Lake Norman is considered a “numbers lake,” where there are numerous fish scattered across numerous cover options, and success often requires fishing through dozens of areas. For that reason, familiarity with the lake and its fish-by-numbers, run-and-gun flow went a long way in the Walmart FLW Tour Invitational at Lake Norman.
Not only did FLW Tour pro Bryan Thrift from nearby Shelby, N.C., tap into his vast knowledge of numerous fish-producing spots on Norman to lock up the victory, but a Norman expert with a lifetime of historical knowledge also took the runner-up spot.
Here is a look at how second through 10th played the numbers game at Norman.
2. Beattie second best at Norman
Local pro Scott Beattie of Lincolnton, N.C., nearly pulled off an upset at Lake Norman over Tour star Thrift. In the end, just 6 ounces separated Thrift and Beattie. For the week, Beattie checked in weights of 12-0, 11-10 and 10-12 for a total of 34-6.
Beattie, too, has spent his lifetime fishing Norman and knows every dock and cranny on the lake that holds a fish. Similar to Thrift, Beattie ran as many of these fish-holding places as he could fish in a day. Some of his places included obscure flat banks, dredge-outs, docks, brush piles, rock piles, stumps and laydowns in depths of water ranging from 1 to 30 feet.
For his offshore brush and rock pile work, Beattie used a Zoom Mag Finesse Worm and a Yamamoto Senko on a beefy 5/16-ounce homemade shaky head that he fishes on 17-pound test. When attacking docks, he skipped a 1/2-ounce Shooter jig with a twin tail. Once he started running the banks Beattie used a Zoom Horny Toad and a LIVETARGET square-bill crankbait in a bright orange color.
3. Strader uses trio of options for third
Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., worked three different patterns during the week to finish third with a total of 33 pounds, 9 ounces.
Strader’s primary gig for quality fish was running shallow, flat banks and “dredged-out docks” with a 3/8-ounce Zorro Head Knocker Buzzbait teamed with a Zoom Horny Toad. He fished the buzzer on a 755 Powell Max 3D rod with a Lew’s Laser MG Speed Spool reel spooled with 16-pound-test Gamma fluorocarbon.
Strader also caught some limit fillers by drop-shotting a Zoom Swamp Crawler (morning dawn) with a Trokar hook around docks and in brush piles. He occasionally visited one of Norman’s hot discharges to catch a few keepers on a 1/8-ounce Fish Head Spin teamed with a 2-inch swimbait.
“There were plenty of schoolers in the hot discharges and a lot of fish in brush piles, but they were smaller fish,” Strader says. “I think the better quality fish in Norman roam the bank eating bluegills, so I spent a lot more time trying to catch those.”
4. Strong final day pushes Hollowell to fourth
Todd Hollowell of Fishers, Ind., turned in the best catch on the final day – 12-10 – to climb to fourth with a total of 33-9.
Due to his unfamiliarity with Lake Norman, Hollowell just picked a section of the lake, which ended up being the Mountain Creek area, put his trolling motor down and went junk-fishing. He ran shallow water with a 1/2-ounce Red Dirt Bait Company buzzbait matched with a white Zoom Horny Toad. When he came to a dock, he pitched and skipped a 1/2-ounce River Rat Tackle jig on 20-pound-test Vicious fluorocarbon.
“When the sun would come out, I’d spend more time fishing docks, and the flatter docks were better,” Hollowell says. “I caught three 3-pounders off flat docks this week, and those fish went a long way in this tournament.”
5. Neal plays current for fifth
As a Tennessee River ace, Michael Neal understands how bass position and feed in current, so he spent his week far up the Catawba River where the water was flowing. Neal caught limits of 11-3, 12-3 and 9-8 to finish fifth with a total of 32-14.
Neal targeted wood, laydowns, rocks and bridges up the river by throwing a 5-inch Big Bite Baits Jerk Minnow that he dyed chartreuse and rigged weightless on a 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook with 12-pound-test Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon. He also mixed in a shaky head comprised of a 1/8-ounce TrueSouth jighead with a 6-inch Big Bite Baits Finesse Worm in green pumpkin.
“Current was the key up there, but I never knew when it was going to run,” Neal says. “They would run it periodically throughout the day, but it was unpredictable. So I fished bridges while waiting on the current. When I saw current, I would run up toward the tailrace and twitch the Jerk Minnow over rocks and wood. I twitched it fast like a topwater, and I saw most of the bites. They would flash on it, and the bait would disappear into a boil. It was a fun way to fish.”
