Stripers The Hard Way

Guide Tom Scheider has developed some consistent tactics for taking Lay Lake saltwater stripes in May. He even gets them on a fly rod!

Most of the stripers taken on Lay Lake run from 3 to 6 pounds.
Photo by John E. Phillips

As the line knifes through the water like a sharp blade through soft coconut cake, a small rooster tail of spray arches up behind the fast-moving line. The limber fly rod appears to have no backbone at all as its tip dives to kiss the waters of Lay Lake.

"With a fly rod, there's a totally different connection between the angler and the fish than you feel when you're fishing with a rod," says Tom Schneider, a fly-fishing guide who lives on Lay Lake. "You not only can feel the fish pull when you're holding the fly rod in your hand, but you can actually feel the fish shake its head and every movement the fish makes.

"You also have more control over the fish," he continues. "You can hold the line and determine the amount of drag pressure you need to apply and when you need to let the line slip through your fingers. And you can feel the force and the power of the fish when it runs, when you turn the fish, and finally when the fish is exhausted."

All of that is important, since the fish that Schneider targets this month on Lay Lake are saltwater stripers. They do not give up quickly or easily and are some of the toughest and meanest fish that live in Lay Lake.

"I don't think there's any greater thrill that you can experience than hooking up with a 3- to 13-pound striper on a fly rod," Schneider offered.

FINDING LAY LAKE STRIPERS

"This month the stripers at Lay Lake will be spawning," Schneider explains, "usually on or around May 15.

"Stripers generally run up the feeder creeks to spawn. Kelley Creek, with its colder water, is a great bet for staging stripers. The creeks closest to both dams are the most productive. The stripers will be holding on main points near the dams during the spawn."

The dams Schneider mentioned are Lay Dam, on the downstream end of the reservoir, and Logan Martin Dam, in the impoundment's headwaters.

"But my favorite place to catch stripers is right in front of the intake openings at Lay Dam, where stripers will be holding at 15 to 20 feet. Just remember that striper fishing is current-dependent. You want to be around the dam when water is being pulled into those intake pipes."

That's because the striped bass hang in that area, waiting for shad to be sucked toward the pipes. Then it is an easy matter for the fish to move only slightly to their right or left, picking off the baitfish with minimum exertion.

Since the fish are virtually waiting in line for the forage to arrive, Schneider has developed a couple of techniques for catching these linesides near the dam. If he is on the water early in the day, before current is pulled through the powerhouse, he uses topwater popping bugs to catch the attention of stripers and bring them to the surface.

When the current begins to run and the stripes drop down to positions in front of the intakes, Schneider changes his tackle. Instead of a floating line and popping bug, he switches to sinking fly patterns. When the stripers are less than 12 feet down, he continues to use the floating fly line, but puts on a 10- to 12-foot leader with a weighted streamer fly. If the fish are any deeper, he chooses a 10-weight full sinking line.

Schneider determines the depth at which the stripers feed by locating them with a depthfinder before he begins to cast.

THE BAMA SLAMMER

Unable to find a fly that accurately imitated a shad, Schneider set out to build his own. After two years of experimentation, he created one of the more unusual flies I have ever seen.

This 3- to 4-inch bait, which Schneider has named the Bama Slammer, looks like a threadfin shad. Schneider makes it from Metz Sili Skin material and builds it on a No. 4/0 Kahle hook.

When cast, this fly provides two chances of catching the striper. About 80 percent of the strikes occur as the Bama Slammer falls from the surface down to the feeding fish. The wobbling action of the fly mimics a dying shad perfectly. Once the streamer reaches the desired depth, if you have not gotten a bite, Schneider suggests that you strip in the line. That is when the rest of the takes occur.

"I make small, quick strips, taking up about one foot of line at a time, stop the line, let the bait fall and then strip the line again," he explains.

Using this technique, Schneider can cover the water down to about 20 feet. To catch any stripers holding deeper than that, Schneider recommends fishing with conventional bait-casting or spinning tackle.

If it is necessary to make that change, Schneider suggests using 10- to 14-pound-test line and putting on an appropriate amount of weight to deal with any current being generated. With all turbines running, you need at least a 1/4-ounce sinker on the line. Next tie the main line to a barrel swivel, and on the bottom eye of the swivel add 2 feet of 16-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. Tip the rig with a 1/0 heavy-wire hook.

Schneider finishes out by adding a Baby Shad made by Bass Assassin, preferably in the white or silver phantom salt and pepper colors. This is cast upstream and allowed to wash down the current to the depth at which the stripers are holding.

STRIPER FACTS

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries has stocked stripers into Lay Lake at the rate of 25,000 since 1969.

"I believe that some of Lay Lake's stripers are coming downriver from Weiss Lake," Schneider also offers. "Weiss has a natural striper spawn."

The average size of the stripers Schneider encounters is 3 to 5 pounds, but occasionally a 7- to 13-pound lineside is caught. Schneider has brought a 29-pound striper to his boat on conventional fishing tackle and a 19-pound striper on a fly.

"In a day of fishing in May, we have caught and released as many as 35 stripers, hybrids and spotted bass," Schneider explains.

WHY FLY-FISH?

"I find much more enjoyment catching any fish on a fly rod than I do on conventional tackle," Schneider revealed.

Fortunately, you do not have to have any experience as a fly-fisherman to learn to catch these big stripers on a f

ly rod.

"A large number of people who fish with me are first-time fly-fishermen," Schneider states, adding that it is possible for him to teach them enough about casting to catch a striper on a fly on a single trip.

"Once they hook their first fish, they become hooked on fly-fishing," Schneider adds.

MAKING CONTACT

To learn more about fishing for stripers at Lay Lake, and especially about fly-casting for these fish, contact Tom Schneider at Sunrise Anglers at (205) 669-2110 or (205) 410-0964. The e-mail address is kingfisher@sunriseanglers.comYou can also visit his Web site, located at

www.sunriseanglers.com

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