Scott Ward and Liz Butcher caught and released these and numerous other spotted bass taken while deep jigging in sixty feet of water. Photo courtesy of Capt. Gus.
February is a month of transition. Bass yearn to leave their winter haunts and move to shallower sections of the lake in preparation for the annual spring spawning ritual.
Early in the month, some of the best catches will come from suspended bass that hover over bottom depths to ninety feet. While that might seem deep to freshwater bass fishermen, some saltwater fishermen consider anything less than one hundred feet shallow water.
Why so deep? During the winter, the warmest water temperatures are near the bottom. The deeper it is, the warmer, if even only a few degrees. Since fish are cold blooded, a few degrees make a big difference in their comfort level. In addition, herring, a deep swimming forage fish, also spends the winter in deeper parts of the lake.
Once water temperatures recover from the winter chill and approach the low fifties, the spring migration begins. It can start as early as mid-month, but regardless, bass will stage on river and creek flats by month’s end. Pre-spawn activity traditionally begins in Ramsey, Hager and McCrary Creeks. Each tributary is in close proximity to a hot water discharge canal, so the water warms earlier than in Davidson, Reed and Mountain Creeks. Other places to look for pre-spawning bass are on the flats of coves that have a southern exposure to the sun.
Staging bass can be anywhere on a large flat, so deep diving crank baits and A-rigs are popular with anglers searching for pre-spawn activity. Some the best flats are adjacent to large coves and major creek and river runs in water from fifteen to twenty-five feet deep. Marker 13, near the south end of Kaiser Island, is an excellent staging area. Another likely location is the river flat east of the old river channel, between Marker 18B and the entrance to Lake Norman State Park.
Regardless of the water temperature, bright sunlight can trigger fish to feed on any given February afternoon. Fish, particularly big bass and stripers, rise to the surface to enjoy the warming effects of the sun rays. Best places to cast are calm rip-rapped shorelines, sandy banks and cement boat ramps.
Unlike the striper guys who use live bait, bass anglers prefer to cast artificial lures. Whopper Poppers, buzz baits and flukes produce well when bass are surface feeding. Crank baits, A-rigs, worms and lizard look-a-likes are best to use when fish are deeper. But, regardless of the bait, one thing both groups have in common is to keep a watchful eye out for diving sea birds. Bird activity is the best indicator that bass, stripers and hybrids are feeding near the surface.
Bank fishermen will find fish at both hot holes throughout February. In fact, the colder the weather, the more the fish will congregate. A bite can occur at any time, but bass, hybrids and stripers tend to feed at first light, while perch and catfish hit throughout the day. Both live bait and lures (when cast up current) will attract hot-hole fish. Bass and stripers are likely to be on or near the surface, while white perch and catfish cruise the bottom.
February’s weather can be a challenge, so dress for winter conditions.
Tips from Capt. Gus: A thin coating of grease will prevent the shaft of your electric trolling motor from freezing when not in use.
Free fishing seminar: “Getting Ready for Spring” – Jake Bussolini will discuss the how’s and where’s of catching pre-spawn and early spring bass, hybrids, crappie and white perch. This ninety minute session will begin at 6:30 p.m. on February 17th at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, in Mooresville, NC. For additional information, call 704-658-0822.
Lake Norman is about 4.1’ below full pond and is 2.9’ below at Mountain Island Lake. The water surface temperature is in the forties and low fifties.
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, www.fishingwithgus.com or call 704-617-6812. For additional information, e-mail Gus@LakeNorman.com.