March 23, 2010 by Rob Newell
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - For the last three years, the FLW Tour event on Lake Norman presented by the National Guard has been held at the exact same time of year: the last week in April.
During those years, the FLW Tour pro field learned the spawn and postspawn habits of Norman bass so well that they knew what the bass were doing before the bass did. In years past, sight-fishing has been a key strategy for top finishers. Also, fooling postspawn fry-guarders with topwaters and lightly weighted plastics, such as shaky heads and wacky rigs, played a strong hand.
This year, things will be different. The timing of the FLW Tour event has been bumped up a month to the final week of March, and the Carolinas are just starting to thaw out from an unusually cold and wet winter. As a result, Lake Norman is much muddier and colder than normal. Another wrinkle in the form of lower water levels has also contributed to Norman being abnormal compared to what FLW Tour pros are used to.
As the practice round wound down Monday, pros were reporting plenty of fish biting, but the old practice of trolling around the bank with a pair of polarized sunglasses to visually locate cull-ups was not happening.
Local pro Brian Travis of Conover, N.C., believes the timing of this year's event is falling right on that fine line of the first wave of bass coming to the bank to spawn.
"Maybe, maybe not," Travis said of Norman bass dusting off nests this week. "I've seen some 65-degree water, but I have not seen any beds in practice. So if it happens, it's going to be during the tournament - maybe Friday or Saturday when we're closer to the full moon."
Travis is not the only one who has struck out trying to spy on bedders in Norman's lower end, where the water is clearest. Some of the Tour's usual sight-fishing suspects - including Greg Pugh, Anthony Gagliardi and Clark Wendlandt - have all noted that bedding activity during practice was nonexistent.
Only Greg Pugh, who has recorded three top-10s at Norman, is holding out hope that he will be able to sight-fish toward the end of the week.
"I'm going to keep checking them," Pugh said. "Ideally, I'd like to just go fishing the first day or two and then by Friday maybe bust a big bag looking at them. But the warming trend we were having was interrupted by a much cooler, rainy day the second day of practice, so that kind of messed things up. It's going to take some strong sun and slick days over the next few days to get them to move up. But, hey, it's the end of March. All the pears and cherry trees are blooming, and I know what that means: any day now ... any day."
The FLW Tour event on Lake Norman begins Wednesday. Be sure to catch all the action right here on FLWOutdoors.com, starting with the Live Page coverage starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday.