Peach State anglers are extremely lucky when it comes to striped bass. Because of the species’ saltwater origins they pull and fight like a bulldog, but fortunately for us inhabit many of our freshwater lakes and streams throughout the state. Along with the tidal water stripers that occur naturally in our coastal streams, we have populations that have been stocked in many of our reservoirs. These stocked fish thrive and grow quite well, providing anglers all over our state the opportunity to feel the tug of these big bruisers.
The striped bass stocking program by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division is highly successful. Without it, the striper fishery would disappear in most of our inland lakes and streams, taking with them a great angling opportunity. Striped bass, or linesides, as they are sometimes referred to by anglers, do not typically reproduce with much success in our landlocked reservoir systems.
Most of our drainages don’t provide the conditions needed in nature for them to propagate. This is largely due to the fact that the fertilized eggs of stripers need to be constantly moving in a river current for about 48 to 72 hours until hatching. The eggs suffocate and die if they sink to the river bottom.
Newly hatched stripers continue their development while suspended in the river current, initially feeding on their yolk sacs. In about a week they begin to feed on tiny crustaceans that are barely visible to the naked eye and it’s a month or so before they begin to eat other foods. For striped bass to successfully reproduce the river current must be strong enough and the river’s distance long enough to keep the eggs and young from settling to the bottom.
In the Coosa River system above Weiss Lake anglers can expect to find stripers up in the main river this time of year, as well as in the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers. Spawning is what is on the mind of these linesides; in fact Weiss Lake is one of the rare reservoirs in the country where stripers successfully reproduce in numbers to sustain their population and stockings aren’t necessary.
The Oostanaula and Etowah rivers that form the Coosa, which eventually feeds into Weiss Lake, provide adequate current, distance and flow rate that is favorable for successful hatching of the fry.
Andy Bowen, co-owner of the Cohutta Fishing Company in Cartersville fishes for linesides in the Coosa system. During high water, Bowen suggests looking for stripers around structure, where the fish tend to hold tight. He recommends scouting the rivers as much as possible and studying their topography during low water conditions to help in knowing where logs, blow-downs and other structures are located.
When the water is low, Bowen looks for the fish in deep pools or in the shoals. He also targets underwater structures as well. Of course the areas he targets are where the baitfish tend to be found as well. Stripers primarily feed on threadfin and gizzard shad. If the baitfish are hiding in cover the striped bass will be close by.
The quality of the stripers is especially good this time of year according to Bowen. He bases this on the fact that the fish are healthy and still fresh from their river run. Later in the season they begin to show some normal stress from less favorable water conditions, such as water that is too warm or low in oxygen. An average-sized fish is 4 to 6 pounds, but they do get much larger and a fish weighing more than 30 pounds is very possible.
Bowen fishes for stripers in the Etowah, Oostanaula and Coosa rivers throughout the summer months into late August. He notices that during the latter parts of August the stripers move back down into the lake, perhaps seeking cooler water in its depths and following the shad.
Bowen prefers to chase stripers with a fly rod in hand. Eight or 9-weight rods work fine. The flies Bowen recommends are Clouser Minnows, Lefty’s Deceivers and Cowen’s Coyote.
Henry Cowen is a striper guide on Lake Lanier who created the Coyote. It’s a fly that closely resembles the Blakemore Roadrunner with a bucktail jig with a spinner blade.
Bowen said selecting a big fly or lure isn’t necessary for catching big fish. It’s best to select a lure that matches the size of the shad or other baitfish the striper are feeding on.
When using conventional tackle Bowen recommended throwing swimbaits, bucktails or RedFin crankbaits. When the fish are feeding on top Bowen suggested a fluke style bait,
Creek Chub Striper Strike, Lucky Craft Sammy or Heddon Zara Spook. A medium to medium/heavy action rod should handle about any size striper you encounter.
"The fact that we have a fish that we can catch here in Georgia in freshwater that is genetically a saltwater fish and can fight and run like a saltwater fish is what makes striper fishing so much fun," Bowen said. "The fact that they can be difficult to locate and catch because of their constant movement adds to the challenge and even to the fun."
Kent Edmunds of "Fly Fishing West Georgia and Beyond" guides anglers on lakes and streams in the west-central portion of the state. He is quite familiar with the striper fishery in the southern reaches of the Chattahoochee River in the Peach State.
"What is great about catching stripes," Edmunds said, "is that they run for the horizon or down the river. They make that long, hard run."
This is the time of year for finding linesides up in the rivers in his neck of the woods as well. They run up into the rivers to spawn, though that effort proves fruitless. In the lower sections of the Chattahoochee where water temperatures are quicker to rise, the fish may begin moving upstream in late winter to the early spring months. Down in the Columbus area stripers may already be moving back down into the lakes by late spring and early summer.
When water temperatures get their warmest, Edmunds said that stripers for the most part in his part of the state go back into the lakes seeking cooler waters.
But, he also said that when it gets very hot, some striped bass may again run up into the rivers seeking more oxygenated waters. Edmunds believes that some stripers even remain year-round in the river. He catches stripers in the middle of summer in the ‘Hooch above West Point Lake, from Franklin all the way to Atlanta.
"With stripers it’s al
most always a combination of water temperatures, oxygenation and food," Edmunds noted. "When warmer water isn’t holding oxygen so well, some of the fish go up into the river where there are rapids and shoals that oxygenate the water. And there are quite a few rapids in the river between Atlanta and West Point."
Where you catch stripers this time of year may really just depend on your preference for fishing rivers or lakes.
"Because of the way stripers are stocked into our impoundments we tend to think of them as lake fish, but they are really current fish. They are used to and like moving water," Edmunds explained.
He prefers targeting the stripers in rivers. They can be easier to find, because of the shallower and narrower water the baitfish are confined to.
Even though in May it’s very likely that there are more stripers that have moved back into West Point Lake, Edmunds still is more likely to look for them in the river. Edmunds concentrates his efforts on looking for the feeding spots where the baitfish are. As it warms up he may change his target areas to where the stripes are likely seeking cooler and more oxygenated water, such as in the shoals and rapids where there is more current. He also recommended fishing deep pools above and below those shoals.
As far as lakes go, Edmunds does most of his striper fishing on West Point Lake. He looks for them hanging over treetops or off bottom humps in deep water. It’s important to know the lake and where these structures are located before heading out, through the use of topography maps and scouting during low water. Depth finders are useful in confirming locations of structures indicated on maps. When a big fish shows up on the screen it is likely a striper!
Striped bass can be tricky to find, because they are always on the move. If you don’t have success in one area try again later and your luck may change. As with most species, those anglers who spend the most time looking for and patterning these fish have better luck in learning the hotspots.
Shad are the primary food source for stripers in this part of the state as well. Live shad is definitely a popular bait for catching stripers, but artificial lures and flies also can be effective. Edmunds agrees that matching the size of the shad that the stripers are feeding on is important for success. Bucktail jigs, Sassy Shads or any similar soft bait will work. Edmunds throws a topwater lure to fish that are busting the surface.
Edmunds is at heart a fly fisherman and finds that feeding stripers readily take a fly. This is one reason he prefers fishing the rivers. They tend to be shallower, which is more fly-fisher friendly. Edmunds recommended Clouser Minnows, Lefty’s Deceivers and most any saltwater streamer. He believes that the river fish aren’t quite so particular.
Again it is more important to throw a fly that is the same size as the bait. The shad may vary from 1 1/2 inches to 3 1/2 inches in length, so the fly should match those sizes. He favors white-and-chartreuse, olive-and-white or just white for color choice. Poppers and Crease Flies can also be used on surface feeding fish.
The size of the stripers in the Chattahoochee drainage can vary greatly. Linesides as big as 40 pounds and more have been caught in West Point Lake and the river, both above and below the lake.
Edmunds also mentioned having some very productive weeks below West Point Lake in the spring and summer months. There it’s possible to catch large numbers of 12- to 14-inch stripers in a single day.
Anglers can expect to find some hot river-run action this time of year in the northeast corner of the Peach State. From May throughout the summer months and even into early fall striped bass can be found in some northeast rivers that many folks don’t even consider for striper fishing.
The Oconee and Broad rivers can provide some great striper options. Don’t be afraid of the muddy water often encountered on these streams. The fishing can still be very good. During the warmer summer months a good rain muddies the river, but can also get the stripers moving up in these streams. Around October when temperatures begin to drop the fish begin their move back into the lakes.
Other areas to target stripers in the spring and summer months are the tailraces below Hartwell and Russell dams on the Savannah River or the middle and upper ends of Lake Oconee around bridges and riprap.
SUMMING IT UP
The survival rate of stripers, whether stocked or reproduced naturally, is very good in our state’s waters. Anglers can expect to catch young fish only a year or so old, but also big ones that are more than 10 years old. Most striper guides and many anglers believe strongly in releasing the fish.
"The beautiful thing about stripers is that they aren’t cookie cutter size," Kent Edmunds said. "If you put them back in the water then, they grow to be that much bigger a year from now."
For the sustainability of the fishery and continued fun of hooking into one of these strong fish, Andy Bowen also strongly encourages anglers to return stripers to the water.
He especially hates to see a big brood-sized fish taken out of the waters, where they are capable of reproducing. Bowen makes the argument that a fish that has grown to reach brood size is very likely a genetically stronger fish and we need to keep those in the gene pool!
Visit www.georgiawildlife.org for more information about fishing for stripers in Georgia, including where to find them, angling techniques and bait and lure suggestions.