Forecast For LAKE NORMAN

By: Capt. Craig Price, Fish On! Guide Service
PO Box 1623, Denver, NC 28037

January on Lake Norman can be like late fall, or like the mid-winter conditions of February. Water temperatures are the key factor, and forage migration is the major influence on where to find hybrids, stripers, bass, perch, catfish, and crappie.
As long as water temps remain in the mid-to-low 50’s (F), look for concentrations of bait in major creeks – midway back to the very back. As water temps fall past 50F, the bulk of the bait (and fish) should push out to the creek mouths and river channel.
The primary exception to this migration is when shad remain in the really cold, shallow waters near the backs of creeks (<43F), and become stunned or die in significant numbers. There are winter periods when predators locate these “damaged” baits and actively feed on them. Fortunately, seabirds are well established on local waters by January and are a great indicator of bait schools and feeding fish activity. Seasoned anglers pay close attention when they ride the roads and bridges around the lake in their vehicles. Spotting bird activity from a warm car can minimize the length of those cold winter boat rides. As always, live shad and herring are solid options as long as the water isn’t too cold and the fish aren’t moving too quickly. You can also try trout or shiners, which usually hold up better in really cold water. Carolina rig live baits on free lines or weighted down rods to get your baits to the required depth. But live baits can only be pulled so fast, and sometimes the fish are really on the move. One live bait “old school” technique is to sit and let them come by you. You can enhance your chances by chumming or using noise (thumping) to attract the fish. These days when the fish are highly mobile, especially along the river channel or near major creek mouths,” fast trolling” artificials is the prevalent way to cover water and track the activity. I deploy a spread of multi-hook and tandem bucktail rigs in shad and herring colors, plus white and chartreuse of course. My trolling speed is 2 mph +/- 0.5 and I’m generally trying to work the upper third of the water column, except when I see striper marks on my sonar. Though not as common as they once were, stripers can still be found in Norman, and in winter they’re often under the hybrids, spotted bass, and perch activity. I run full size umbrella rigs with 3/8-1/2 oz. bucktails fished 45-65 ft. deep, and often add trailers to them. Red on white is a proven bucktail color choice, with optional tinsel, or lime green worm or curly tail trailers. “Running and jumping” visible surface feeding action is another exciting and effective method. Bucktails or jigs with swim baits from 1/16 – 3/8 oz. fished individually, or on Arigs, work well. I like curly and paddle tail bodies when the water isn’t too cold, and a split tail design when colder water sets in. Keep the old axiom “bright baits for bright days and dark baits for dark days” in mind. And duller colors in really cold water mimic the reduced vibrancy of our natural forage species in mid-late winter. Vertical jigging with lead jigs or bucktails is productive when you can stay over the action. 1/2 - 1 oz. jigs or spoons in silver, white, pink, or chartreuse are a good starting point, as are 3/8 - 1/2 oz. bucktails in red on white or olive and white. Finally, don’t overlook the influence of the warm water discharges from the power plants. On Norman, wind (more so than current) pushes the warm water in all directions, even upstream. Gamefish follow forage into the warmer water so pay attention to prolonged winds from any direction. This doesn’t mean the bait and fish will always be close to the discharge canals/coves. A temperature increase of even one degree is a substantial improvement for cold blooded fish in really cold water. The “warmth” effect may extend to a mile or more from the “hotholes”. Obviously, the possibilities for January are pretty wide ranging. Track the water temperature to narrow down your starting locale, break out the foul weather gear, and hopefully the birds will lead you to the bite, plus your share of Fish On!