October 04, 2010
Here's how and where experts catch stripers in the summer
at four of North Carolina's best striper lakes. (July 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
While largemouth bass fishermen employ catch-and-release practices and use oxygenated livewells to keep their fish alive, striper fishermen fish for a species that is a powerhouse in the water but a wimp in the livewell. Stripers often succumb even if released immediately. Furthermore, the hot weather of summer only increases the odds that many stripers will not live to fight again.
Consequently, the merits of summer striper fishing have come under debate.
Catch-and-release advocates, influenced by the catch-and-release practices of largemouth bass anglers, view summer striper fishing as essentially "catch and kill" and frown upon the practice.
Summer fishing proponents argue that inland striper fisheries are conceived as put-and-take fisheries by wildlife agencies since stripers can't reproduce naturally at most lakes. These anglers contend that as long as they observe size and creel limits, they have no qualms about summer fishing.
To appease both viewpoints, efforts have been made to protect the fishery.
At Norman and Jordan lakes, the size and creel limit for striped bass has been changed to a four-fish creel limit with a 20-inch minimum size limit to protect smaller fish that have a better chance of surviving than larger fish after being released.
A special regulation has been implemented at Norman whereby there is no size limit for striped bass from June 1 through Sept. 30. The rationale behind the regulation, encouraged by local fishermen and striper clubs, is that since released stripers are likely to die during hot weather, fishermen should keep the first four stripers they catch, whatever their size, and then either stop fishing or fish for another species.
Striper guides have imposed their own restraints.
Maynard Edwards of Yadkin Lakes Guide Service (336/249-6782) limits his clients to four fish each at Badin and High Rock lakes, though the creel limit at both lakes is eight fish. Steve Stephens of Hot Spot Charters (919/775-5205) limits his parties to a total of four fish at Jordan Lake in June and uses a Boga grip to release fish so they're not handled directly. He also stops striper fishing from July through September.
The striper tube, a vertical livewell for stripers, has been tried, but its effectiveness remains limited to the spring, fall and winter.
"Once the air temperature exceeds 75 or 80 degrees, the chance that a striper will survive upon release from a striper tube is not very good," said Lexington's David Smith, who helped design the tube along with its inventor, Warren Turner of the National Striped Bass Association.
The controversy indicates that stripers can in fact be caught in hot weather; otherwise, fishermen would not be concerned about the stripers' survival rate.
Excellent summer striper fishing can be found throughout the state from Lake Norman in the west to Badin and High Rock lakes in the central Piedmont, and to Jordan Lake in the east.
Norman's two hot holes, the Marshall Steam Station below the Highway 150 bridge and the McGuire Nuclear Station near Cowans Ford Dam, create a paradoxical situation for striper fishermen.
During the winter, they're a boon to fishing. Their warmwater discharges draw forage and stripers to their areas, easing the task of locating stripers along Norman's 520 miles of shoreline.
During the summer, the reverse is true. Their warmwater discharges become a liability because they heat lake water already too hot for stripers, forcing the fish deep to cooler, more oxygenated waters.
As a result, Norman's summer stripers become concentrated in deep comfort zones at select places.
Norman striper guide Capt. Gus Gustafson (704/617-6812) believes Norman has about a fish per acre after normal losses from annual stockings of 162,000 fingerlings. On a lake with 32,500 acres, that ratio is much less than on other striper waters, such as South Carolina's Lake Murray.
While many local striper fishermen have difficulty finding and catching fish under hot-weather conditions, Frank and Doris Parsons, owners of Tackle Town in Maiden (704/483-1007), use a vertical presentation with rattling jigging spoons, called Shake-Rattle-N-Jig spoons, to target Norman's deep-water stripers.
"As far as we know, we're the only ones who make a lead-poured spoon with a glass rattle," Frank said. "The glass rattle enables us to incorporate the noisemaker into a normal-sized flat spoon. The result is a flat spoon that's denser than most metal spoons, falls faster, casts better, and gets more flutter on the fall."
The Parsons' jigging technique has attracted the attention of local fishermen.
"Other fishermen follow us around trying to see what we're doing," Doris said. "After someone sees us loading up with fish on a spoon, the word gets out."
The Parsons' jigging technique works best from July through February.
"The hotter or colder the weather, the better the fishing with jigging spoons," Doris said.
To fish the spoons effectively, the Parsons position their boat on top of the fish, so the spoons can shake and rattle in front of the fish.
