Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
When most casual fisherman think of fishing for freshwater stripers, their thoughts usually involve cold wintertime outings when stripers are easily located chasing bait on the surface — or springtime spawning runs when the fish make long migrations to upstream spawning grounds. True striped bass fishing fans know the striper is a fish for all seasons. Armed with the right knowledge and equipment, striper anglers can enjoy productive fishing trips that rival any winter schooling or spring spawn trip.
Probably the most important thing to understand about stripers is their water temperature tolerance level. While a striper can and does roam an entire lake during cooler months, suitable habitat is severely reduced during the summer. Unlike black bass, crappie, bream or catfish, striped bass cannot survive in water that is much warmer than 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Armed with this knowledge, the observant striper angler can eliminate at least two-thirds of any body of water during July. A second important factor to understand about striped bass is that they require a suitable degree of dissolved oxygen in order to survive. Armed with that knowledge, the striper angler can remove an additional 15 to 20 percent of the intended fishing grounds that can’t hold stripers. What’s left is a very manageable 15 to 20 percent of a body of water that will hold stripers. This 20 percent of the lake that striped bass inhabit are the thermocline layers that set up in the lower lake areas and upstream tributaries that provide cooler water released from upstream impoundments.
Mike Lundy is a professional striped bass angler and fishing guide who understands the constraints that summertime weather puts on stripers and how to use that knowledge to find striped bass. Lundy recommends two great summer striper lakes for North Carolina anglers to try this month.
Lundy favors fishing for thermocline-oriented stripers on Lake Jordan. According to Lundy, the summer thermocline will set up about 40 feet deep and may vary in width from 10 to 20 feet. The places to look for these fish include all of the intersections of major tributaries to the main lake basin as well as the basin itself. Because much of the standing timber in Jordan was either left standing or topped when the lake was impounded, many areas of the lake have forests of trees still standing below the surface. The primary tactic used to locate and catch thermocline-oriented fish is deep-water trolling. Since deep trolling and standing timber don’t mix, it’s best to locate relatively clean bottom areas to troll for summer stripers.
Lundy’s favored trolling tactics include crankbait trolling, trolling downriggers and lead-core line. When deep-water trolling with crankbaits, he will use extremely deep-diving crankbaits that can reach depths down to 40 feet. An alternative approach to reach the thermocline is to troll with lead-core line. Lead-core line has a weighted centerline with a color-coded protective coating. Depth control is attained by recording the number of colors that are played out from the reel. Typically, one color of lead-core line equals 10 feet. A length of clear monofilament line is attached as a leader to the tag end of the lead-core line. To this leader is attached the trolling bait.
Trolling with lead-core line requires a high-capacity reel, because the diameter of the lead-core line is significantly greater than that of regular braided or mono line and takes up more space on the reel spool. Baitcast or trolling reels are standard for using lead-core line. The characteristics of trolling lead core are similar to other trolling tactics. Because of the weight of the line, the line angle will be greater than regular line, so less line distance will be required to reach the target depth.
Another great tactic for deep-water trolling is to use downriggers to troll baits at specific depths. Downriggers use a heavy weighted ball attached to the end of a cable that hangs off the transom of the boat while trolling. A clip attached just above the ball holds the fishing line at the desired depth. Once the downrigger is set, the lure end of the fishing line trolls behind and down wake of the boat. Resistance to the line caused by a fish striking the bait releases the line from the downrigger and the fish is played directly to the rod and reel.
Common baits that are trolled on downriggers or lead-core line include large wobbling crankbaits, such as Bombers, Redfins and Ciscoe Kids or large bucktail jigs in 1 1/2- to 2-ounce weights and dressed with 6- to 8-inch soft-plastic trailers.
Ideal locations to find deep Jordan stripers include the mouths of Beaver and Little Beaver creeks, and the section of Parkers Creek below Hwy. 64, as well as the big pool area between them. A good access point to reach these areas is the ramp at Farrington Point. Farrington Point is located near the intersection of U.S. 64 and SR 1008 (Farrington Road); travel north on SR 1008 for five miles. The access area will be on the left.
The other popular summertime choice for July Carolina striper fishing is Lake Norman, located near Charlotte. When fishing Lake Norman, pro angler Mike Lundy heads up the lake to the headwaters around the I-40 bridge between Lookout Shoals dam and the Highway 70 bridge. In this location, cooler water released from Lookout Shoals Reservoir provides ample dissolved oxygen for summertime striper fishing. Lundy’s preferred tactic for this area is free-lining live bait. Lundy’s choices of baits are large gizzard shad or blueback herring, which he collects from nearby Lake Hickory or in Lookout Shoals Lake.
An important tip when using live bait is to match the size of the hook with the bait you are using. Lundy typically targets large fish and will use a big hook with the largest bait he can acquire. Anglers who are interested in catching numbers of fish would do well to use smaller baits with smaller hooks.
The key to fishing the headwaters of Lake Norman is to fish when water is running through the Lookout Shoals dam.
“You’re wasting your time if no water is running,” Lundy said. “While there is no schedule for water released from Lookout Shoals dam, Duke Power, the owner of the hydroelectric facility, typically runs water every morning around 8 o’clock. If it’s really hot in the afternoon, they usually run power then also,” the veteran related.
Lookout Shoals does not store large amounts of water, and in this regard, rain can be a good sign for striper anglers: If it has been raining and water and has collected in Lookout Shoals Lake, the Duke facility will bleed off this water to keep Lookout Shoals from flooding.
Lundy’s free-line tactics include using his own brand of planer boards with a standard free-line rig. Lundy will troll free lines with the current, barely faster than the current, enough to pull the planer boards out away from the boat. In this situation, the bait will keep trying to turn and go upcurrent, which creates plenty of action and therefore attracts the attention of nearby fish. Lundy warns to watch for rocks around this area of Lake Norman.
“I know every one of the rocks because I’ve hit them with my lower unit,” Lundy claimed. “In fact, it’s good to have at least three people in the boat when fishing this area. One man runs the trolling motor while the other two are left to fish.”
Lundy relies on his Minn Kota electric trolling motor, equipped with an autopilot function that allows remote control of the trolling motor from anywhere on the boat to guide the boat while free-lining. The average water depth for the area around the I-40 bridge is 2 to 3 feet, with occasional deeper holes of 6 to 8 feet. The oxygenated cool water coming out of Lookout Shoals attracts baitfish from the lower Lake Norman area. In addition, water moving through the Lookout Shoals dam drags baitfish with it, and the bait is cut up by the turbines and creates a natural feeding area for striped bass.
The closest ramp to access the upper reaches of Lake Norman is the Long Island Wildlife Access area maintained by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The Long Island ramp is approximately five to seven miles south of the I-40 bridge.
BEFORE YOU GO
Anglers wishing to fish either Lake Norman or Lake Jordan should be aware of the possibility of ramp closures due to low water. Another consideration when fishing the upper area of Lake Norman is to be aware of rapidly rising waters that may create a boating hazard when on that section of the lake. Small-boat anglers or anglers who are wading may encounter dangerous currents when water is being released. Always wear a life preserver when fishing potentially hazardous areas, even if you’re in a boat.
If you would like to fish with pro tournament angler and fishing guide Mike Lundy, you can contact him at (704) 871-9477 or by e-mail at Mike@MikeLundyFishing.com.