Late Summer Striped Bass Fishing

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Late Summer Striped bass fishing can be very tough.

But Captain Stu called me yesterday around 3pm and said he was ‘trailering his boat and headed to the lake’. I took a quick look at the barometer and it was dropping. There was weather around, the south-westerly wind was light, and it was nice and cloudy…we got on the water around 4pm and decided to run around and look for bait.

Normally, this time of year on our area freshwater impoundments, we are headed towards turnover as the thermocline (if its present) starts to bring the low-oxygenated water from the lower layer of the lake to the top. The stripers are as skinny as they’ll be, as they’ve been chasing bait all summer, trying to stay alive, with an incredibly sped-up metabolism. They just feel like crap, they start to scatter, and they can be very difficult, even when and if found, to get to bite any kind of hardware. Throw in fishing on a lake recovering from a massive kill and, well you get it. I didn’t have much for expectations.

But we caught fish. We started out in deep water, but found no bait, then as we moved shallower we found 15-18 feet of water to be the zone. We pulled spoons and crankbaits over marks and bait for almost an hour without so much as a tail-slap, then when approaching a point a channel catfish doubled over the first rod. Stu fought it and it looked like dead weight. I figured we’d treble-hooked it. But then it started fighting, we thought it was a striper, but it was just a 2 or 3 lbr. I noticed the wind had picked up and thought that was what had triggered the strike and that ended up proving out the remainder of the afternoon. Our strikes came at times when drizzle started or the wind changed. So as we bounced cranks over another point, during a light shower, a decent largemouth pulled a rod down as I was working the deck. Stu got that one too, maybe 2 or 3 lbs again, but it fought him good.

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He likes to run with 6.5’ poles with 10lb test to get more bites. I’ve been warning him about trolling with that light of line……A few minutes later two rods rolled over and the rod I had been working on, to remove a spoon and add another crankbait started bouncing wildly. I knew it. I boat flipped the 17’’er on the troll to help Stu, which appeared to have a bigger fish, but he lost it. Shucks.

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But we had our first target fish. After that the bite died, we ran through the area a few more times, but we had plenty of time. We hit another spot, fully intending to return, and hit a crappie straight off, but then fished that area another hour without a bite. After checking a few other areas, but finding no bait, we returned to the first location and dropped lines. Stu hit the same run on his gps and doubled over one of his ’light outfits’. I grabbed the rod and looked at him and smiled. The fish was pulling drag going for another county and wildly shaking its head. I tried to hand him the rod, but within five or six seconds, before he grabbed it, I felt the line snap. It was a big fish. Of course we debated it a bit.

He’s right on one hand, on many occasions; I have found that a lighter rod and line, on the troll or casting, will out-perform a stronger setup, as far as strikes, but on the troll, with other lines in the water, if a big fish bites a light setup, the only real option is to reel everything in and dead-boat the fish. But we didn’t have time for that. The fish broke us off so fast we didn’t have time to think of that. We pulled around a little longer and noted the wind die down, bait started coming up and the water column had obviously dimmed considerably. We pulled in the gear and hit a spot I know that will often give busting action when protected from the wind, and the breeze was right. We only had a few more minutes, but we found bait up top and within a few minutes noted surface crashing about 50 yards from our position. Stu managed one more bass out of that commotion, while I was jerking a skitterwalk that walked its walk with impunity. It was another schoolie which was quickly released. We called it a day, grateful for the handful of fish which consisted of four species, and trailered the boat in the dark. 

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Tagged Striped Bass on the Cape fear

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Photo: Scott Kroggel

I got out on the Cape Fear river over the holiday with a good friend and caught my first two tagged striped bass.

As long as I’ve chased these fish, its amazing these are the first ones with tags I’ve ever come across. And two of them in the same day was quite the treat. I found stripers feeding readily as soon as I arrived at the first location. Shad were breaching the water trying to escape the aggressively feeding fish. I could see the linesiders thrashing the surface of the water, but my first hookup was a big largemouth bass.

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My buddy Scott Kroggel was along for his first river trip in his brand new kayak. Scott is a very talented artist, musician and photographer and he took several beautiful photographs during our outing. Below is a pic I snapped of him a few weeks ago on his maiden voyage with his new yak.

The river was a little high and the water was slightly stained, but I had success at first with a chugbug by jerking it across the surface. Fortunately, there was abundant cloud cover, wind was almost non-existent, and the river water was cool enough for the fish to be active. It was one of those perfect days.

