Fishin’ with Capt. Gus! Drought August 30, 2015

Merritt Buttrey - Age 10

Photo Credit Capt. Gus

Merritt Buttrey (age ten) holds a spotted bass taken while fishing with her grandfather John

The drought of 2015 has everybody talking about the low lake level and its effects on boating and fishing.

Surprisingly, fishing on Lake Norman has been pretty good, what with the extreme heat and low water levels. Bass fishing is holding its own with lots of big bass filling the weigh-in bags of tournament anglers that line up to record their catches. It’s interesting to note, that it wasn’t that long ago when a five fish limit weigh-in of ten or eleven pounds would take first place. This year there have been tournaments when fifteen pounds was needed. This bodes well for the future of largemouth bass fishing and the chances of attracting more national tournaments to Norman. But it’s not just the largemouth. Plenty of schooling spotted bass along the ten, twenty and thirty foot drops have been caught throughout the summer months. While they break the surface from time to time when chasing forge fish, the majority of the action is from suspended fish that are easily tempted with deep diving lures. Better yet, those casting A-rigs are having unbelievable success.

Another summer, and another fish kill has accounted for the demise of an estimated three thousand striped bass. The kill, which began in late July and continued into August, punctuates just how hot the water gets near Cowans Ford Dam. While gilling and dead fish floating on the surface is never a good thing, the dying striped bass attract hordes of Arkansas blue catfish that feasted on their carcasses. Since the die off began, savvy anglers drifting cut and live baits in the kill zone, have caught plenty of catfish that averaged five to ten pounds

Summer striper kills prompted wildlife biologists to stop stocking stripers three years ago. They are now replacing them with much hardier hybrid striped bass. Since the hybrids can withstand higher water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels, it appears they will be a good fit for Norman’s harsh water conditions.

A question on the minds of many boaters is, “At what lake level are area boat ramps likely to close?” The number of feet below full pond for closing is:
Long Island Access Area – 9.0′

Stumpy Creek Access Area – 9.0′

Pinnacle Access Area – 8.5′

McCrary Creek Access Area – 8.5′
   Hagar Creek Access Area – 8.5′
Little Creek Access Area – 7.0′

Beatties Ford Access Are – 9.0′

Blythe Landing – about 5.0’

Ramsey Creek Park – about 4.0’

Note: In a statement posted on 7/21/2015 at 9:00:42 AM Duke Energy reported, “The Catawba-Wateree River Basin is in a Stage 1 drought condition. The community is asked to be mindful of its water use and consider conserving energy, which also saves water. Residents who use water from a Duke Energy lake for lawn irrigation are asked to limit watering to Tuesdays and Saturdays.” Since the above statement was posted, the water level on Lake Norman has fallen more than a foot. Red clay, rocks and stumps previously covered with water are now exposed

Updated lake levels are available any time at or by calling 800-829-5253”.

Tips from Capt Gus: Do not let low water conditions ruin the end of your fishing season and boating experience. Exercise caution when navigating in unfamiliar waters and stay between the red and green channel markers in main passageways.

Upcoming events:  A free safe boating class on “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 September 9th.  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.

A free fishing seminar on “Interpreting Sonar and Down and Side Scan Images will be conducted by Jake Bussolini at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, Mooresville, NC at6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 16th. This interactive session will also examine the best ways to catch fall hybrids, stripers and spotted bass. For more information, call 704- 658-0822.

Hot Spot of the Week: Cat fishing has been excellent at the dam, but there are plenty channels and blues in back-coves and along channel edges. Night fishing for crappie and perch has been very good around bridges. Stripers and hybrids are above channel marker 18. Best baits are live baits and A-rigs.

The surface water temperature varies by location, but is mainly in the high eighties and low nineties in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 5.3 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 3.6 feet 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 website or call 704-617-6812. For additional information, e-mail him at


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