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Lake Norman Stripers - North Carolina

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Lake Norman is North Carolina's largest impoundment, with more than 32,000 surface acres of water and 520 miles of shoreline a main channel 34 miles in length - Despite its vastness, the lake affords ample protected waters to accommodate anglers fishing from boat. Lake Norman's most popular fish is the striped bass. Stripers will hit a variety of artificial or live baits and are caught in large numbers in summer. Fishing for them is best at night or in the early morning, when the water is cooler. Stripers spend the spring cruising the lake's shallow shoreline and the summer in deep water near Cowans Ford Dam. Learn a specific area of the lake. Purchase a topographic map and choose a single creek. Learn it well. During summer, fish the deeper water where a creek joins the river. Once you feel you have learned an area, move to another. Popular fishing locations include Reeds, Davidson and Mountain creeks.

The most popular live baits are Gizzard Shad, Threadfin Shad and Herring. Gizzards and Threadfin can tolerate higher water temperatures than Herring. Water temps for herring will need to be maintained around 70 degrees.

kake Norman North carolina stiper Fishing

Freelining for Lake Norman Stripers

By: John Sawyer

Lake Norman is an excellent place to striper fish and to enjoy the outdoors and the water, especially during the cooler months of the year when most pleasure boaters are at home watching football on the television. Freelining is one of the most productive striper fishing methods during the winter and spring months when the fish are more likely to be feeding in the top 10 to 15 ft of the water column. Most free line live bait fisherman on Lake Norman prefer to use small treble hooks (sizes 6 or 8). The theory here is that the smaller the hook, the less the weight of the hook impairs the ability of the bait to swim naturally. With a larger hook, the bait's head may be weighted down and tilt forward. The hooks I personally favor are the Gamakatsu hooks. They are needle sharp. Others prefer to use gold hooks, such as those made by Eagle Claw, in the 2X to 4X strengths. Usually about 3 to 5 ft up from the hook, most prefer to attach an inline barrel swivel. For me, this serves several purposes. In the event of dragging around a dead bait, the swivel prevents getting a nasty twist in your line. Secondly, the swivel adds a little bit of weight that can help keep your bait down if so desired. Lastly, when using an in line planer board, the swivel acts to limit how far back a tripped planer board can go. I lost the first striper I ever caught on a planer board because I did not prevent the board from reaching the fish's mouth. The thrashing fish used the weight of the planer board to help throw the hook. For the leader line between the hook and barrel swivel, some Lake Norman anglers recommend a small diameter, less visible line (8 to 10 lb. test). This is because Lake Norman has very clear water, and some feel the fish can see your line (the fish are also generally small on Norman). Some of the new fluorocarbon lines work well for this purpose. They are also somewhat more abrasion resistant. I personally like the same 15 pound test Trilene Big Game line I use on my reel, and it seems to work pretty well. It's cheap, and I re-spool often. If the fish are not feeding directly on top, I usually add a split shot or two in front of the barrel swivel. Small bullet weights (1/32, 1/16, 1/8 oz, etc) also work well, and are more stream-lined. The extra weight can help the baits to sink when the boat speed is slowed. There are times when the fish are in shallow water, but feeding directly off the bottom, and the extra weight can keep your baits in front of the fish. There are other times where you might want to limit the depth your bait can swim. For this, balloons or corks work well. Small balloons can be tied on your line with a granny knot. The balloon will stop at your rod tip when you are reeling in a fish, but will continue to let line pass through. Corks will generally have to be removed once you hook a fish, which can be tedious. Another benefit of balloons or corks is that you get a visual indication of a strike before the reel takes off. One question that most striper fisherman have is "how far back from the boat do I pull my baits?" This is generally situation specific. If the fish are aggressively feeding, 60 to 70 ft behind the boat has worked well for me. If you are in shallow water, and the fish are somewhat spooky, 100 to 150 ft may work better. However, the more line you have out, the harder it is to make turns. A lot of line out can also limit your ability to pull baits in confined areas. A lot of line out can also make it difficult to set the hook. Then again, a lot of line out does give you longer to fight the fish, which is why I generally prefer free lining over down lining. As mentioned previously, one way to spread your baits is to use in-line planer boards. These serve a similar function as outriggers used in salt water fishing. They are also beneficial for pulling baits into water that is too shallow to take the boat in, or over fish that you don't want the boat to pass over and spook. The most popular planer boards used on Lake Norman are the Wiley Sideliner boards. They cost about $17 ea. at Lake Norman Sports World. They are easy to attach, and are reversible so they can be used on the right or left side of the boat. I personally like to add a smaller swivel to the back. The larger swivel that comes standard on the board will pass over the barrel swivels I use. I typically pull two planer boards to each side of the boat. On the outside lines, I don't add any split shot since these boards may get pulled directly on the shoreline. On the interior boards I add some weight. I typically add the most weight to the free lines I'm pulling directly behind the boat, since I know the depth of water these baits are swimming in. One little tip I picked up from Ron Whilden is to write your name and phone number on the bottom of your planer boards using a permanent marker. If you lose track of a board, whoever recovers it might just be honest enough to give you a call. Concerning boat speed, I generally prefer to pull lines as slow as possible, but fast enough to prevent any baits from entangling. On