Fishing Guide - Lake Norman Fish Species


North Carolina is home to a number of different species of fish.  The Principal Sport Fish of Lake Norman and the Catawba Reservoirs
  • Black Crappie
  • Striped and White Bass
  • Channel Catfish
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Yellow Perch

Walleye can be found in some of the northern lakes of the Catawba River chain and Trout can be found in streams to the north. Bullheads can be found in some of the warmer lakes, rivers and ponds. In addition to popular sport fish you will also find Carp common to most all the area lakes including Lake Norman.

Here's a look at those species of fresh-water fish that you're most likely to encounter in the Lakes and streams of Western North Carolina...


There are two types of crappies, Black and White. Black crappies are more abundant in the North; white crappies prevail in the South. White crappies are often found in turbid lakes; black crappies require clearer water. Black crappies have irregular dark speckles across the sides. The dorsal fin has seven or more spines. White Crappies have dark speckles set in vertical bars. Dorsal spines usually number less than seven. Black Crappie are a favorite sport fish in Lake Norman and a number of Crappie tournaments are held on the lake each year.

Black Crappie
(Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
White Bass & Stripers:
White bass (silver bass) are found in big rivers and connected lakes, and in large reservoirs. Striped bass and white bass have similar lifestyles. Both species migrate up rivers and streams in spring, spawn in temperatures of about 58F. White bass have a flatter body than stripers. Lines on white bass tend to be lighter and more broken than those on striped bass and usually fall short of the tail. On stripers, lines extend from the gills to the tail. While striped bass are not native to Lake Norman, you will find them in abundance as a result of stocking programs to populate the lake. The stocking program has met with some troubles, you can learn more about this by reading this short article from the North Carolina Inland Fisheries Division of the Wildlife Resources Commission titled:
Too Many Striped Bass .

Striped Bass
(Morone saxatilis)
Channels and flatheads are the most common. Some catfish prefer warm water, some cool northern rivers have large populations. Catfish can tolerate extremely muddy water and even moderately high levels of pollution. Catfish spawn in late spring when the water reaches about 70F. Channel catfish have forked tails. They have 24-29 anal fin rays. Flatheads have flatheads, protruding lower jaws, mottled brownish sides and rounded tails that are usually slightly notched. The anal fin has about 16 rays. Channel Catfish are a favorite sport fish of Lake Norman and can grow to be quite large in the lake.

Channel Catfish
(Ictalurus punctatus)
Largemouth Bass:
Largemouth are found in lakes, ponds or streams. Largemouth spawn when water warms to the low-to mid-60s. Largemouth bass have a dark, horizontal band along the midline from gill to tail. The jaw extends beyond the eye.

Largemouth Bass
(Micropterus salmoides)
Smallmouth Bass:
Smallmouth are found in lakes, many rivers and large reservoirs. Smallmouth spawn in water temperatures of high 50s to low 60s. Smallmouth have copper, dark brown or olive green sides with vertical bars. The jaw extends only to the middle of the eye.

Smallmouth Bass
(Micropterus dolomieu)
Walleye are found in lakes, big rivers and large reservoirs. Walleye spawn in water temperatures of mid 50s to low 60s. Walleye have copper, dark brown or olive green sides. They are named for their large flat looking eyes. They prefer colder waters and are not native to Lake Norman but can be found in some of the Catawba river lakes to the north.

(Stizostedion vitreum )
Where can you fish for walleye?

Mountain reservoirs with significant walleye fisheries include Hiwassee (Cherokee County), Santeetlah (Graham County), Fontana (Swain County), 'Glenville' or Thorpe (Jackson County) and Lake James (McDowell/Burke Counties). Other mountain reservoirs with walleye fisheries include Bear (Jackson County), Nantahala (Macon County) and Chatuge (Clay County), where the current state record walleye (13 lbs. 8 oz.) was caught in 1986. Walleye are occasionally caught in other mountain reservoirs including Cheoah, Calderwood, Appalachia and Rhodhiss, but the waters listed above provide the best walleye fishing opportunities in North Carolina. In the northern Piedmont, walleye may be found in Lake Gaston near the Virginia border (Warren/Northampton Counties), where the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stocks 100,000 walleye fingerlings annually.


There are 4 major stream trout species, Rainbow, Brown, Brook and Cutthroat. Brook trout favor water of about 54F, Rainbows and Cutthroat prefer water of about 55F and Brown trout favor water of about 65F. These fish are found in streams and lakes with cool, oxygenated water. Rainbows are named for the pinkish band along their sides. black spots cover the tail and flanks. Rainbows prefer swift water, but will abandon home streams to live in downstream lakes. Brown trout have backs and sides with black spots and sometimes a few orange spots with light halos. Tails may have a few scattered spots near the top, or none at all. Brook Trout have light spots on their sides and pale, worm-like markings on their backs. Leading edges of the lower fins have white borders. Cutthroat are named for the reddish-orange slashes on both sides of the lower jaw. Like rainbows, their tails and sides are covered with black spots, thought background color is more yellowish.

Where can you fish for trout?...

Trout are generally confined to the higher altitude waters in the western part of the state. North Carolina has an estimated 4,000 miles of trout water and approximately 2,000 miles are managed for public fishing. Trout waters are designated as Hatchery Supported Waters, Delayed Harvest Waters, Wild Trout Waters, and Catch and Release Waters. Many of the state's trout waters are found in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Names like Rough Butt, Rattlesnake Ridge, Hogback Mountain, and Santeetlah conjure visions of breathtaking views, long difficult climbs, and the tranquility of fishing in solitude. Those willing to undertake a fishing adventure to such waters will enjoy a truly unique experience. For more detailed information, you may wish to invest $12 in a Trout Fishing Map Book, which features 18 maps covering all of North Carolina's trout waters.

Bluegills are found in warm lakes. They spawn in temperatures about 68F. They are named for the distinctive, powdery-blue coloring on the lower part of the gill cover. Bluegills are also marked by a black gill flap and a dark spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin. Blue gills are found in Lake Norman.
Perch are found in lakes and rivers, they are abundant in clear water. Perch normally have yellow to yellow-green sides with about seven vertical bars. In some waters, their bodies are tinted gray or brown. Spawning occurs in spring when the water reaches about 45F. Yellow Perch can be found in Lake Norman.
Prime time for bullhead fishing is late spring and summer, after the water temperature has warmed above 60F. Bullheads are found in warm waters of shallow lakes, rivers, marshes and ponds. There are 3 species of bullheads, black, yellow and brown.