Soon enough, I landed the first striper.

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The fish was quickly released, as they are still protected on the Cape Fear, and after a few more casts I hooked the first tagger, a red tagged fish close to 25″. These fish are worth $100 bucks to the NCWRC.

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After a couple pics it was also returned to the river. And the fish just kept biting; more stripers, a few white bass, a gar and then I caught a few carp for good measure…

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Photo: Scott Kroggel

This guy inhaled a small crankbait, which was a challenge to remove safely for the fish. But he seemed to swim away unharmed. Luckily, the tiny bait hung short of his gills.

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The white bass wanted the little crankbait too.

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The carp prefer sweet corn.

We moved to a different area and I found the yellow tagger. I was fishing directly beneath a spillway and my buddy took a couple really cool pictures. I couldn’t believe my luck. This fish is worth $5 bucks and a NCWRC marine fisheries hat. Once again, after a couple quick photos the striper was returned to the water to go about his business mostly unscathed and a little bit smarter for his trouble.

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Photo: Scott Kroggel

 

 

 

Roanoke River April 2017

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Saturday, a good friend and I decided to launch on the Roanoke River in search of river-running striped bass.

We set out in Williamston NC and headed upriver. The current always seems to be strong there, but that day the water was clear compared to my previous trips. We’d planned to travel to Plymouth, but the shad report was good where we were, and with decent water clarity, we opted to go ahead and fish. We didn’t leave early by any means either and weren’t on the water til nearly 1:00.

We threw shad darts in white and chartreuse from the bank and had chasers nibbling as well, but they wouldn’t commit. So I tied mine on with a 1/2 oz trolling weight and let out plenty of line once we’d launched. The water was fairly deep, so I put out another line with a white sassy shad and a chartreuse jighead and headed hard into the current.

I wasn’t two-hundred yards up the river before I hooked my first shad of the year on the troll. It put up a great fight and I snapped a pic once I landed it.

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I continued upriver and it wasn’t long before a striped bass hit the sassy shad. It also put up a great fight and the current had me turned quickly. I thought I’d lose the other line and lures to the bottom of the river, but I was lucky and pulled them in after landing the striper. I took a quick pic and released it. I didn’t measure the fish, but I didn’t plan on keeping any unless they were at least 20″. It may have been a legal 18″ fish, but I decided to let the first one go.

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Shawn and I continued upriver again and after a while of fighting the current we found a great spot to try cut bait. We tied Carolina rigs and sent out baits into eddies and currents, but found no more striped bass. We did find a great bend in the river that gave us action until we left however. We caught plenty of catfish. They were the whitest channel catfish I’d ever seen. The fish were suspended in deep water, almost 40′, and we anchored on the point nearby and fan-casted the area.

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We caught several of these guys and released all of them. Then, we tried to search further upriver and trolled a ways again. But the boat traffic was heavy and we soon started running out of time. So we headed back to the area that gave the most action and that’s when Shawn hooked into the big gar (feature photo). I’d had two on prior to his hookup, but each fish came unbuttoned before I could get them to the boat.

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I paddled over to his position to get a few pics. Then, when I paddled off, he reeled in his other line and saw another gar take the bait at the boat. He fought that one and landed it too. That was the first gar-double I’ve ever witnessed.

The day had grown old by that point and we hadn’t found the striped bass in any numbers so we decided to call it a day and made the drive back to town. We honestly didn’t see anyone catch a fish yesterday and it was one of those afternoons when you saw the same boats running all over the place. Although, we were told the bite had been good. And I don’t doubt it, the fish don’t always know how nice a day it is. But we’d had plenty enough action to have a good time.

I advise anyone interested in this years striped bass run on the area rivers to check these shocking reports weekly. They update them pretty regularly and you can use them to plan your trips with an edge. They feature the Tar, Roanoke, Neuse and the Cape Fear.

Good luck!

 

 

Chasing White Bass

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I’ve been out a few times recently trying to see what the white bass are doing.

With the impossible-to-predict-weather we’ve seen so far this past sprinter and spring, the anadromous fishes have been off from their normal upriver spawning runs.

So I went this past Sunday on the kayak and found striped bass, white bass, crappie and more on Jordan Lake, then I took a stroll through a scenic area on the Haw River earlier this week and searched the pools and eddies for the small-but-ferocious fighters, and finally rushed to meet up with Captain Stu Dill yesterday after work to see if we could find any fish on the main lake before the weather hit.

