By Captain Paul Rose
December right thru January can mean chilly water temps and even cold winter weather spells for fisherman in the Southeast. With the right strategy you can leave the duck blind or deer stand for a day of hot fishing. Warm water discharges resulting from electricity generation on lakes such as Wylie and Norman, amongst others; attract bait like ants to a lollipop. Bait can be shad, herring or white perch all of which are on the grocery list for hungry stripers, spotted and largemouth bass. Savvy anglers follow the bait to get in on the bite.
Despite the overwhelming concentration of bait and game fish, you still need to follow a few tips to keep the rod bent consistently. Captain Jonathan Taylor is on Lake Norman daily and has logbooks from years of data collection, which he uses to pinpoint day-to-day patterns to find the fish. Anglers need that raw data but have to relate it to contour lines, depths, current and wind patterns. It goes without saying that good electronics and charts are step 1.
As the water from Norman’s two discharge outlets dissipate into the main lake, wind and current can pinpoint what areas of the lake to fish. Subtle temperature changes can have huge effects. Surface temps can be in the mid-fifties over much of the lake yet a few creeks and channels may be noticeably higher.
Consistent winter creeks such as Mountain, Davidson and Ramsey are good bets to start. These are popular fishing destinations, so pressure can be high on these creeks – their productivity is no big secret these days. Guides and thoughtful anglers always seems to have a few, lesser-known spots where heavy traffic is not such a big factor.
Capt. Taylor credits his success to his meticulous method of deploying his rods and the resulting bait spread. Through trail and error, his system limits tangles, covers the entire water column, and uses a variety of offerings. The method works for catching stripers on any lake and he will gladly share it with you. The rods go out and come in on a clock system allowing 6 or more deployments and pick-ups in very quickly when the sonar unit sounds.
Spreads include planar boards, quick-release bobbins, down lining with Carolina rigs and free lining systems. Once the action starts, anglers can even jig with spoons and plastic baits to directly fill the hard hits of feeding stripers.
Being ready for striper action cannot be stressed enough. The night before your trip is the time to rig, whether you’re the guide or the weekend warrior, not when the fish finder is flashing large arches of bait across the screen.
Once the spread is out, slow trolling is the key, adjusting speeds from .5 mph to 2 mph to raise and drop baits as fish appear on the electronics. Adjusting speeds also allows for adjustments to changing water depths, humps and points. With proper speed changes, baits will rise or fall in the water column. Productive baits are trout, blueback herring and shad on 1/0 hooks. Great care should be used to keep baits frisky and lively. When working spreads remember: structure holds bait and bait holds stripers.
One big misnomer is the term hot-hole, which implies a stationary area. As touched on earlier, conditions can “move” the hot-hole effect miles from the discharge areas. Granted, the immediate discharge areas always have fish, but they’re smaller more often than not. Still great fun though.
Those definitive temperature edges away from the main discharge are the prime spots for the best fish. Top veteran anglers and guides fish these edges, sometimes with multiple drifts.
A second misnomer is chasing birds. It would be great to find big schooling stripers crashing bait each time you went out, but the fact is it’s the “right time, right place scenario” that is just not that common.
On Norman, try the northeast sometime for that chaos. One reason is that newer forage baits, besides the traditional shad, have been introduced on the lake. They tend to stay down in the water column and will keep the stripers down. You should still be aware of what’s happening on the water, just don’t spend the whole day looking for birds.
The best days for fishing are not Carolina blue sky, warm sunny days. If it’s overcast, dreary and cold – head out. Remember to take precautions to stay warm and dry. Hypothermia is real and winter winds can make the lake quite rough.
Capt. Taylor operates a pilot boat with ample shelter, provides a very smooth ride and covered seating for protection yet features a large open deck to move around on and fight fish. First mate Traveler, a golden retriever with a nose for fish, readily poses with anglers and their catch. Bring him a treat for me.
Captain Paul Rose is a professional fishing guide. For more information about Capt. Paul and his adventures, visit www.carolinabonefishing.com.