Covering water, staying on top key at Norman

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Going through the numbers to get a decent limit was a must, but the underlying theme was covering water for the top anglers after Day 1 of the Bassmaster Open at Lake Norman.

Here are a few notable facts to back up that claim

  • Leader Blake Smith has 65 spots covering the length of the 34-mile-long lake.
  • Second-place boater Cody Hoyle made stops at roughly 150 boat docks.
  • Josh Douglas, in fifth place, has waypoints for 100 spots that are in play.

Smith managed to bring an all-largemouth limit to the scales weighing 15 pounds, 7 ounces, far ahead of the pre-tournament predictions that it would take 12 pounds each day to be in contention to win. He leads Hoyle, a local tournament angler, by just 14 ounces.

A key to Smith’s heavier bag is the Floridian is intentionally targeting larger fish, which in this lake are the largemouth. He is ignoring the mainstream pattern of sorting through numbers of bass to reach the daily goal. In his case, going big is not being lucky at all.

He was quoted in yesterday’s gamer article as seeing a five-pounder and numerous bass in the 3-pound range swimming near the surface, where he is casting an unnamed topwater lure.

Recognizing the potential of his pattern to remain active through Saturday, Smith fished conservative on Day 1, only fishing 13 of his spots. He will likely open it up today and go all out on Saturday, from end to end of the lake. 

Noteworthy are the ironies in play here at Norman. An Open was held this same week last year at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. The dates are ironic, and so are two other striking similarities. Blueback herring thrive in both impoundments, and topwaters were the overwhelming choice of lures used by the top anglers in South Carolina. Like last year at Hartwell, the fall transition is underway at Norman. That explains why topwaters are being used most of the day, and why being on the move is the name of the game at Norman. The offshore bass here, like those at Hartwell, are feeding on roaming schools of blueback herring.

Hoyle, who last weekend finished third with 20.98 pounds in a two-day American Bass Anglers tournament, did what he does best on Norman. That is running a pattern of boat docks, which is the other strategy in play. That pattern opened up during the sunny skies prevailing on Thursday, after cloudy, rainy weather dominated the official practice.

Hoyle favors the docks for their isolated shady spots that provide ambush points for the largemouth. Size also matters with which docks Hoyle targets. The bigger the better, and not just for a broader strike zone. Hoyle’s experience on Norman unlocked a pattern within the pattern, with lakefront property owners adding numerous brushpiles around those larger docks. The bigger the better, the more the better. The docks targeted by Hoyle also provide more cover for the bluegill and crappie sharing the space with the largemouth.

Douglas, a skilled offshore angler in the wide-open lakes of Minnesota such as Mille Lacs, is wisely leveraging that skill set here at Norman. Douglas spent his practice idling around the lake, marking roughly 100 spots ranging in depth from 30- to 35-feet.

When interviewed yesterday, Douglas said he discovered transitional bass staging over rocky bottoms before they move into the creeks. 

Expect more of the same today, as the weather remains stable with sunny skies, highs in the upper 70s and a light northeast wind.