By: Capt. Craig Price, Fish On! Guide Service
PO Box 1623, Denver, NC 28037
I’m showing my age but I recently heard the old pop song “See You in September” by The Happenings. It’s a sappy song that has nothing to do with fishing, yet it made me think, “ahhh September – shorter, cooler days, the first cold fronts of fall, decreasing water temps, and increasingly active fish!” I know, I’ve got it bad.
Of course, early to mid-September can be a hot extension of August. But once a few “nor’easters” blow through and the days get noticeably shorter, local waters begin to cool more quickly. By the end of the month, the forage and predators should be in fairly predictable areas, and the fall bite begins.
On Lake Norman, that means increasingly better topwater opportunities for hybrid stripers and spotted bass, with the occasional striper and ever-present white perch in the mix. At least the perch are usually larger than the early/mid-summer specimens.
At dawn and dusk, look for surface feeding activity around major and secondary points and adjacent bays – near creek mouths from mid-lake to Terrapin Creek. Flats and humps along the river channel above the 150 bridge can be very active too.
Large schools of bait will gather in these areas before they begin their annual push into the creeks, which typically coincides with the full moon in October. If you can find schools of shad or herring on your sonar in 15-30 ft. of water before sunup or about an hour or so before dark, you’re probably in an area where “it’s getting ready to happen”.
Walking lures like Spooks, Spook Jr’s, or Top Dogs are favorites of mine, but many other baits work too. Buzzbaits, broken back Rapalas or Redfins, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, bucktails, swimbaits on light lead jigheads – the options are many.
It’s smart to have at least a few different designs rigged and ready because the action can be brief, and sometimes even blitzing fish can be unexpectedly picky. I like to think in terms of baits that run only on the surface, just under the surface, or lures that are versatile enough to fish up, down, or in between.
As a rule, fish shallow to deeper as the day brightens, and deeper to shallow as the sun sets. The middle and bottom of the water column become especially important as the surface bite slows down.
For colors, I like clear for my spooks with a feathered tail hook, but I also like combinations of red, white, and chartreuse. Of course, shad and herring colors are good too.
Keep in mind that bigger is not always better on Norman. If you’re not getting bites, go smaller and slower. These fish are often chasing juvenile baits and matching the hatch may be needed.
If you’re so inclined and there aren’t too many boats in the way, pitching or trolling live baits into or near this activity is fun and effective. This technique often produces bigger fish than artificials do. Live baits also offer the ready option of being fished further down in the water column as needed.
Finally, if hot weather and water temps in the upper 80’s persist into September, catfish (blues) plus spots and hybrids can be found along the river channel flood plain, or in the channel itself, from Marker 10 to Cowans Ford Dam. If herring are dying off and floating in a given area, use live herring, large threadfins, or gizzard shad fished 15-40 ft. deep in water depths from 30 ft. and out. Planer boards or Redi-rig floats get the baits out from under your boat, and can be especially useful on bright days. Once the water cools, look for cats in the same areas where the aforementioned bait schools and surface action are found. Fresh cut bait and live baits slow trolled on Carolina or Santee rigs are effective.
Hopefully I’ll see you in September, with a bent rod in your hand, yelling Fish On!