CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Through the first two days of Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Presented by Shore Lunch, Lake Norman has proven to be a confusing playing field. Local aces Bryan Thrift and Andy Montgomery made it through the Qualifying Round by the skin of their teeth, we’ve seen big bags of spotted bass, some big largemouth, and some of the big hitters really back off.
Case in point, Dustin Connell and Jacob Wheeler were first and fourth on Day 1, and finished the round in fourth and 18th, with both spending their afternoon scouting far up the river.
Winning the round with 29 pounds, 15 ounces, Edwin Evers is looking for his second REDCREST trophy and seems to have practiced his way into back-to-back impressive days on the Carolina lake. Ending the round in second with 28-8, Casey Ashley has been strikingly consistent fishing exactly how he wants to fish, and practicing for the latter half of Day 2.
With $300,000 and a trophy on the line, the next three days are sure to be interesting. Weights won’t zero, the local favorites are in the hunt, and the weather is about to get rowdy.
The winner of a 2005 Bassmaster Tour event and a 2010 PAA event on Norman, Evers has fished a nearly perfect tournament so far – at least, as things traditionally go on Norman. A 6-pound largemouth on Day 1 keyed his weight and is the biggest fish of the event by far. Though he’s starting from scratch now, the Oklahoma pro sure sounds like he has a good idea of how to be successful.
“This is one of those lakes where you try to duplicate your patterns, and I’m just trying to really narrow down where the bites are coming from,” Evers said. “It’s been pretty random, from the back of a pocket to a point and everything in between.
“The more bites you get and the more days you’re on the water, the more pieces of the puzzle you’re trying to put together. Today it got a little clearer where the better fish were, and I hope I’ll know more tomorrow when I start running that water. But really, for the first two days, I just put the trolling motor down and fished everything in front of me.”
Evers has mostly relied on moving baits, not doing much damage with a jig or Norman staple of a shaky head. On Day 1, a largemouth was his biggest fish. On Day 2, he caught both a spotted bass and a largemouth in the 3-pound class.
“You really want those largemouth bites, but it’s just not something I can count on,” he said. “There are a few little areas where there are a few of them. Spotted bass are going to be the majority of what everyone is going to weigh, but you really want to have some big largemouth to put you to the next level.”
Though he’s not sure what the incoming rain (followed by wind and cold) will do, he’s at least fishing for a championship on a lake he vibes with.
“I love this lake, I’ve won two major events here,” Evers said. “I relate to it really well with how I grew up, and it’s a fun place to fish.”
Though not a local, Ashley entered the event as a pre-tournament favorite due to his success in the Carolinas, and even a little up the road at Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake. Very skilled with a shaky head and a jig, Ashely has all the tools needed to succeed on Norman. Though Day 1 started miserably, he ended up fishing his way to eighth on Day 1 and second after Day 2.
One of Ashely’s best places from practice totally failed to produce when he started there. But, he got things back on track.
“I rolled in there, and all I could catch was hybrid,” Ashley said. “I rolled on to another area where I’d seen a bunch, caught a bunch, and then I went practicing. Looking for largemouth. I found a little area that had some, caught a few, upgraded a little.
“Today, I started back in the area I caught them yesterday, had like 8 pounds or so, and I got tired of draggin’ the shaky head around. So, I just picked up the jig and went – most of my key bites this week, I’ve found them during the tournament.”
Finding fish as you go is never a bad thing, and according to Ashely, it is almost essential on Norman.
“These spots, they roam so much – those docks that you get bit on, it ain’t like you can go back to that dock and catch them,” Ashely said. “They’re just in the area, and they set up on it when you go by. But, certain areas, there’s good ones in there; so you have to spend your time and fish, and you’ll hit a dock here and there that they’re pulled up on.”
The idea that a particular spot isn’t really something you can count on makes a lot of sense on Norman. Especially when you think about how the lake molded early-career Thrift’s extreme run-and-gun approach – if there’s no such thing as a guaranteed spot, you may as well hit a hundred of ‘em.
With the Qualifying Round out of the way, the winner of REDCREST will be determined by a three-day weight. With the bottom of the field winnowed away each day, the Top 10 will fish on Sunday for all the marbles.
After the first two days, it’s pretty hard to say what a winner will look like. Catching 13 or 14 pounds is definitely really good and quite hard to do. But, catching 15 pounds might be a little easier than some think – with so few boats on the water, Norman is getting a fraction of the pressure it can take, and we’ve seen three bags over 16 pounds so far, even with a decent amount of incentive to back off.
Of course, history on Norman says that 15 pounds really is doing something in a multi-day event. Back in 2013, Shane LeHew and Eric Self won a two-day college event on Norman with 35-4, more than a 17 ½-pound average. They won by almost 9 pounds, with the runner-up team barely catching more than 13 pounds a day. In the fall of 2020, it took 32 pounds to win a three-day Toyota Series event, and in the postspawn in 2018, an even 40 pounds won a three-day Bassmaster Open.
Doing a lot of bed fishing to get out of the Qualifying Round, Adrian Avena thinks that three of his best days would win going away.
“My guess is 42 pounds, 14 a day,” said the New Jersey pro. “We’ve got some crazy weather, and one of two things are going to happen. Either guys are going to struggle because their patterns aren’t conducive to that, like myself, or there’s guys that are power-fishing that have the potential to get better. But, this is a place that historically doesn’t take a lot of weight. I really feel like a guy that can catch 14 a day will win.”
Ashley is right on track with Avena, pegging 42 pounds as the weight to hit.
“It’s going to take a good mixture of being able to catch a good limit of spots, and then settle down and fish largemouth,” he said. “If you get five or six largemouth bites, that’s a great day, and it’s going to take you eight hours to do it. If you can get 10 or 12 pounds of spots, and then get three or four largemouth, you’re going to do really good.”
He was even kind enough to outline the winning strategy.
“The spots are going to be in more open water. The largemouth are in more confined little areas. So, you can’t beat on ‘em,” Ashley said. “You really need to have two or three areas that have got ‘em, and fish one on one day, fish one the next day, maybe revisit the one from the day before, but save one for the end. If you’re going through there when they’re biting, you’re going to catch them.”
Catching the biggest bag of the tournament on Day 2, Dakota Ebare tallied 16-12 to rocket up the leaderboard. The hottest angler in bass fishing has learned a lot about Norman the last few days, and is looking to keep learning.
“There’s bigger spotted bass than I thought, and there’s more of them than I thought,” he said. “Guys are catching more spotted bass than I anticipated, and catching heavier bags of spotted bass than I anticipated. And, I saw that today; I had a 3-8 that was a spot, my other two big ones were largemouth, but I saw some really big spotted bass today fixing to spawn.
“The weather is really going to be a curveball,” he said. “It was right today – sunny, calm, they were wanting to spawn. We’re going to get some nasty weather, I don’t know how that’s going to affect things – they’re really wanting to be up there. I think a guy needs to catch 14 a day to win, maybe more, It depends on how the weather affects things.”
For his part, Evers thinks that 15 pounds a day is the number to hit.
However, if Jeremy Lawyer is right, we’re going to see three pretty special days on Norman.
“Unless these guys are really sandbagging, I’m going to say like 47, 48 pounds will win,” said Lawyer, who caught 16-11 today. “It seems like there’s a lot of inconsistency, some of the guys that had 12 yesterday had 8 or 9 today. Thrift may have laid off some good stuff, but I’m not sure that Montgomery really did, because he struggled for a lot of the morning – you have to think he went to some good stuff. So, I’m going to say that 48-pound mark is going to get you dang close.”