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Locating quality will be critical at Norman

Locating quality will be critical at Norman

It will be a game of numbers in which diligence plus a little luck could equal success for anglers competing in the Lake Norman Bassmaster Southern Open. Competition days will be Thursday through Saturday (Sept. 23-25) with daily takeoffs from Blythe Landing Park at 7 a.m. ET.

On days 1 and 2, weigh-ins will be held back at the park at 3 p.m. The day-3 weigh-in will be at the Bass Pro Shops in Concord Mills, N.C., at 4 p.m.

The final Southern Division event of the 2021 season will determine the divisional points winner and move the Opens field one step closer to crowning the overall Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year, with only the Central Opens at Lewis Smith Lake and Grand Lake remaining.

David Williams of Maiden, N.C., currently 2nd in the Southern Division points, said lingering warmth will likely drape Norman with a challenging scenario. Water temperatures on the 32,500-acre Catawba River reservoir are currently reading in the upper 70s to low 80s, and that’s still the stuff of summer patterns. A week before the tournament, Norman was a little more than 3 feet below full pool.

“It really hasn’t gotten cool enough to get them into their fall feed,” Williams said. “A lot of the fish are still schooled up out in the middle of the lake or in the main-river channels. They haven’t really made a push to the bank or to the creeks.

“They’re just following the bait (blueback herring, alewives, threadfin shad and gizzard shad). They could be schooling in one region of the lake one day, and then the next day, the bait moves and the fish move with them. They could be 5 miles from where you found them.”

Having fished Norman since his childhood, Williams has seen the lake shift from a largemouth-dominated fishery to one where spotted bass take center stage. While the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission recently stocked 2,000 F-1 largemouth (Florida strain/Northern bass cross), it was illegal spotted bass introductions a few decades back that yielded today’s complexion, estimated at 80/20 spots to largemouth.

“It’s not a bad thing. You can catch a lot of fish, but catching the right ones can be difficult,” Williams said. “I’ve seen fish schooling all day long, chasing bait. It’s just hard to find any size because there are just a lot of small ones. But if you find the right area with the right size fish in it, you can get well in a hurry.

“You just go through enough numbers of them until you get the right one. I’ve been out here this time of year catching a bunch of 12- to 13-inchers and all of a sudden, a pack of bigger ones swims through and you catch a couple 2 1/2-pounders.”

Noting that rock and brush will be the dominant habitat features, Williams said he expects shaky-heads, small swimbaits and topwaters to see a lot of action. Based on the dynamic nature of summertime spotted bass fishing, he believes the entire lake will be in play — at least initially.

“There will typically be a region of the lake that’s hotter than the others, but it could be won out of any region,” he said. “You never know where the best region is, but they’ll typically bite better in one region than another. That will stay consistent unless you get some kind of drastic weather change.”

North Carolina’s largest man-made lake located wholly within the state, Norman will offer plenty of offshore space. But there’s a good chance a handful of anglers will spend at least part of their time on the bank looking for largemouth around docks, brush and shallow rock.

Williams said flipping, cranking and walking topwaters could yield a 4- to 5-pound bite, but anglers will have to mind the quality vs. quantity calculation.

“If a guy can find that (shallow largemouth bite), he can do well,” Williams said. “It’s just hard to get a limit like that. I feel like you have to have multiple things going on; maybe some schooling fish to get your limit and then maybe go shallow. If you dedicate shallow, it’s hard to get five this time of year.”

Given the seasonal scenario, Williams predicts a 12-pound daily average will win the event. Norman holds plenty of chunky spots, but catching 2-pounders during late summer can be frustratingly difficult.

“You have to separate yourself from the rest of the field,” he said. “A lot of people will have 7 to 8 pounds, but the ones who find those bigger bites will excel.”

Nodding to the event’s diverse field, Williams made this observation: “Somebody could come in from another region or another country and try some technique or use their electronics to find something that not a lot of locals do.

“Those big ones are out there somewhere and if (someone) finds something where those big ones are sitting and finds a way to catch them, that could be dangerous.”

Jacob Foutz of Charleston, Tenn., Williams, Blake Smith of Lakeland, Fla., and Keith Poche of Pike Road, Ala., sit atop of the Southern Division points standings while Jacob Powroznik of North Prince George, Va., is leading the Opens Angler of the Year race.

The full field will compete the first two days before the boater side is cut to the Top 10 anglers for Championship Saturday. The co-angler champion will be crowned after the day-2 weigh-in.

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