish. He finds that he catches a lot of fish on the swimbait during this period, but he also sees a lot that follow but don’t take it – which can be thrown back to with favorite sight-fishing baits.
Good luck to Matt on Lake Hartwell!