Photo of Capt. Gus at helm of boat with electronics in fish finding mode.

Fishing has improved dramatically in recent weeks, as water temperatures have fallen from the nineties to the high seventies and low eighties. In addition, shorter days signal the beginning of fall, which typically triggers a feeding binge, and fish begin to bulk up for winter. The increased catch rate in late September gives anglers a reason to believe that October’s fishing will be even better.

The good thing about fall is that fish move into shallower water where they can be tempted into biting a wide variety of baits. Better yet, surface feeding activity occurs periodically throughout the day, making bass and hybrid striped bass easy to locate and exciting to catch on top water lures.

About any place on Lake Norman can produce good fishing when conditions are right. Some of the best spots are Reed, Davidson, Mountain and Stumpy Creeks. Regardless of the creek channel targeted, fish boat docks with soft plastics, points and underwater humps with jerk baits or try spinner baits in areas with downed trees along the shoreline. In addition, keep a watchful eye out for surface feeding fish, particularly early in the morning and during periods of cloud cover. Top water lures and shallow runners are best when cast into the fray and retrieved in a slow but erratic motion.

Which lures are best for fall fishing?

A few of my favorites are poppers and buzz baits when fish are feeding on the surface, jerk and crank baits when they’re suspended in the water column and bottom bumping soft plastic spoons when they’re on the bottom.

To be more specific, use Zara Spook, Rio Rico or Whopper Ploppers when top water fishing.
A 1/4 to 1/2 oz. Rat-L-Trap or #5 Shad Rap will do the trick on days when targeting suspended fish. Bottom bumping favorites are 1/4 to 1 oz. jigging spoons in silver, white or chartreuse and soft plastics rigged drop shot, Carolina and Texas style. Best colors are watermelon, green pumpkin, black grape and blue. When all else fails, try a pink, four-inch finesse worm.

Anglers who only use the fish finder to tell the water depth are not taking advantage of one of the best tools they have at their disposal. When used properly, a locator will identify fish under and around the boat. It not only saves time when hunting fish, but also lets you know the depth they’re feeding. Fish finders range in price from less than a hundred to several thousand dollars. Those not familiar with marine electronics should begin with an inexpensive unit, then upgrade after you learn to use it.

Note – According to Christian Waters, Inland Fisheries Division Chief for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, “To help reduce the loss of slime coat, handle the fish as little as possible. The slime coat is the fish’s main defense against infection and disease.”

Waters also offers anglers tips on how keep a largemouth bass alive:

  • Wet your hands before you touch a fish.
  • If you do not plan to keep the fish, return it quickly to the water or place it in a livewell.
  • Use a knotless nylon or rubber-coated net instead of a knotted nylon net.

Anglers participating in fishing tournaments can minimize fish mortality by maintaining healthy oxygen and water quality in the livewell.

To do this:

  • Know the capacity of the live well and don’t exceed a ratio of more than 1 pound of bass per gallon of water.
  • Run a recirculating pump continuously if more than 5 pounds of bass are in the live well.
  • Use aerators or oxygen-injection systems to keep the water’s oxygen level above 5 parts per million (ppm).
  • Keep live well water about 5 degrees below the reservoir or river temperature by adding block ice.

Upcoming Events: Free Fishing Seminar – “Getting Ready for Winter Fishing on Lake Norman” is the topic of Jake Bussolini’s ninety-minute seminar beginning at 6:30 p.m. on October 19th at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, Mooresville, NC. For additional information, call 704 658 0822.

Fishing Report:

Hybrid striped bass, bass, and rather large white perch are schooling around the State Park and in Mountain Creek. Tournament size bass are around bridge pilings, deep docks, underwater humps and submerged brush. White perch are hitting chartreuse jigging spoons and crappie minnows fished in water from twenty to sixty feet deep. Flathead catfish are stalking the perch, so drop a live perch to the bottom and hold on! The water isn’t quite cool enough for good daytime crappie fishing, but they are hitting after dark.

Lake Norman is approximately 4.0′ below full pond. Mountain Island Lake is down 3.4’. Surface water temperatures are in the high seventies and low eighties, depending on location or proximity to a power plant.

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, or call 704-617-6812. For additional information, e-mail