List of Common Lake Norman Fish Species [Updated]
The largest artificial lake in North Carolina is Lake Norman. Duke Energy built the lake between 1959 – 1964 after the creation of the Cowans Ford Dam to generate energy and prevent flooding. It is 34 miles (179,520 feet) with an average depth of 10 meters (33 feet) and a maximum depth of 33 meters (108 feet).
Lake Norman is also known as the “inland sea” of North Carolina due to its surface area of 32,510 acres and shoreline of 520 miles. Hidden beneath the lake are towns with roads, homes, farms, and facilities that suffered from reoccurring floods. Davidson College has an interactive map of the buildings and locations underneath the lake.
Lake Norman has become a haven for outdoor activities. This massively beautiful lake has two built fishing areas and eight public boating access areas along the shoreline. Throughout the year the lake is open to anglers, but the ideal time to fish is early summer. A fishing or sportsman license is required for all above the age of 16 to fish at Lake Norman. The license can be purchased online, at N.C. Wildlife, or Walmart. Listed below are popular fishes to catch at Lake Norman.
List of Fish Species in Lake Norman
1) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Black crappies are known as paper mouth or speckled perch. They thrive in natural lakes and reservoirs with moderate vegetation. They are identified by the black blotches on their sides and 7 – 8 spiny dorsal fin rays. The average size of black crappies is 5.1 – 19.3 inches. Adult crappies can weigh up to 3 – 4 lbs with a diet of mostly fish and insects.
Crappies are fished all year round, but the best time to catch crappies are early morning and at night when they are most active. The best daytime fishing is in spring and fall when the large school moves to shallow water. Black crappies specifically prefer deep impoundments with tree or brush cover. Their ideal temperature is 66 – 76 degrees Fahrenheit. The minimum size limit is 8 inches and the daily creel limit is 20. Some common bait techniques for crappies are cane poles, bait-casting outfits, fly rods, and live bait (minnows). The world record caught is 6 lbs.
2) White crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
White crappies also have black blotches on their sides, but it appears as vertical bars. Rather than having 7 – 8 spiny dorsal fin rays, white crappies have 5 – 6. White and black crappies crossbreeding sometimes occurs, making the coloration indistinguishable between the two. However, the best method to differentiate the two species is by the number of spiny dorsal fin rays. White crappies also have an average size of 5.1 – 19.3 inches and weigh 3 – 4 lbs with a diet of fish and insects.
Another difference between white and black crappies is that white crappies prefer warmer, murky water with cover. Their ideal temperature is 64 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The white crappie also has a minimum size limit of 8 inches and a daily creel limit of 20. Anglers can catch white crappie using the same fishing techniques as black crappie – using can poles, bait casting outfits, fly rods, and live minnows. The world record is 5 lbs and 3 ounces.
3) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
The most alluring and exciting catch at Lake Norman is the largemouth bass. It is related to the smallmouth and spotted bass, but is very aggressive. These feeders are agile and quick enough to snag their foods easily. Anglers commonly identify it by its protruding lower jaw. It is also much larger than the smallmouth and spotted bass. The average weight of largemouth bass is 2 – 3 lbs. Their diet consists of worms, frogs, crayfish, fish, insects, and salamanders.
Largemouth bass prefer slightly stained to murky water with minimal current and cover. They are found in depths of 1 – 60 feet where the temperatures range from 60 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Largemouth bass seldom feed in temperatures lower than 50 and above 98 Fahrenheit. Short feeding sprees occur four times within 24 hours and bite to ward off intruders from their territories.
Some fishing techniques that can be used to catch largemouth bass are spinnerbaits, jerk baits, soft plastics, and live baits. The minimum size limit is 14 inches, but two can be less than 14 inches, and a daily creel limit of 5, including the 2 less than 14 inches. The world record weighed 22 lbs, 4 ounces.
4) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
Related to largemouth and spotted bass are the smallmouth bass. Do not underestimate the size of this smallie because they are just as agile and powerful as largemouths! Its appearance is bronze to brownish-green with dark vertical bars on its sides. Unlike the largemouth bass, its upper jaw extends to the middle of its red eyes, and its dorsal fin is not deeply notched. The average length of a smallie is 8 – 10 inches, though some range over 20 inches. Its diet consists of shad, minnows, and crayfish.
