What do birds and fish have in common? They prey upon one another.
On Lake Norman, Blue Heron stalk small fish in the shallows, osprey and eagles dive from the sky to snare bigger fish with their talons, while crows and buzzards eat dead fish that wash ashore. Bass and catfish even things out by preying upon hapless ducklings and small birds that either swim or fall into the water. It’s seabirds, terns, and gulls that are of greatest interest to fishermen.
Beginning in mid-November, tens of thousands of sea birds will return to Norman and other area lakes, where they spend the winter feasting on shad and other forage fish. On most mornings, they can be seen flying low to the water, where they pick up an occasional shad swimming close to the surface. But when shad are being chased to the surface by schools of hungry bass, perch or hybrids, things really get exciting. During these feeding frenzies, seabirds screech loudly between dives, and snare the fleeing shad with their sharp bill.
Fishermen look for these tight knit clusters of seabirds through binoculars; sometimes they can see birds a mile or more away. Once located, anglers run to the area quickly in an attempt to reach the fish before they sound.
Best lures to toss into the fray are spoons, jigs, flukes and swim-baits. For multiple hook ups, attach an ice-fly trailer to your favorite top water bait. The Alabama rig, a multi-lure swim-bait harness, is also quite effective when thrown to diving sea birds.
It is important to note, that the fish will scatter if you approach too closely or make a big disturbance with the boat. It’s best to stop some distance away and use the electric trolling motor to maneuver within casting distance. Sooner or later, the school will sound. When that happens, switch to a slow sinking bait and wait for fish to reappear on the surface.
When surface feeding subsides, birds will come to rest on the water or on a nearby shoal. Watch and wait for a signal from the birds scouting above, that another blitz is underway. Upon hearing a high-pitched signal, not audible to human ears, the birds will take flight again and renew their diving attack on the forage fleeing from the predator fish.
Tips from Capt. Gus! Since most jigging spoons are made of lead, they can be bent to allow them to flutter slowly as they fall through the water column. Best colors to use are chartreuse, white, silver and gold.
Note: According to the 2016-2017 NCWRC Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest, a new regulation states that: “White perch may be taken when captured in a cast net used to collect nongame fishes in all impounded waters west of Interstate 95, including Lake Norman, and in the Tar River Reservoir (Nash Co.).” See Regulations for exceptions in Mountain Counties.
December Forecast: Hybrid striped bass will be biting at dawn and dusk in Reed and Mountain Creek, as well as in the main river channel above the State Park. While the most exciting action will be on the surface, fish will also be hitting live and artificial lures fished throughout the water column. Spotted bass school with the hybrids at times, but most will take lures fished around boat docks, under water humps and near channel points. Live bait fishermen can expect to catch crappie and white perch in nice numbers near submerged brush and bridges. Expect overall fishing to improve as water temperatures continue to fall throughout December.
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 www.FishingWithGus.com or call 704-617-6812.