my Minn-Kota Auto-Pilot, this is a speed setting of 2 or 3. When putting out baits, I will speed the boat up to give the boards a little more push to the sides. At times, when I think the baits are passing over fish, I may stop the boat. This lets your baits go to the bottom, which may trigger a strike. If I'm passing over a submerged brush pile, I will often increase boat speed to avoid a snag. Sometimes, increasing the boat speed may also trigger a strike. One way to both speed up and slow down your baits is to pull a zigzag pattern. The lines on the outside of the turn speed up, and the lines on the inside slow down. Concerning rods and reels, most folks use limber 7 to 8 ft live baits rods and bait casting reels with bait clickers. The limber rods give the fish a little running room before the fish knows he's hooked. The reels should hold at least 250 yards of line. When you already have out up to 100 yards of line prior to the strike, the extra line on the reel may prove useful when a trophy fish hits. Concerning drag, I like to set my reels at about 5 pounds of pull with the clicker on. This seems to be enough resistance for the fish to hook himself, but not too much so that he is able to pull drag and make that "reel music" we all like to hear. Concerning bait, I have had good luck with both gizzard shad and trout. The past two years, my larger fish off Norman have actually hit trout. I think this may be because the trout is more likely to stay down. I like to "condition" my trout in a submerged trashcan. Keeping them in a dark area causes them to turn a lighter cooler, which I feel makes them more easily seen by a striper. It also seems to give them the coloration of a small perch, which is what I think the stripers on Norman mistake a trout for. Seasonal Movements of Stripers Date: 1/6/2003 By: John Sawyer Stripers are known as open-water fish. They can be here today, gone tomorrow. Knowing where they "should be" can greatly improve your odds of catching fish. You can have the latest equipment and the best looking bait around, but unless you have some idea of where to look for the fish and how to fish for them, it is not very likely your fishing trip will live up to your expectations. This month's striper byte discusses the seasonal movements of landlocked, reservoir stripers. The following information is compiled from information I have gathered from various sources, as well as from on the water experiences over the past several years fishing with the club. There are basically three areas where stripers spend their time in a river-run reservoir: 1) in the deep, cool waters of the river channel, 2) at the mouths of the creeks and 3) at the backs of the creeks. The striper movement into or out of these areas depends primarily upon the movement of the baitfish, and to some extent on the stripers natural urge to spawn. However, given that most of our reservoirs are unsuitable for a successful spawn, it is more likely that most of our stripers tend to follow the movements of the forage, as long as the water conditions are favorable to the stripers. It is the movement of the forage that is most affected by time of year, water temperatures, weather, moon phase, etc. Mid to Late Summer During the dog days of summer (water temps upper 70s, 80s, and hotter), the stripers will generally be found in more open and deeper waters. At this time of year they can be found holding on ledges, near humps and in the bends of the main channel. Depending upon the water temperature and dissolved oxygen, they can be anywhere from 35 to 100 ft deep. For lakes that stratify, the key is to locate the depth of the thermocline, and then concentrate on structure that intersects the thermocline. Baitfish will often be near this structure. In river-run reservoirs with good current flow, bait fish and stripers can also often be located at the upper end of the reservoir near the back of an upper lake's dam. Water being released from the upper lake is often cooler and better oxygenated than the water in the main reservoir below. Deeper holes in the upper river section often concentrate stripers during the summer. Fishing techniques that are effective during the summer include down lining live bait, trolling artificials, and anchoring on deep structure and fishing with cut bait. Since the fish tend to be suspended and moving about less, trolling is generally more effective at this time of year than at any other. Early Fall Rains and cooler air temperatures associated with early fall will begin to decrease the warm summertime water temperatures. During late September, October and early November, when the water temperature falls into the lower 70s and upper 60s, baitfish schools will begin to move into the creeks. This is the time of year when the lakes will "turnover". This is the time of year that the stripers begin to move out of their summer patterns, and tend to scatter. During early fall, the stripers will still tend to be oriented to deep water, but look for them more at the mouths of the creeks near humps and long sloping points. It is during the early fall that some striper surface activity begins to be observed. This usually occurs early and late in the day. Birds, if they are present, may help to give away these "jumps". Fast moving baits cast into the jumps, such as bucktails, crankbaits, or spoons, will often produce fish. Down lined live bait will also continue to be effective when schools of fish are located. Down lines fished at mid-range depths (15 to 30 ft) are usually good this time of year. Trolling can also still be effective. Late Fall During late fall (mid-November through December), the baitfish will move into the backs of the creeks, and the stripers will follow. Water temperatures will likely be in the upper 50s to mid 60s. During this time of year, the stripers will be in shallow water less than(20 ft). Due to the shallow depths, it is likely that you will not mark many stripers on your electronics (they will move out from under your boat). However, you should be able to mark the large schools of bait, as well as observe surface bait activity. In this situation, you have to trust your instincts that the stripers are there too. Under these conditions, free-lined live bait works well. Side planers also work well for covering more area. Due to the spookiness of the stripers in shallow water, getting the baits back 100 - 200 ft behind the boat