Friday, October 10, 2014

Lake Norman NC in the Fall

The last tournament of the 2014 Bassmaster Southern Open season took place in Charlotte NC on Lake Norman. This 32,000 acre highland reservoir lake is nearly double the size of my home town waters of Lake Toho. It is always a challenge to figure out in four days how to catch the biggest bass in a strange lake and beat local experts. That is what the Opens are all about.

Lake Norman Practice
Water temp in August was holding in the mid 80s before the event, and dropped into the mid 70s by practice period.

Two sunny days greeted me the first days of practice in NC. I fished with local resident Cary Martin before the off limits at midnight Sunday night.  Spotted bass were eating well, and active baits like spinnerbaits , topwater, and jerkbaits were very productive. I was able to quickly locate deeper docks that held schools of bass. The largemouth bass species eluded me.


On Monday, two days before the tournament, a weather front brought a solid day of rain and clouds. Schools of shad and spotted bass unexpectedly moved out deeper to the 20-40ft range. Luckily, the spots would still come up to hit jerkbaits and spinnerbaits worked over them. Solid limits of 16" bass were again easy to find and catch.



An abundance of 16 inch spotted bass should have clued me in on fishing for larger-than-average spots. I even knew that a local tournament took 11lbs per day to place in the top, that's a 2.2 lb average that 16" spots would not fulfill!

During the last day-and-a-half of the practice period it was partly cloudy and partly sunny. Wolf packs of bass began showing up along the shallow backwater banks. A trick worm worked along the numerous seawalls got me a 3lb largemouth bass and a possible big-bass pattern. 

Spotted bass up to 18" were hitting all week.

Black, clear water continued to flow down from the upper end of the lake while the lower end remained green and algae-rich. I wasn't sure what to make of this water color change. I believed rainfall and water release from the upper dam was the reason rather than a turnover, but I wasn't sure. Threadfin shad sure liked the freshwater and were schooling in the shallows.  
Typical Fall school of threadfin shad on Lake Norman, NC.
 The algae bloom of the lower end acted like a lake turnover, when the cooling surface waters sink and push the deeper nutrient rich waters to the surface. This mix often drop oxygen and pH levels. I was perplexed without my oxygen and pH meter to confirm the depth profiles.

Day1 of Tournament
The first day of the event I am paired with William Shipes, an experienced college angler who joined us for his first-ever Open. It was nice to see him have the support of his mom and dad Robbie and Janice.


Photo by Janice Shipes

Photo by Janice Shipes

At nearly every stop I catch keepers on a StrikeKing Chartreuse Sexy Shad jerkbait.
When I work around shallow water, William quickly fills him limit on a shakeyhead jig/ trick worm combo. This traditional spotted bass bait failed me in practice. However, William showed me the error of my ways, and I ended up catching several nice fish mimicking his technique.
Photo by Janice Shipes
This is where I differ from many boaters. I remain open to learning from my coanglers, and I give them a shot at catching bass too. The more we both catch, the more clues we gain to what the bass are keying on.

My day one weight is five bass for 8.4lbs, good for 69th place and only 3.7lbs out of top 12 cut.

My coangler William weighs in his allotted three bass limit for 6.10lbs, and good for 9th place among the other coanglers.

Day2 of Tournament
On the second day, my partner is Josh Price, sitting in 29st place for the event.  More importantly, sitting in top5 for coangler of the year race. Nice guy who seems ready to place number one.
Launch Day2, my boat #33, weigh-in 3:30pm.

Darrell Pons Sr. in his Lucas Oil wrapped Ranger Boat.

Florida angler Cecil Douberly waiting for his boat launch.

High winds from the SW blow first thing Friday morning.  I stop at a set of productive wind blown docks and we both land keeper bass. The next few stops on shoal islands only frustrate us with short bass. Graphing the areas show the shad moved deep again but the bass won't hit jerkbaits, buzzbaits, or topwater. Try as I may, no luck.

The rest of the day I alternate between shoals and docks with limited success.

Two hours before weighin I make a deal with my coangler. I'll let him him fish a new series of productive docks I've been holding off on fishing. When he fills his limit, I'll go back to pitching the docks as well to fill my limit.
AERF & Kids in Support of Soldiers help me catch bass!
Talking with Chris Bowes on the weigh-in stage. Photo by Janice Shipes
The first pass on the docks and Josh fills his limit, then culls one. As he does, I work water around the docks and get my 4th fish on a jerkbait. A three pound spot follows my hooked bass, but I can't catch it. I move in to pitch the next set of docks and finally catch my fifth fish. 

The last hour and a half we work hard to upgrade without success.


In the end, my 16.11 weight is only good for 62nd place and out of the money.

Josh Price, my day2 coangler, makes a nice 21st place finish for $413 and retains his 4th place AOY standing!

Williams Shipes, my day one coangler, made it to the final day and finished 4th, good for a $2433 payday!

Overall, it was a fun time on Lake Norman. The fall transition made the fishing as tough as the fish changed behavior with the weather front. Normal fishing techniques and lures worked a little, but the fish reacted odd.

This video shows and explains the baits I used to catch a moderate bag of spotted bass each day.

Most anglers can catch fish on their home waters given enough practice, but the challenge of going to new lakes and competing with only a few days of scouting makes you a much better angler.

I thank Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation (AERF) for allowing me to represent them on the Bassmaster Southern Open and Bass Nation tours.

I am so happy to be running a Mercury ProXS outboard! Thanks to Mercury Marine and their service crew Andy, Scotty B, & Jay for making a great outboard motor and standing by it!

Jeff Miller at Millers Boating Center sells the best Triton Boat rigs, complete with Mercury, Motorguide, Lowrance, and Power-pole. Stop by and see them next time you're near Ocala, FL. 

I encourage every aspiring angler to fish at the Bassmaster Open level on new lakes. It's fun, challenging, informative, you often fish with Elite pros. If you're good, or lucky, you can even earn a little money. 


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bassmaster Southern Open #3

Weather in North Carolina during the 
Oct 2-4 Bassmaster Southern Open event #3 has been unique. A few days of sun, then all day rains, then foggy weather, and back to sunshine. 

Spotted bass are in their transition from summer patterns to fall migration of following the shad back into creeks. A lake turnover has many of the fish in a foul mood, making the fishing tough. Still, I caught a few and enjoy these challenges. 

We were treated to a tour of Michael Waltrip's Racing garage during our pairings meeting. We were shown how the cars are built from the ground up. Really a ton of work to build each quarter million dollar race car. 

Here are the photos of practice over the last four days and Waltrip's garage. I'll be posting daily status updates as the tournament progresses.