Their ability to interpret a depthfinder is instrumental to their success.
"We spend most of our time looking for fish," Doris said. "We may spend as long as two hours riding around before fishing our spoons, but the wait is well worth it."
What the Parsons look for with their depthfinder is four or five stripers grouped together near the lake bottom with baitfish close by.
"You need to see stripers and baitfish, not just baitfish," Frank said. "Bright, sunny days make the fish stack up better for vertical spoon fishing."
During the summer, the Parsons search for fish in 36 to 41 feet of water with the 35-foot mark being the most productive depth. Their structural targets include main-river points, secondary points at creek mouths, and u
Once they locate fish, the Parsons differ about how to mark the spot. Frank prefers to use a buoy marker; Doris said that's too time-consuming. Instead, Doris would rather idle the boat over the spot and have Frank drop a spoon directly on it. Then, they'll fish in the vicinity where the spoon landed while observing their depthfinder.
If it's windy, they front the wind and hold the boat steady with the trolling motor.
"You don't want to drift and jig," Frank said. "You have to stay on top of the fish."
To vertical fish, they let the spoon fall to the bottom; then with a snap of the rod, they jerk the spoon 5 or 6 feet off the bottom, let the spoon fall back to the bottom, and repeat the process.
As the spoon falls, they keep a tight line and feel the spoon as it flutters back to the bottom. Most strikes come with the spoon on the fall. Some hits are mere taps since they're fishing deep water.
While the presentation is basic, the rigging of the spoon is critical and so is the tackle selection.
"Tie the line directly to the swivel that comes with the spoon; a leader isn't necessary," Frank said. "Don't put the swivel 18 inches up the line as in Carolina rigging. You'll kill the action of the spoon."
In clear water or under bright conditions, the Parsons favor the 3/4-ounce white rattling model with silver tape and a red eye. In dingy water or low-light conditions, they use the chartreuse model.
The spoon should be fished with a 6- or 6 1/2-foot bass-fishing rod.
"You want a sensitive rod to feel the taps, but you don't want a rod with too much tip, because you can't set the hook effectively with it," Frank said. "Some guys fish the spoon with heavy striper rods with live bait tips, and they lose a lot of fish."
The Parsons recommend 8-pound-test line, though fishermen can get by with 12-pound-test line.
"If you use line heavier than 12-pound-test line, you'll cut the number of strikes you get in half," Doris said. "The heavy line scares stripers and impairs the action of the spoon."
The spoon doesn't hang up as much as one would think.
"Give your line slack, and then lift," Frank said. "The weight of the spoon itself usually dislodges the treble hook from the snag."
BADIN/HIGH ROCK LAKES
Striper fishing was exceptional last summer at Badin and High Rock lakes compared with the past several years.
"July was excellent at both lakes, but especially at High Rock, for big fish," Edwards said. "The stripers ran from 6 to 9 pounds at Badin and from 9 to 15 pounds at High Rock with an occasional 20-pounder."
Edwards fishes the same rig at both lakes to catch summer stripers.
At one end of a 2-foot leader, he attaches a 1 1/2-ounce bucktail jig with a 6-inch green/chartreuse plastic trailer and ties a barrel swivel to the other end of the leader.
"The bucktail serves as the weight for the rig and as a fish-catcher," he said.
On a separate leader, 18 inches in length, he ties a Tony Accetta Pet spoon at one end and a barrel swivel at the other.
The next step makes the rig unique.
Edwards runs his main line consisting of 16-pound-test through the opening of the barrel swivel of the leader with the spoon without making any ties; then he slides a bead on the main line. The main line is then tied to the barrel swivel of the leader with the bucktail jig.
"With this arrangement, the two baits are less likely to tangle while slow-trolling or cross if two fish are caught at once," Edwards said.
For slow-trolling, Edwards uses a spread with six medium/heavy- to heavy-action rods -- two rods with planers, two down rods, and two rods with floats -- all using the same bucktail jig/spoon rig. The different rods allow him to vary the depths his baits will run. Baitcasting reels complete the outfits.
Toward the front of the boat on opposite sides, he houses his planer rods, one on each side to cover shallow water. Instead of 16-pound-test line for his main line, he substitutes 20-pound-test Fireline, a small diameter line that virtually stays out of the water when used with planer boards.