may be necessary. Adding weights to the free-lines such that the baits stay near to or bounce the bottom also works well. Early and late in the day, late fall stripers can also be caught on top water and other artificial presentations. Look for a good point that has nearby bait fish activity. Birds may also give away some of the surface activity. Early Winter As the water temps drop into the mid to lower 50s, the bait fish will reverse their direction, moving out of the back of the creeks and back towards the main body of the lake and deeper waters. At this time, the bait and stripers will tend to again be oriented near mouths of the creeks and near the middle of the creeks. Free lines and down lines both work well during this period. Live bait is generally the best choice during this period. Birds may help to give away the presence of feeding fish. By observing the birds, you can often tell a lot about what the stripers are doing. If the birds are diving and hitting the surface, fish for the stripers in the upper regions of the water column (freelines and maybe cast artificials). If the birds are circling, but not hitting the water, then it is likely the stripers are not near the surface, but are suspended at mid-depths. In this situation, free lines and down lines can be effective. If the birds are sitting on the surface and not doing much, stripers are likely to be present, but deep. Down lines are probably a good bet in this situation. Winter During the coldest part of the winter (usually late January through February), water temps can fall into the mid-40's, possibly colder. On these cold days, finding the warm water is the key to finding the baitfish and the stripers. If a reservoir has a power plant, the discharge areas (i.e., hot holes) will often attract large schools of bait. Creeks that have underwater springs may also attract the baitfish, since the spring water tends to be warmer. Some bait, such as threadfin shad, will begin to die off when the water temperatures fall much below 45 °F. Therefore, these warm water refuges are essential to their survival. During the winter, the stripers are more likely to feed in the top layers of the water column. They are often located over deep water (i.e., 40 to 60 ft), but tend to feed in the top 15 ft of water. Free lines and balloon rigs work well this time of year once you have located the bait and stripers. If the water temperatures get really cold (low 40s or upper 30s), it may be necessary to switch to smaller baits. With extremely cold water, the striper's metabolism will slow, allowing smaller baits to be digested more easily. Shallow flats and points warmed by the afternoon sun are often productive during this time of year. A windblown shoreline on the north side of the lake during a sunny day will often hold water that is a few degrees warmer during this time of year. Rocky or red clay banks that receive sun may also be few degrees warmer, attracting the bait during the mid afternoon hours, and thus the stripers. Early Spring When the water temperature begins to rise out of the 40s and back into the lower to mid 50s, the stripers will begin their migration towards what they interpret as "spawning grounds". For most river-run reservoirs, this is the upper end of the lake, usually in the tailwaters of an upstream dam. Spawning grounds may also be the backs of long creeks on the upper end of the reservoir. As the stripers begin to move uplake or upcreek, they will stop and feed along key main lake structures, especially long, slow tapering points that connect with the deep waters of the main channel. A good plan of attack is to check these points beginning in the middle of the reservoir, working your way up the lake until you find fish. Some fish may actually stay on these points during the entire spawning period. Free lined live bait is good during the early spring. Top water presentations early and late in the day can be productive during this time of year as well. Cut bait can also be very effective. Spring Spawning activity does not generally begin until the water temps reach the mid 60s. Spawning usually continues until the water temperatures reach the mid-70s. This period usually includes late April until late May or early June for the lakes in our area. At this time, as in the fall, the stripers tend to be oriented to shallow water. The backs of creeks that extend off of the upper ends of a reservoir can be good. One thing to keep in mind is that the bait fish the stripers are feeding on are also spawning near the bank during this time of year. The tail waters of an upstream dam can also be good. Due to the spawning activity, the stripers can be highly scattered during this time of year. Shallow water tactics such as free lines, top water plugs and cut bait can all be good during this time of year. Late Spring/Early Summer As the water temperatures approach the upper 70s, the stripers will once again head out of the shallow spawning areas and back towards the deeper waters at the mouths of the creeks. This is a period of transition for the stripers as the warming water temperatures push the fish back towards the deep, cool waters of the main channel. This period is similar to early fall. Down lining live bait is a good bet. Anchoring off and cut bait fishing can also work well during this period. Trolling can also begin to be effective. With the arrival of summer, the cycle will once again repeat itself. Knowing the movements of the fish, and why they are there, is a big advantage when it comes to catching stripers. But please bear in mind: the fish are where you find them. The author was the secretary of the Lake Norman Striper Swipers (LNSS). The LNSS are a family oriented striped bass fishing club dedicated to the sport of striper fishing and the preservation of the area striper fishery. For more information on the movements of stripers, or on the Lake Norman Striper Swipers

Directions Lake Norman State Park is located in Iredell County, 10 miles south of Statesville and 32 miles north of Charlotte. Reach the park from I-77 by taking exit 42 onto US 21 north. Travel north on US 21 to Troutman. In Troutman, turn left on Wagner Street. Then turn right on State Park Road, which leads into the state park.

Article reprinted with the permission of Striper Swipers and Warren Turner president of the National Striped Bass Association

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