Norman all about sorting through the averages

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The good news is the bass fishing is on fire at Lake Norman. The bad news, sort of, is the fish are averaging about the same size. That is the pregame summary for the Bassmaster Open at Lake Norman.

Lake Norman is a fertile fishery with a healthy population of largemouth, and when combined with the prolific numbers of spotted bass, the stage is set for anglers to exploit one or both. Early predictions from practice indicated it will take both to mount a charge for first place.

By all accounts, sorting through the numbers to get to that single, lucky kicker bass will be the key.

“You can catch 50 bass a day here right now,” said Patrick Walters. “Trouble is, you can catch 10 off one spot and only one will be a keeper.”

The following quotes tell the frustrating scenario to be encountered between Thursday and Saturday, when the winner is determined at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Charlotte.

“My goal is 10 pounds a day,” said Walters, coming off another banner season on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Walters, from South Carolina, is highly skilled on fisheries like Norman and elsewhere in the Carolinas. He proved it this time last year by winning the Open on Lake Hartwell.

That puts him high on the list of pre-tournament favorites. His biggest fan this week is fellow Elite Series pro Tyler Rivet, who is the next man out of qualifying for the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. Should Walters win, he double qualifies and thereby moves the Louisiana native into the big show. That just happened at the 1000 Islands, where Cory Johnston’s win punched a Classic ticket for Scott Martin, the previous angler on the bubble.

“Catch 11 1/2 to 12 pounds a day and you can be in contention to win,” Walters said. 

Coincidentally, Matt Arey used the same weight range in his prediction of what it will take to win. Arey, not competing this week, lives less than an hour away from Norman and is very attuned to the seasonal patterns and strategies there. 

“It will take a combination of things to win because of the weather,” Arey said. “Anglers that capitalized on the post-frontal bite will need a backup plan for offshore fish during the tournament.”

Arey is referring to the tropical mass of moisture that slowly churned its way across the South and into the Carolinas on Wednesday. The humid air was ushered away with takeoff temperatures in the low 50s. Daytime highs are expected to be in the mid-70s for the duration of the tournament.

That will make maintaining consistency the key. According to Arey, a resident population of largemouth thrives in shallow water from spring through fall. 

“Those bass are singles, roamers feeding on bluegill and crawfish on shallow flats, points and docks,” said Arey. “The 2-pound-plus limit fillers are off the banks right now in 25- to 35-feet deep.” 

He continued, “Those are big schools that follow the bait out in open water. That is why you need two patterns in play.”

Jacob Powroznik, closing in on an invitation to the 2022 Elite Series season, will follow that strategy, at least on Thursday.

“The key will be going through the rotation to find out which depth range is more consistent, shallow or deep,” he said. “You have a better shot at a quality, kicker bass in shallow water, early, before going out deep to fill that 2-pound limit.” 

Powroznik’s rotatation will take him from 3- to 30-feet of water, the depth range where he’s caught keepers throughout practice. Powroznik’s "start shallow, end up deep" plan lined up with what Arey would do. 

“Go for the early, low light bite for a quality largemouth and then go deep to fill out a limit of the 2-pounders,” he said.

Walters’ game plan will be the opposite. He intends to avoid the highly pressured rotation of docks and other obvious largemouth targets, preferring instead to stay offshore. 

“I’m going for consistency and targeting the schooling fish, just throw a topwater and burn as much gas as I can,” he said. “It will take that much effort to get to that magic weight.”

He added, “We’ll all catch a lot of bass, but they’ll average the same weight, so sorting through the numbers to get to the quality will be the deal.”

“There will be a huge luck factor in play here this week, because you can’t have a big bass pattern,” Powroznik said. “It’s going to be a one lucky bite kind of deal, although I do think the cool snap will make the bait and bass more active.”

Jacob Foutz, the leading Southern division angler of the year with 387 points, echoed the predictions made by Arey, Powroznik and Walters.

“There are bass in summer patterns, and some beginning to transition to the shallow water,” said Foutz, who leads North Carolinian David Williams by just 7 points. “The guys that do well will have multiple things going on, because that’s what it will take to break into Championship Saturday.”

He added, “It will set up really well for someone who likes to junk fish. The good news is there are so many fish in here, and you can do okay catching those 2-pounders.”

He admitted the challenge will be sorting through the averages, getting lucky with a big bite and remaining consistent for all three days. That, indeed, will be the narrow passage to the win.