On opposite sides of the boat near the back, he has two bar mounts capable of holding three rods each. He places his down rods, one on each side of the boat, in the outside rod holders, and lets the lines of the down rods out with the lines tied directly to his rigs. The down rods run deep and close to the boat. Finally, on the inner rod holders at opposite sides of the boat, he has the same setup as with the down rods, except he attaches each line to a Redi-Rig float, a type of slip-bobber that allows him to adjust the running depths of his baits.
"I can add two more rods if I want, but six rods are enough to handle while guiding, especially if all six rods go down at once," he said. "The spread covers a wide area and works depths from 8 to 20 feet."
Edwards slow-trolls with his trolling motor at 1.5 mph, a speed that gives the bucktail jig and spoon sufficient action.
Last year on one down rod, he experimented with an umbrella rig, which holds nine baits at once.
"I hit a gold mine with that rig," Edwards said. "But I switched to 30-pound-test braided line and an ocean-type rod with the umbrella rig because the 6-inch swimming baits I attach to the rig pull hard through the water."
At Badin, stripers can be anywhere in June, but Edwards searches for humps coming up to 16 or 20 feet in 70 feet of water from the Alcoa Landing to the Mainstream section. In July, he fishes outside the grass lines at Buffalo Creek and Gladys Fork with planer boards probing the shallows, an approach that works best in the evenings.
At High Rock Lake in June, Edwards trolls at the mouths of Crane and Swearing creeks. In July, he fishes the red bank islands and the mouths of Abbotts, Second and Flat Swamp creeks.
When the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission first stocked Jordan Lake in 1997 with 35,000 striper fingerlings, neither WRC biologists nor Jordan fishermen thought the relatively shallow 14,300-acre impoundment could support many stripers.
To everyone's surprise, the striper fishing at Jordan exceeded all expectations, and some of the best fishing takes place from late June through August for fish in the
5- to 6-pound range.
The Tar Heel Striper Club frequents Jordan in July because club members usually need 18 pounds or more to win a club tournament with a three-fish limit.
The fish often school around the Fourth of July; the best fishing occurs early in the morning until noon before the recreational boating traffic intensifies.
During July, Jordan's stripers hold in 14 to 20 feet of water where they're taken by slow-trolling bucktail jigs and plastic trailers in white/green or green/green colors and leadhead jigs with plastic shad adornments in white or chartreuse.
These baits are fished with lead-core lines or downriggers to reach the strike zone. Most Tar Heel Striper Club members fish the creek mouth out from Ebenezer Landing and across the lake from the landing, focusing upon points and flats near the main creek channels.
Stephens and his son, Ralph, guide weekends at Jordan through June and cease fishing during the "dog-day" months.
For warm weather, they use a spread of seven rods: four lead-core outfits -- two out on the sides with reel clickers with four lead-core line colors out; and two out the back with release clips with 2.5 lead-core line colors out -- one flat line at the rear of the boat; and two downriggers with 8-pound balls positioned in between the pairs of lead-core outfits.
Each lead-core outfit consists of 36-pound lead-core line with a 15-foot, 17-pound-test monofilament leader and swivel with the lead-core line tied to the swivel. The lead-core line drops 4 feet per color between 2.3 and 2.5 mph on the GPS.
"Speed affects the depth of your lures," said the elder Stephens, who recommends trolling faster in warmer water. "I run between 2.5 to 3 mph because the fish are more aggressive and the increased speed helps the action of the lures."
With lead-core outfits, the Stephenses use 1-ounce bucktail jigs and 4- to 6-inch plastic trailers, fishing white/ chartreuse color combinations in stained water and white/blue color combinations in clear water.
The reels on their downriggers house 20-pound-test monofilament line with a 17-pound-test leader connected to a double rig using a three-way swivel. On one swivel ring, they use a 4-foot leader with a 1-ounce bucktail; on the other swivel ring, a 6-foot leader with a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce bucktail.
"Always make sure the heavier bucktail is on the shortest leader to prevent tangles," the elder Stephens said.
The downriggers work the deep portions of the water column. The flat line is let out about 100 feet from the boat with a swimming lure that runs no more than 2 feet down.
With this spread, the Stephenses probe various depths along main river channels with most fish being taken 8 to 12 feet deep.
"The most common mistake made is trolling too deep," Stephens said. "Pull your lures about 2 or 3 feet above the fish you've marked because stripers feed looking up."
Some like it Hot
While fishermen may debate about the merits of summer striper fishing, they realize that the largely self-sustaining fishery requires good stewardship of all participants, whenever they fish.