When the current slowed, Neal would retreat to the bridges and poke around the pilings with a shaky head.
6. Shelton junks it up for sixth
Billy Shelton of La Crosse, Va., ran a junk-fishing program to catch weights of 10-3, 12-2 and 10-7 for a total of 32-12.
When running banks with topwaters Shelton favored a River2Sea Whopper Plopper, a Lucky Craft Gunfish and a 1/8-ounce buzzbait with double blades. When he came across a dock he liked, he skipped it with a 3/8-ounce Shooter jig teamed with a Zoom Super Chunk, and if he found a brush pile he dropped a shaky head Zoom Trick Worm on it.
“I was mostly running those small, flat U-shaped pockets with topwaters,” Shelton says. “The best areas were the first hard targets – such as a dock or laydown – on the entry points of those pockets.”
7. Canterbury cruises on current to seventh
Scott Canterbury spent most of his week up in the current-driven stretches of the Catawba River, catching weights of 11-15, 12-1 and 7-14 for a total of 31-14. He played the intermittent current, keying on wood and rock when the current was flowing. He picked the wood targets apart with a weightless NetBait Super Twitch, a wacky-rigged Salt Lick and a Contour Worm on a shaky head.
Once he got a limit and the current quit running in the river, Canterbury would begin running shallow water sweetened by shade and wind with a Dirty Jigs 1/4-ounce Pro Buzz buzzbait tipped with a toad.
“The river fish are what really got me going with a decent limit every day,” Canterbury says. “The fish up there weren’t big, but they were solid keepers. Once I got to 8 or 9 pounds in the river, I’d run shallow water with the buzzbait, hoping to come across one of those better 3-plus fish eating bream on the bank.”
8. Adams runs and guns for eighth
Tracy Adams is familiar with the run-and-gun game at Norman, and he used that knowledge for an eighth-place showing, checking in weights of 11-10, 10-15 and 8-14 for a total of 31-7.
“The object of the game here at Norman is to cover as much water as you possibly can because you never know where that big bite is going to come from,” says Adams. “I mostly fished new water every day and only went back to places where I missed bites.”
In order to carry out his water-covering blitz, Adams used a 3/8-ounce buzzbait paired with a Zoom Horny Toad to run shallow banks and pockets. He also spent time skipping shallow docks with a 7/16-ounce Eakins jig matched with a YUM Mighty Bug. When all else failed he ducked into deeper marinas with the jig and a shaky head.
9. Stephens plays spotted bass for ninth
Michael Stephens of Gastonia, N.C., committed to the spotted bass game at Norman to score a top 10 with daily weights of 11-2, 10-12 and 9-6 for a total of 31-4.
Stephens used his electronics to drop spoons and drop-shots to spotted bass he could see on his electronics screen.
“Once I got them fired up with a drop-shot, I could drop a spoon down there and keep them going,” Stephens says. “I used a morning dawn Roboworm on my drop-shot and a 3/8-ounce spoon from Tackle Town when targeting the spots. A lot of them were in or around brush piles in that 15- to 30-foot depth.”
Stephens spent the mornings out deep and then moved shallower to skip a 1/2-ounce Shooter jig under docks in the afternoons.
“The mornings were cloudy, so I’d wait until the sun popped out to run docks,” he adds. “Most of the ones I caught off docks were spotted bass, too.”
10. Cox relies on river and docks for 10th
Forrest Wood Cup champ John Cox of Debary, Fla., scratched out a 10th-place finish by checking in weights of 12-12, 8-6 and 10-1 for a total of 31-3.
While Cox did try to shimmy his way into a couple of shallow creeks in his aluminum boat, which is the same system that earned him the Cup victory back in August, that tactic did not pay off at Norman.
Instead, Cox relied on the upper reaches of the Catawba River and main-lake docks for his tournament catches.
“I caught some in the current, especially when it first started running, but I actually caught some of my better fish when the current would quit,” Cox says. “Once the current stopped the fish would sort of roam around up in the shade and around wood, and I actually sight-fished a few just throwing a Trick Worm on a shaky head. Several of the better ones I caught, I actually saw swimming down the bank.”
Once Cox left the river, he fished main-lake docks with a Spook-type walking bait and Beaver-type bait on a 1/2-ounce weight.