For the third time in the past four years, North Carolina’s Lake Norman plays host to the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Allstate. This event challenges competitors with very different conditions than in the two preceding Opens held on Lake Norman.
The earlier events, held in the spring, were dominated by largemouth bass. Ohioan Fletcher Shryock sacked 49 pounds, 9 ounces of bass in late March 2011 by fishing a ledge and flipping to bushes. That victory launched his Bassmaster Elite Series career.
North Carolina angler Tracy Adams won in early April the following year. He fished for bedding bass, catching 45 pounds, 6 ounces of fish over the three-day tournament.
This year, however, the largemouth won’t be locked into predictable prespawn or spawning agendas. Spotted bass, which are far more abundant at Norman, will dominate the catch. However, largemouth will likely be essential to nab the victory, said Elite Series pro Hank Cherry of North Carolina.
“Whoever wins will need at least one kicker largemouth every day,” Cherry said. “Depending on the weather conditions, 12 1/2 to 14 pounds will be a big limit.”
Cherry, who will be fishing the Open, lives within 12 minutes of five different boat ramps at Lake Norman. He has been closely monitoring the lake in preparation for the tournament.
Several factors will work against the anglers, Cherry pointed out. One is that the lake level is down only 1 1/2 feet.
“The lake is normally down 5 feet by this time,” Cherry said.
Lower lake levels tend to pull bass away from shoreline cover and stack them up offshore. Also, the autumn feeding spree usually doesn’t get underway here until mid-October, Cherry explained. Bites are harder to come by until that happens.
The biggest hindrance is that Norman is in the throes of the dreaded fall turnover, a phenomenon that shuts down the bass. It begins upriver and works its way down to the dam, Cherry explained.
“Part of the lake is cleaning up from turning over, part is turning over and part of it will turn over soon,” Cherry said.
Cherry will avoid water that is turning over, and all the competitors would be wise to follow his lead. This isn’t hard to do because, “the bad water is as black as night.”
Cherry worried that heavy rains early this week would force dam operators to let more water pass through the gates, pulling the nasty black water farther down the lake. An area that produces bass one day could be void of them the next.
Rainfall was lighter than expected, but whether it helps or hinders the fishing is yet to be determined.
“The fall turnover makes the bass move around more,” Cherry said. “You’re not going to catch them in the same places or the same way every day.”
Since the turnover will eliminate some areas of the lake, it could make for crowded fishing conditions. Despite these hindrances, Cherry believes limits will be common thanks to Norman’s abundant spotted bass population.
“Norman has so many bass it’s ridiculous,” Cherry said. “We don’t have lots of 4- to 6-pounders, but there are bunches of bass that weigh 2 1/2 pounds.”
Norman’s Catch-22 is that the lower end of the lake has more spotted bass and is the best bet to secure a limit. Kicker largemouth are more abundant on the upper lake, and they are needed to clinch a victory.
Docks, rocks, laydowns and brushpiles anywhere on the main lake will have good bass potential. There is very little aquatic vegetation at Norman.
“You could win here from 25 feet deep to as shallow as you want to fish,” Cherry said.
The weather during the tournament will dictate the tactics, Cherry believes. Calm, sunny weather will reward those who fish deep with shaky heads and drop shot rigs. Overcast, blustery weather will open the playbook to topwater baits and other power fishing presentations.
“The bass are just starting to gang up,” Cherry said. “You might pull up on a wolf pack of 10 or 12 fish and sack a quick limit.”
Cherry predicts it will take 14 pounds a day to win the pro division and 10 1/2 pounds a day to claim the co-angler title.
Competition begins Thursday as the anglers take off from Blythe Landing at 7 a.m. ET. Thursday and Friday’s weigh-in will be held at the same location — Blythe Landing — and will begin at 3 p.m. ET. Saturday’s weigh-in will be held at the Bass Pro Shops in Concord, N.C., and begins at 4 p.m. ET.