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Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Little ol' dink-fest

By David Hunter Jones
Bassmaster.com

CORNELIUS, N.C. -- One most Southern bodies of water, a 10-pound bass is a really big fish. If you catch a 10-pounder on Lake Norman, you might as well have boated Godzilla; the two would elicit the same reaction. Four pounds is in the "big" range for Norman.

As a fishery, Norman has lots of fish. Lots and lots. Problem is, they're all small.

White perch, spotted bass and until not too long ago, stripers all competed with bass for Norman's forage (a fish kill wiped out most all of the stripers).

Limits for this Open should be fairly easy to come by, but size will prove to be the tricky issue. Look for the final-day cut to be in the 24- to 25-pound range.

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Ott Defoe has spent the better part of this week on Norman's 40,000 acres and has discovered oodles of small fish.

"If you catch 9 1/2 pounds a day, that's not all that good. If you catch 10 1/2 pounds, you're OK. If you catch 11 1/2 pounds, you're really alright. If you catch 12 1/2 pounds a day, you may win the thing," he says. "Every ounce you get will move you up several places."

Norman's shores are lined with docks, many of which may come into play this week. Bass will spawn under and around the docks, and with water temperatures in the low 60s, they've got love on their fishy minds.

Before the final fish hits the scales this Saturday, it's more than likely that most every pro takes a turn or two at a dock. Madison, Miss., pro Scott McGehee reckons the lake has 40,000 docks, which seems like a lot, but is scant compared to Lake of the Ozarks' 56,000.

Louisiana pro Tony Chachere will be dockside. He's lobbing everything from soft plastic jerkbaits to jigs to soft plastic stickbaits at them, and having success with all of them.

"The fish all all over the docks," he explains. "But, they're all small!"

McGehee's few days of practice have been a lesson in fish behavior.

"I've been watching fish porn all week," McGehee said. "(The spawn) is on right now where I'm fishing. But, they're just in little bitty areas."

Several of these little bitty areas are popular areas, too. There are two other tournaments occurring this Saturday, adding another 200 boats to the Open's 178-boat field. Nearly 400 boats on Norman will make for some crowded fishing.

Ohio pro Frank Scalish is worried about the pressure on Norman's little fish.

"If you're in a specific area and you're dialed in, everyone else is dialed in," he said. "If you've got to get behind two other boats to make a cast at a row of docks, you might as well forget it. These spotted bass will eat the first thing, there's no begging or convincing needed."

Ott Defoe recalls and FLW event on Norman held nearly one year ago.

"I think Bryan Thrift won it with 58 or 59 pounds, and that was over four days. Plus, he won it by five or six pounds," Defoe says. "It's crazy how many little fish there are in here."

Little fish or not, this Open is studded with local ringers and 17 Elite Series pros. More than likely the contest will come down to a matter of ounces.

"Just hope that the one you catch just ate a crappie," Scalish quipped.

The March 24-26 event will be the first time a Bassmaster tournament has come to Lake Norman since 2006.

Previous winners include most recent Elite Series winner Edwin Evers, who won a Bassmaster Tour event in March 2005 with 46 pounds, 6 ounces; and Lisa Sternard, who won a Women's Bassmaster Tour event there in July 2006 with 21-7.

Co-anglers will compete against each other from the back of pros' boats. First prize in the co-angler division is a Triton/Mercury boat package valued at $35,000.

The daily limit for pro competitors is five fish, 14 inches minimum. The co-angler limit is three fish no shorter than 14 inches each.

The full fields of both the pro and co-angler divisions will compete the first two days, then cut to the top 12 for Day Three. Highest cumulative weight over three days determines the winner.

Bassmaster.com will offer extended coverage, including live streaming video and real-time leaderboards of the weigh-ins beginning at 3 p.m. ET March 24 and 25, and at 4 p.m. ET on March 26. Fans also can expect daily analysis and standings, BASSCam video reports and extensive online photo galleries. Access to all online content at Bassmaster.com is free.

On March 26, the final weigh-in will take place at the Concord location of Bass Pro Shops, 8181 Concord Mills Blvd., Concord, NC 28027; phone: 704-979-2200. The action starts on stage at 4 p.m. ET. The event is free and open to the public.

Weigh-ins on the first two days will be at Blythe Landing, 15901 NC Highway 73, Cornelius, NC 28031, at 3 p.m. ET.

The boats will take off at 7 a.m. ET from Blythe Landing.

The public is invited to watch the launches as well as the weigh-ins; all activities are free and open to the public.

The local host is Visit Lake Norman. The site provides hotel, dining and sightseeing options as well as an overview of the area.