They prefer rocky areas in clear to slightly hazy water in depths between 1 – 50 feet, with or without current. Its ideal temperature is between 58 – 72 degrees Fahrenheit. They tend to migrate deep into the water and hibernate at low temperatures, making them difficult to catch during the winter. In warm water, they feed aggressively and strike at spinnerbaits, baits imitating baitfish or crawfish, crankbaits, and topwater lures. The minimum size limit is 14 inches, with two being less than 14 inches, and the daily creel limit is 5, including the 2 less than 14 inches. The world record caught is 10 lbs, 14 ounces.
5) Spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
The feistier and smaller cousin of the largemouth bass is the spotted bass. As their name implies, they have numerous dark spots on the lower side of their body and a sandpaper-like patch on their tongue. This rough patch holds crayfish in their mouths as they crush their shells before swallowing them. They also consume immature insects, frogs, and small fish.
Also known as spots, they are found all over the lake, but the largest concentration can be found in the deep water where they roam in schools. These schools have feeding frenzies, and once the school is found, many spots can be lured using natural and artificial baits. Because they have a smaller mouth, small lure sizes should be used such as crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and small baits imitating food it eats. The minimum size limit is 14 inches, with 2 being less than 14 inches, and the daily creel limit is 5, including only two less than 14 inches. The world record caught is 9 lbs, 8 ounces.
6) Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)
The striped bass is distinguished by its silver coloration and 7 – 8 black horizontal stripes on its sides. The front dorsal fin has 9 spines while the second dorsal fin has one spine with soft fin rays. Adult stripers reach 1 – 3 feet long and weigh 2 – 20 lbs. What makes this bass different from the ones previously mentioned is that they are anadromous. They dwell in salt water and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission sends striped bass into reservoirs such as Lake Norman, where food and water are abundant. They do not reproduce naturally within lakes; they are maintained by stocking.
They prefer freshwater systems that drain into the ocean, but their ideal water temperature is 55 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they thrive in freshwater systems, often to the extent of eating almost everything that moves. Anglers should be excited about these non-picky eaters and enjoy the catch. Some fishing lures are topwater lures, deep diver jerk baits, deep diver crankbaits, spoons, soft swimbaits, and live baits such as large flies.
The best time of day to catch a striped bass is at night since they become more active in searching for food. The minimum size limit is 16 inches with the daily creel limit at 4 in the aggregate. The saltwater record is 81 lbs, 14 ounces.
7) Bodie bass (Morone saxatilis x Morone chrysops)
The bodie bass is a hybrid of a male white bass and female striped bass. It has a unique color of gray to steel blue with white and light green. Its physical appearance is strikingly similar to striped bass. However, its body has broken stripes and a deeper body. This hybrid grows rapidly and seldom reproduces. They are reared in hatcheries maintained by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and stocked into Lake Norman for recreational fishing.
Like striped and white bass, it prefers open waters to forage fishes. This hybrid does not grow as big as striped bass, but it is common to find individuals larger than 10 lbs. Some fishing techniques to catch bodie bass are live shad, minnows, and bank fishing with chicken liver. The minimum size limit is 16 inches with the daily creel limit being 4 in the aggregate.
8) White bass (Morone chrysops)
The white bass has a silver-gray color on the top and upper body with a white to light green coloration on its sides. It has faint horizontal stripes on its sides, which is often unnoticeable. It is often confused with white perch when it is small, but this confusion can be avoided by locating a tooth patch on the back of its tongue. The white bass travels in schools in open waters and often chases baitfish to the surface of the water. This jump to the surface is an exciting thrill for anglers looking for a challenge.
Adult white bass feed on insects, crayfish, zooplankton, and other small fishes. The ideal time to fish for them is during the summer and fall. An excellent method to catch this fish is using live minnows or shad. Artificial lures such as spinners, crankbaits, jigs, and spoons are also successful techniques. There is a minimum size limit of 14 inches and a daily creel limit of 10. The state record held is 5 lbs, 14 oz.
9) Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)
The flathead catfish has a wide flat head with a protruding lower jaw. Inside its mouth, there is a large tooth plate on the upper jaw. Flathead catfish have an average size of 3 – 4 feet, weighing over 100 lbs. They primarily feed on live fish such as shad, panfish, and bullhead catfish. Due to its large size and appetite, anglers should not move flathead catfish from one waterbody to another. Flathead catfish are responsible for the decline of native fish in areas where they were introduced.
