Fishin’ with Capt. Gus! Winter Birds of Lake Norman 2-8-2015

 Photo of a wading blue heron at sunrise; courtesy of Capt. Gus

Photo of a wading blue heron at sunrise; courtesy of Capt. Gus

Even the casual observer will notice the tens of thousands of sea birds that take up residence on Lake Norman every fall. Terns and gulls begin arriving in November and return to their nesting sites in April. Where they spend the rest of the year is anybody’s guess. Some say they’re snowbirds that flee the ice covered lakes of the north, while others suggest they’re the same white birds you feed French fries to at Myrtle Beach in the summer. Our resident duck and geese population swells every winter with the arrival of flocks of migratory water fowl. While Lake Norman is not on a major flyway, enough birds wander by to make it worthwhile for hunters to set decoys and hunt from duck blinds around the lake. 

A relatively new winter visitor is the loon. People are surprised when they see or hear a loon, thought to be permanent residents of Canada and the states that border it. But, facts show that they, too, are migratory by nature. At first glance, a loon looks like any other aquatic bird swimming on the surface. But when they dive, they can swim to great depths (up to 200 feet), to spear baitfish with their sharp pointed beaks.

Coots are black, medium size water birds that spend time on Lake Norman, too, but do not winter here, because there is not enough aquatic vegetation to sustain them. They swim in large groups called “rafts”, often with other water fowl. They appear clumsy during taking off, beating their wings and running across the water for many yards before becoming airborne.  The blue heron population thins out during the winter months. While some remain, many leave for warmer weather. Those remaining, wade the shorelines to forage for food. They provide great photo opportunities for professional and amateur birders.

Surprisingly, the osprey’s absence goes unnoticed by many. This large raptor leaves the lake in late summer to spend the winter in Florida, along the gulf coast, and in Central America. Like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano, CA that return on Saint Joseph’s Day each year, Lake Norman’s ospreys re-appear in early March, usually between the 1st and 3rd

Note:  Lake Norman’s only pair of bald eagles is nesting in the vicinity of the Marshall Steam Station in Terrell, NC.

Tips from Capt. Gus: Loons have a lower profile than the ducks and geese that they’re easily confused with. But there is nothing uncertain about their eerie yodel, a territorial sound often heard on Lake Norman.

Hot Spots of the Week: Striper and hybrids are congregating on both sides of the Highway 150 Bridge in the main river channel. Anglers fishing under diving sea birds are using jigs, buck tails and Alabama rigs to tempt the feisty “linesiders” into biting. While most hybrids are 16” to 21” long, some stripers exceed thirty 30”. Bass and white perch mix with the “linesiders” at times. Deep water blue catfish are being taken on bottom rigs baited with chicken, herring and perch. Some can be found in the bends of creek channels in water 60’ to 70’ deep.  

Upcoming Events: Free fishing seminar – “Getting Ready for Spring” – Jake Bussolini and I will discuss the “how’s” and “where’s” of catching pre-spawn and early spring bass, hybrids, crappies and white perch. This ninety-minute session will begin at 6:30 p.m. on February 18th at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, in Mooresville, NC. For additional information, call 704 658 0822.

Lake Conditions: The water level on Lake Norman is about 4.5 feet below full pond and is 3.5 feet below on Mountain Island Lake. The surface water temperature is in the mid to high forties in water not affected by power generation on Lake Norman.

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


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