So Sunday was awesome…

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I found and caught six species. Released all the perch, bream and smaller whites and crappie and largemouth bass, but I did release one big striper…check out the video.

 

I don’t like to keep freshwater stripers over 22″ for the table. So I usually release the bigger fish. And I’d already put a 22″er in the ice box along with the whites and crappie. So that was a great day; probably caught 30ish fish, almost all on jigs and sassy shads trolling in 20′-24′ of water.

Then, I got the itch to seek out the creek dwellers. I walked to a cool spot on the Haw River and took some pics before catching one little male, which was photo’d and quickly sent back to the river…

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The fishing was slow, but the afternoon was priceless.

Then I decided to hit the water yesterday after a half day of work with Captain Stu Dill and we worked as hard as we could. We employed a run-and-gun strategy; knowing we didn’t have a lot of time before storms would hit. Stu drove and I tied and re-tied rigs, trying to see if the fish would eat. But the rain quickly arrived and the air cooled considerably. We figured we were golden; barometer dropping, cloudy and overcast, no wind, blah,blah,blah.

We almost got skunked; if not for the hungriest white bass in the world yesterday, which also hit a small jig with a white sassy shad trailer. (feature photo) It was quickly photo’d and released as well. But the storms ran us off the water less than 2 hours after we launched, so we didn’t even get to fish any prime time.

So the moral of the story is the same as usual with spring fishing. Get out there and do it, but don’t be too disappointed when the sure thing on a spring day turns into a non-starter. Just breathe in that fresh air and enjoy the time afield and afloat.

More Winter Stripers

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Winter Stripers fight hard and are a great excuse to get out and brave the cold.

So I got out for only my second trip of the year yesterday and the bite was really hot again. I found striped bass in 15′ – 18′ feeding heavily. I went out in the kayak and targeted structure with jigs and spoons.

Needles to say, the sonar was very important yesterday as it was a bluebird, high-pressure day. All my fish were caught just off points and yesterday they were crushing the lures. I didn’t go out in the morning, it was in the 20’s and there was a north wind forecast. But I saw that the wind was supposed to switch over to an easterly around lunchtime so I couldn’t resist the trip.

I went one other time this year and found fish in the same depths, but on a totally different type of structure. That particular day the fish were barely hitting the lures, and every time I fought one to the surface it only had a single hook in it’s mouth. I hadn’t taken a net and lost several really nice ones trying to get the fish grippers in their mouths. I’d grown tired of dealing with a net in the yak, fighting with getting lures out of snags and had really gotten comfortable using the grippers, but that’s no good when they aren’t crushing the lures. And thrusting your hand into the mouth of a thrashing striper with treble hooks exposed is not something anyone with any experience with this species will do more than once.

So I brought a net yesterday and didn’t lose a single fish. Lesson learned.

I landed 7 stripers over 20″, and the best fish was a thick 25″ specimen that probably weighed between 6 and 7 pounds. It had broken lines on both sides and had gorgeous colors. I didn’t target or catch any other species, but there were some smaller fish I didn’t take pics of.

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As you can tell by the surface of the water it was fairly calm, which is the ideal condition for wintertime fishing. Whether you are using live bait and fishing vertical or using artificials; like jigs and spoons, windless days are the best. This allows you to stay on top of good marks, trees and contours around points pretty easily.

The color of the lure didn’t matter yesterday, but they did want small baits (standard for winter, go small!!). And presentation had to be perfect. If I hadn’t had the sonar on all day I wouldn’t have caught a single fish. They were really holding tight to structure and dead on the bottom. The marks were like bumps on the bottom of the lake, but they were there.

Here are the rest of the pics.

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Yep, I caught Stripers on a Skitterwalk

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So with the nights cooling off I’ve gotten back on the water for stripers a few times over the last few weeks.

Last Saturday morning I hit a lake and found fish eating a ChugBug steady until 9am. The fish were knocking the bait out of the water repeatedly. It was incredible. Literally the best topwater bite on freshwater I’ve ever experienced. Never had so many fish come back to a bait they’d knocked 10″ out of the water so many times. That post with pics is here.

So I went back one day after work and the bite was non-existent in great conditions. It was cloudy, the wind was down and shad came to the surface in many schools a few hours before sunset; but the small baitfish were unmolested. Not a single fish surfaced that afternoon and I finally resorted to a Texas rig to catch one very small largemouth bass. The area was devoid of life. The water is still really warm for striped bass in the afternoons.