Flathead catfish prefer deep lakes and reservoirs where the water is turbid and the currents are slow. Their ideal water temperature is between 75 – 84 Fahrenheit. The top catfish baits are worms, frogs, crayfish, live fish, and cut bait. They can also consume salamanders, birds, and other rodents that move into their territory. Some live fish and baits used to lure flathead catfish are minnows, sunfish, and other small gamefish. There is a low success rate with chicken liver and stinkbait. In Lake Norman, there is no minimum size limit or daily creel limit for catfish. The state record is 78 lbs, 14 ounces.
10) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
The channel catfish has a forked tail with black spots covering its sides and back. The sides and top have a variation from gray to blue with hints of yellow. It is scaleless with eight barbels located around its mouth that act as sensors to locate food. The difference between this catfish and blue catfish can be found by observing the straight outer edge and 30 – 36 rays of its anal fin.
This catfish is native to the Mississippi Basin and introduced throughout the United States. They are adaptable to their environment and are often found in lakes, rivers, streams, and even ponds throughout NC. They have proven to become very important to the North Carolina Resource Commission since thousands are reared in hatcheries to be stocked at various sites for recreational activities in urban settings.
The average size of the channel catfish is 22 inches. Adult channel catfish feed on plant materials, crayfish, dead fish, insect larvae, small fish, and mollusks. They are known as bottom feeders and rely on their long barbels to locate their food on the water floor. The ideal time to find channel catfish is at night since they are active feeders from sunset to midnight. However, channel cats cannot withstand temperatures under 65 Fahrenheit.
The fishing baits used for flathead catfish can be used for channel cats. The best months to fish for channel catfish are April, May, September, and October. There is no minimum size limit or daily creel at Lake Norman. The state record is 23 lbs.
11) Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)
The yellow perch is primarily green-yellow along its back, with dark bands on its sides. It has two dorsal fins, the first being spiny. The pelvic and anal fins are amber to bright orange. The average size of a yellow perch is 7 – 9 inches with a weight of ⅓ of a pound. Their sizes vary within their ecosystems.
They are usually found in clear lakes with sandy or rooted underwater vegetation. They are considered shallow water dwellers, and will not be found more than 30 feet deep. Though they prefer temperatures between 63 – 77 Fahrenheit, they remain active in temperatures outside this range.
As adults, they primarily feed on worms, crustaceans, mollusks, small fish such as minnows, and insects. They usually feed during the daytime since they are sight feeders. Some cast lures include live bait, small jigs, small spinners, underspin, and small crankbait. They are caught all year round, which many ice fishers find most exciting. Yellow perch are regulated as inland fishes. The world record caught is 3.75 lbs.
12) White perch (Morone americana)
The white perch is known as the silver perch or sea perch. They have a thin, deep body with silver sides. The sides sometimes have golden or greenish hints. They are very similar to small white bass, but the white perch does not have dark lines spanning the length of its body. They also do not have a tooth patch at the center of their tongue to feed on crayfish. Another way to distinguish the white perch from the white bass is the 9 spines on its first dorsal fin and one spine with 12 soft rays on its second dorsal fin. The average size of a white perch is 7 – 10 inches with a maximum weight of 1 lb.
White perch are carnivorous and feed in schools. They are known to eat the eggs of walleye, white bass, and other white perch. They also feed on smaller white perch, aquatic insects, and zooplankton. Larger white perch feed on worms, small fishes, fish eggs, shrimps, and insects. Anglers often find white perch schools by drifting through spots that are preferred by perch. The preferred baits are minnows, shrimp, worms, lures, and streamer-type flies. When a school is found, anglers can cast lures or use bottom fishing with bait. There is no minimum size limit or daily creel limit. However, white perch also have inland restrictions as well.
13) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
The bluegill is known as bream, panfish, sunfish, and sunny. They are round and flat with a dark spot at the side of their dorsal fin. A distinguishing feature of this sunfish is its black ear flap. Its back and upper sides are dark green, and its belly has hints of yellow and red. It also has a vertical bar pattern on its sides. Their average length is 7.5 inches with a maximum weight of 4 lbs.
Bluegills prefer cloudy water with little or no current and temperatures between 60 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They spend most of their active time in depths of 1 – 10 feet. Because they feed by sight, they feed during the day when they can find largemouth bass, turtles, and birds. Having a varied diet allows anglers to use various baits. Some baits include small jigs, small spinners, mini spoons, underspin, mini crankbaits, salmon eggs, and worms. Flyfishing is an15other exciting way to fish for bluegill.