Captain Gus holding three white perch caught at the same time on a Sabiki Rig.
Photo courtesy of Capt. Gus

Each year about this time, white perch gather offshore in large schools on Lake Norman. Reports of boats catching one, two and three hundred perch per trip are common and are not a stretch of the imagination. If you’re interested in hauling in a ton of fish that are fun to catch and good to eat, read on.

White perch are ocean fish that thrive in freshwater environments. No one is quite sure how, but some years back, these feisty fighters were introduced into Lake Norman.  Today, there so many, that some fear they will take over the lake. They multiply so quickly that the NCWRC has elected not to impose a size or creel limit on this little cousin of the striped bass. You can keep all you catch, regardless of size.

White perch shouldn’t be confused with yellow perch, another pan fish popular with northern anglers. The yellow perch has green and yellow bands around its cylindrical body, while the white perch is silver and resembles a white bass without the stripes. They are similar in that they swim in schools and are easy to catch with light fishing tackle from shore or boat.

Locating white perch is simple. They can be found near boat docks/piers, around brush piles and in the deeper parts of narrow coves. Big schools are easy to locate with a fish finder, but drift fishing with lines near the bottom is a time proven method that also produces nice catches. Once schools are located, fish the area thoroughly. If there are lots of fish below the boat, anchor and enjoy your find. Otherwise, keep moving until you begin to get bites.

Hot weather perch stay deep during daylight hours, with the biggest being taken at depths to fifty feet. At night, they migrate toward shore and often swim around lighted docks and piers. Don’t be surprised if a rod doubles down while reeling in a perch. Perch are often the prey of big bass, stripers and flatheads.

Best baits to use are small shiny spoons, jigs and deep diving lures fished closer to the lake bottom than the surface. Live minnows, small pieces of cut bait, and worms attached to a small hook and light sinker are very popular with bank and boat dock fishermen. The Sabiki Rig is, by far, the best lure combination. When feeding schools are found, anglers catch multiple fish each time the rig is dropped to the bottom. The Sabiki is a string of small flies (two to six flies) tied in tandem with a jigging spoon (3/4 ounce) attached to the terminal end of the line. The rig is best fished vertically near the bottom, or slightly above the school with a yo-yo like motion. Sabiki’s are sold pre-tied in packages at area tackle shops for a few dollars.

The white meat of the perch is tasty, so keep as many as you want to eat. The small ones should be scaled before removing the head and entrails, then batter and fry. Larger fish are easily filleted, skinned and prepared as you would a striper or crappie.

August Lake Norman Fishing Forecast:

In August, bass fishing should be excellent from dusk until dawn. Best bets are the river points, coves and boat docks north of the Highway 150 Bridge. In that area, a large number of lay downs (fallen trees) are located along the water’s edge. Woody debris serves as a magnet for largemouth bass that hide among the branches while waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey. Bridge pilings, lighted boat docks and launch ramps also make excellent hideouts for summer bass.

Surprisingly, August is one of the best months for catching large blue and flathead catfish. Early in the month, blue catfish gather in the deep waters near Cowan’s Ford Dam. Their arrival usually coincides with the annual summer fish kill that begins when surface temperatures spike into the low-to-mid nineties.  Anglers fishing the dam area usually drift suspended live and cut baits near the thermocline, which forms at depths from forty-five to sixty feet. While there are many catfish at the dam, the majority are taken in coves and back creeks all over the lake where the water is less than twenty feet deep.


Tips from Gus:
Care should be taken when unhooking a white perch. Their fins and gills have sharp spines which flare out as you attempt to hold them. It is best to handle them from the belly side where there are fewer spines.


Capt. Gus Gustafson of Lake Norman Ventures, Inc. is an Outdoor Columnist and a full time Professional Fishing Guide on Lake Norman, NC. Visit his website at or call 704-617-6812.