I don't know if any of you have noticed lately, but the fish behavior in Lake Norman seems to have changed this spring. The bass are not located in the same places that they traditionally move into in the spring after the spawn, and they seem to be seeking different water depths than normal. Crappie are plentiful but again they seem to be in non traditional places. Catfish are plentiful but due to the sping spawn, the big ones are up river and the small ones are biting hard. During the months of April, May and June, I can normally depend on a bass catch rate of about 4 per hour, but this year its down to less than 2 per hour.
The only unusual occurances this year are the high water and the unusually warm winter, warming the water earlier than normal. I have a theory and it involves the Stripers, or absence of them. Stripers normally raise havoc with the bait fish during the colder fall and winter months, moving up and down the main and side channels on a regular basis each day. Nature has given the small bait fiah and other fish the capability to sense this movement and do whatever is necessary to avoid being caught and eaten. Over the years, these smaller fish have developed the habit of avoiding the Striper whenever possible.
Now, the war is over, there are no more striper schools moving throughout the lake in search of food and the small fish are sensing this and changing their behavior. Small bait fish can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures, but when being chased constantly, they worry more about their location than they do their comfort. Now with no stripers, they can move into the waters that give them the most comfort, so we are finding the bait fish a little deeper than we normally see them, where the water is slightly cooler. All of the predators, of course will follow the food chain and go to the deeper water.
I have also noticed that the bass are not quite as agressive as they have been on their bites. I believe that there is an over abundance of bait fish in the lake and all the other fish are eating at will without having to be very agressive. The fish that we are catching are bigger than usuall, but they seem more willing to avoid a good meal when presented to them with a hook attached.
The high spring water has also had an effect. Much more food has been washed into the lake with all of the associated nutrients that go along with that, and we have also had higher than normal rainfall.
Because of all of this I believe that the lake and all of the fish in it are in transition, waiting for the normal things to happen again. The stripers of course are gone and it will years before they return, Until then us fishermen will have to adjust our fishing techniques and perhaps our appetites, until the agressive fishing returnes again.
I always try to make comparisons to human behavior when studing the fish and there are similarities here. Think about the people who live in parts of the Middle East, Since they were born there has been war of one type or another. They live in that environment and they adjust their daily movements and life style based on what they have known all of their lives. If suddenly there was complete peace there, no more bombs, no more killing etc., don't you think the first thing that would happen would be confusion. Everyone would have to behave differently, they would adopt new habits and perhaps a new culture, but the transition would take time. Many would not be able to adjust and would continue their normal routines, but most, especially the young would start to change and over time a new "normal" would be established and a new daily life style would be created. The time frames might be different but I believe that this is what is happening in Lake Norman.In time we will begin to figure out how the fish behavior has changed and we will adjust to accomodate that change, just in time for the new crop of adult stripers to return. And the cycle of life goes on.