Fishin’ With Capt. Gus! Lake Levels

Cliff Rhodes holds a Lake Norman Striped baass 4-25-15

Photo Credit Capt. Gus
Cliff Rhodes holds a Lake Norman striped bass

Recent rains have swollen area streams, rivers and lakes. So how does one interpret the lake level information posted in newspapers and on websites?

Lake Norman is at full pond when water begins to spill over the flood gates at Cowans Ford Dam. Full pond is said to be 100.0 feet. Anything higher is called above full pond. Anything less than 100.0 feet is stated as being below full pond, which is usually the case. While many believed that Norman had reached flood stage on April 20th, it was reported to be at 99.2 feet or 0.8 feet below full pond at the dam. By April 21st, it had risen another 0.4 feet to 99.6, its highest point before cresting. That’s not to say that some low level flooding didn’t occur up lake, where water has a tendency to back up when large volumes move through Norman.

Under normal circumstances, lake water levels are targeted to be at least two feet below full pond, which is the case during the summer months. Then the lake level typically drops during the fall and winter to make room for the spring rains and snow runoff. As a point of information, the lowest the lake reached this past winter was 95.5 or 4.5 feet below full pond on February 6, 2015.         

Rising waters cause bass and other species to follow baitfish farther up on the banks, where they seek protection near docks, brush and downed trees. Storm water runoff muddies many shallow sections of the larger creek runs. This stained water has its advantages. It not only provides safe hideouts for forage fish, but it offers prime ambush points for predators.

Higher lake levels, while welcomed by fishermen, are not without risks and hazards to all boaters. The same shoals that were exposed and easy to identify last fall and winter are now covered with water. Rising water also washes debris from the banks. Some debris can be quite large, but difficult to see in low light conditions.

Note: Boaters should remember to check and double check bridge clearances, as water levels are considerably higher than they were a few weeks ago. Scraping an antenna, a fishing rod or even part of the boat’s superstructure, is possible.

Tips from Capt. Gus:
Current area lake level information is available online at

Upcoming Events:

Free Safe Boating Class – “How to Navigate Lake Norman Day or Night” will be held at The Peninsula Yacht Club, 18501 Harbor Light Blvd, Cornelius, NC at 6:30 p.m. on May 13th. Becky Johnson and I will cover “Understanding LKN’s Channel Marker and Buoy System”, “How to Avoid Shallow Water”, “Ten Most Dangerous Spots”, and “Interpreting Lake Maps”. For more information, call Ashley at 704 892 7575.

Free Fishing Seminar – “Fishing Terminology” – Knowing the language is important in every sport, and fishing is no different. During this session, you will learn the meaning of many terms used in day-to-day fishing conversations. For example, the differences between hook sizes #5 and #5/0 or Umbrella and Alabama Rigs, versus Texas and Carolina Rigs will be explained. Jake Bussolini and I will conduct this ninety minute session at 6:30 p.m. on May 20th at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, Mooresville, NC. For more information, call 704 658 0822.

Bass Fishing Forecast:  May is often the best month to bass fish on Norman. By mid-month, the majority of spawning activity has ended, and fish will be actively feeding in relatively shallow water.  Early morning finds bass chasing bait in boat basins and on shallow points, where they are easily tempted with buzz baits and other top water lures. As the day progresses, boat docks and downed trees are the preferred targets of those who toss spinner baits and soft plastics rigged Texas style. As the month ends, schooling activity intensifies throughout the day, particularly over submerged islands and humps. Interestingly, the majority of the bass will be suspended, not breaking the surface. Night fishing also picks up when the surface water temperatures warm, and anglers compete for the best lighted docks and bridge pilings.

The surface water temperature varies by location, but is mainly in the sixties in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 1.5 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 2.9 feet below full on Mountain Island Lake.

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 web site, or call 704-617-6812.


3 thoughts on “Fishin’ With Capt. Gus! Lake Levels

  1. Hey Captain, what is the status of the access ramps? With this drought, looks like some may be closing. Is there a source that has the info?

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