So this am I decided to hit the Cape Fear river and try my luck there. This proved to be a great decision.

Literally non stop action til about 8:00am.

I starting catching fish in the dark…

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It’s a little unnerving in a river, by yourself, yanking a topwater bait across the water towards the yak in the dark when a fish unloads on it. The sound was violent and water sprayed me all morning. But that’s what getting up at 5am is for… And they kept hitting the ChugBug. Even some nice ones….Biggest one, the Skitterwalk fish, was almost 26″ and not too skinny for a late summer fish, probably 8 pounds.

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I lost a few too. Last weekend not a single fish came unbuttoned, and there were a lot of bass mixed in. This am no bass at all and I had 1 good fish come unglued at the boat. I couldn’t complain though…When the bite slowed at one point, I remembered I had tied a white Skitterwalk on one rod. I had never hooked a freshwater striped bass on one so I chucked it out in a lull.

First few pops…and this comes on board after quite a tussle…Sometimes a quick change of baits is all you need.

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The bite died at almost exactly 8:00. I tried to find other biting fish but the area closed for business just like that. As often in late Summer you will see fish bite great for about an hour or two but can shut down quickly in shallow water.

I had other things on the agenda for today so I headed out at 9:00.

Man what a morning.

Gaston Lake Citation Striped Bass

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It’s tough to fish Gaston Lake on a holiday weekend.

It’s even tougher after you spring a leak in your boat after treating it an unkind manner. I decided to hit Gaston Lake for several days and knew it would be tough to fish much at all. So I went with the attitude of just rolling with the park tanners and taking what I could get as far as fishing. I caught a few dink bass and stripers Friday afternoon before the masses hit the lake. But nothing of any size, and thunderstorms ran me off the lake early too.

Saturday morning was a repeat of dinks along with a few nice blue cats. After beating my skiff up a good bit just riding around and enjoying the cool weather on the water after fishing, my friend noted a leak in the front. Like a 2” crack. I put the hammer down and got back to my truck in short order and trailered the boat.

I remembered fixing a radiator years ago with JB Weld. It held for 6 years and I figured if it could do that against heat, water and pressure it could seal a popped weld on a metal boat. So me and Pop hit the hardware store, (lucky they were open) and purchased the goods.

It takes basically 6 hours to set good so I cleaned the area and applied the weld. So fishing that day was done. The next morning I put the boat in the water but there was still a touch of water coming in, but 90% stopped. But I looked out on the water saw jet skis already circling and decided to just fix it right. I could see I needed to go another ¼” to seal the crack.

I made the additional repair and was on the water in a dry boat by 4pm. I ran straight out of the creek and hit the main lake. I knew where the fish were so just got there and dropped lines. 10 minutes into the troll one of 4 rods doubled over violently and I grabbed the rod. The fish fought like a huge striper but I hoped it wasn’t another blue cat. I fought the fish as best I could to the boat and asked Raixa to grab the net. She’d never netted a fish like this in her life, so I told her to just go lower than she thinks she should and mentally crossed my fingers….After a nervous few seconds boatside the fish was in the net and I was kinda shocked. She was 32” and 14lbs+. We both kinda freaked a bit and after a short celebration and a few pics that fish went on ice.

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I turned around and ran back thru the area and hung over another rod and this came to the boat…

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Raixa got one heckuva fight outa that fish. But I wanted her to get her first rockfish. Then after another large circle I ran thru the area again and hung over another rod. And when I grabbed the rod it was shaking so hard I thought it was probably another striper so I gave Raixa the pole again (even tho it was my turn lol). But again it was another big blue catfish. She was still stoked (and bruised) after fighting 2 big fish. We went ahead and released it and after another hour without a bite and knowing we had about an hour of light left we hit an area close to home I’d caught a few shorts at earlier in the trip.

 

When we got into the area the water was slick and I dropped 2 leadcore rods and within seconds there was busting fish off to our left, then the first rod doubled over and I gave it to Raixa again and she reeled in her first striper. It was only around 17 or 18″ so without thinking I did what I would normally do in that situation and chucked it quickly back in the drink. Duh. No pic of her first one but she was fine with it. Then another rod went over and I reeled in a smallish largemouth too. We trolled another few minutes but the bait and fish split quick-like. It was about dark too so we reeled in the lines and hit the house.

I had a nice fish to clean for a 4th of July dinner. I could already smell the lemon and Old Bay’s, and it was good.