Fishing with Gus

Striped bass are fast becoming an endangered species on Lake Norman.

It’s sad, but true, that for the fourth summer in a row, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission reports that a major striped bass kill has occurred at Duke Power’s McGuire Nuclear Power Plant on Lake Norman.

While the NCWRC only counts the fish that float to the surface, the majority either sink to the bottom, get caught in the thermocline or are eaten by predators. This translates to a significant understatement of the eight hundred or so killed this year. In fact, it’s said that less than ten percent ever reach the surface to be counted.

So, what is the Wildlife Commission doing about protecting and reviving Lake Norman’s striped bass fishery? Nothing. They simply blame the presence of a deep swimming forage fish, the alewife herring, for the annual striped bass kills.

Not everyone agrees with this assessment. Others theorize that global warming and the effects of thermal population created by power generation, is responsible for the kills.

Early each summer, striped bass and herring seek out the cool water at the base of Cowan’s Ford Dam. As the ambient air temperatures rise and the lake cool water is used for power generation, the water temperature heats. When it exceeds 78 degrees, striped bass stress and become inactive. By mid-July, a combination of 90-degree water temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen levels kill them.

As mentioned in previous columns, there are options that could improve the fishery and help stop the summer fish kills. The first is to supplement striped bass stockings with a much hardier fish – the Hybrid Striped Bass. A second, but more costly alternative is to install an underwater aeration system in a limited area near the dam where stripers and herring spend the summer. This air/oxygen infusion system operates in the same manner an underwater filter works in a tropical fish aquarium. The infusion systems where installed on TVA Lakes have improved fishing and likewise has a very high probability of saving the striper fishery on Lake Norman.

Upcoming Events

Family Fishing Day – Aug. 25, 8-11:30 a.m. at Camp Dogwood on Lake Norman. This event is free to children ages 6-15 accompanied by an adult. Space is limited. Register online at or call 910-603-4929.

Tips from Capt. Gus

An easy way to replace line on a fishing reel is to place the new spool in a pail of water. The line will transfer without twisting and will load tightly onto the spool of the reel. It’s a much easier method than having someone hold the new spool as it spins on a pencil.

Hot Spots of the Week

Cat fishing has been excellent at Cowan’s Ford Dam, the site of the recent striper kill. The Arkansas Blue Catfish are feasting on dead stripers and fishermen are using them for catfish bait.

Up lake, bass anglers are catching limits with soft plastics rigged Carolina style. The bigger bass are on drops and deep points in water to thirty feet. Smaller spotted bass are surface feeding on shallow points and are hitting a variety of top water lures. White perch fishing is also very good, with many boats catching a hundred or more per trip.

Lake Norman’s lake level is about 3.1’ below full pond. The surface water temperature is near ninety degrees in water not affected by power generation.

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.