CORNELIUS, N.C. — The last time a BASS tournament was held on North Carolina’s Lake Norman it was 1994, and winner Peter Thliveros had a measly 23 pounds, four ounces of bass to show for four days of fishing.

What a difference a decade can make.

The pros will find a considerably different Lake Norman when the CITGO Bassmaster Tour returns to the Charlotte area March 17-20 and heads down the home stretch toward determining a sizeable chunk of contenders for the 2005 and 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classics and several coveted awards, including the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Toyota Rookie of the Year and Toyota Horizon Award winners.

“This lake has really changed,” veteran Bassmaster pro Guy Eaker said. Eaker, 65, should know. A resident of Cherryville, N.C., he’s fished Norman most of his life.

“Norman used to be called the Dead Sea,” he continued. “The problem was we’ve never had enough baitfish in the lake, but then some fishermen hauled in three truckloads of blueback herring – like they have in Clarks Hill and Hartwell – and dumped them in Norman. Now the lake is full of them, and the fish have plenty to eat.

“Since the last BASS tournament was held here, Norman has really improved. The blueback herring are really feeding the bass, and they’re growing like crazy. We’ve also got a lot of spotted bass in the lake now – two and three pounders and some four pounders. It’s full of spots.”

Eaker experienced the rebirth firsthand during a fishing trip just before the lake went off-limits to competitors a month before the tournament.

“My cousin and I fished Norman before the cutoff, and we must have caught 20 fish up to about four pounds,” he recalled. “They just had a tournament there Saturday that took 17 pounds to win, and this is usually a tough time of year to catch 17 pounds at Norman.”

The site of the fifth of six Tour events, Lake Norman, an impoundment of the Catawba River, is the largest body of fresh water (32,500 surface acres) in North Carolina, but it will be considerably smaller when the Bassmaster pros come to town.

“The lake is down about 7 1/2 feet,” Eaker said. “Duke Power pulled it down to do a little work and to let people work on their docks.

“That should make fishing even better. Once the water is pulled down on the lake, it seems like the fish are a little easier to catch. They don’t have that much territory to roam around in. It pulls them out of all the little sloughs and little creeks right out there to where you can catch them a little better.

“With the water level down, I saw a lot of brush that I haven’t seen in all of my years. People are going to see a lot of rock piles, rocky points and brush piles they’d never even have known were there if the water hadn’t been down.”

Fellow North Carolina pro Marty Stone points out that Norman shares some similarities with chain-mate Lake Wylie, site of the 2004 Classic.

“Fortunately, Norman is probably three times the size of Wylie, and it’s going to let us spread out,” Stone said. “From what I’ve seen, I think you can win on either end of the lake and anywhere in between.”

Eaker predicts it will take a catch of at least 28 pounds to make the top-12 cut and as much as 55 to 60 pounds to win the $100,000 top prize.

How will the best stringers of bass be caught?

“You name it,” he replied. “They’re going to be caught on spinnerbaits, jigs, crankbaits and even tubes. I think a guy who fishes the way he likes to fish will do fine.”

Daily weigh-ins take place at Blythe Landing at 3:00 p.m. ET.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops and Cialis (tadalafil).

Local Sponsors include the Lake Norman Convention & Visitors Bureau.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit