Gaston Lake Striped Bass

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We decided we’d take ourselves to stay at the house on Gaston Lake for Memorial Day this year and hang out with family and do some striped bass fishing as well.

The weather was supposed to be dry but hot, and there were calm to light west winds forecast for the entire weekend. Luckily, we did have cloudy periods each day that helped to keep us outdoors.

However, boat traffic was extremely heavy so we really only had four or five hours a day we could fish. So we opted for the mornings.

But when we got up Friday afternoon, we noted the lake looked calm enough as we crossed Eaton’s Ferry bridge, so I hooked the boat up to the truck as soon as we got to the house and we were on the water by 6:30 that evening. Not a lot of time, but we found the notorious Gaston Lake striped bass.

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After maybe 20 or 30 minutes of searching, I handed the first wildly bouncing rod to Michelle, and she reeled down a striper double to start the trip. One was a keeper and the other just short so we put it on ice and started back through the area. Hooked up again on the second pass and I took the opportunity to crank in another nice keeper at about 24”. Unfortunately, both times the leaders on the the three-way swivels fouled, and I had to tie 4 knots to make sure we wouldn’t bust off fish. That was time consuming, and it was brutal to watch the marks on the sonar and not be able to fish. They were only hitting the chartreuse and white bucktails, and I only had enough with me to tie two rods. I changed that the next day and when I found them at a local bait shop, I cleaned them out!

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So it was pretty much dark after 3 passes and we headed in for the night with 2 keepers.

The next morning we were on the water before dawn.

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However, Dominion wasn’t scheduled to pull water that day and the bite didn’t start til after 7am. But when it did, it was hot for the next 3 days.

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We caught a ton of short striped bass, perch, largemouth bass and 3 or 4 keeper stripers every day, so I was able to leave my Dad with fish and brought some home, and we fried some up while we were there.

The fish were suspending in 40 to 60 feet of water and coming up periodically on humps and points to feed in water as shallow as 15 feet on out to 30. Speed was very important as well as bites only came when I was trolling at least 3 to 5 mph. Anything slower and the rods stayed straight.

Spinners, crankbaits, jigs and swim baits were useless on the striped bass, so I would suggest bucktails to anyone looking to hit Gaston Lake for the next few weeks.

Good luck!

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Winter Fishing Report – Jordan Lake, Gaston Lake, Kerr and Shearon Harris

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The fishing has been very good on three North Carolina lakes this winter. Jordan Lake, Gaston Lake and Shearon Harris Lake have all been steadily producing quality fish.

After Christmas, we got on Gaston Lake and reproduced nearly the same results as in November. Striped bass were still chasing baits trolled slowly in twenty plus foot of water. We had success with sassy shads, swimbaits and Bama rigs. Four colors of leadcore and we were in the zone. We just had to stay under two miles per hour.

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Then, in early January, we got on Jordan Lake and started catching striped bass in lots of different areas. Fish are hitting slowly trolled artificials, swimbaits and also are taking metal jigged vertically. The mix of fish has been good as well with nice largemouth bass, white bass, white perch, crappie, yellow perch, catfish and even carp. Small baits are again producing far more fish than anything bigger than the small shad on the lake in abundance right now.

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Just use stout hooks.

Harris lake is fishing very similar to Jordan lake. Main lake points and current breaks anywhere adjacent to baitfish and deep suspended target fish. Fish slowly and patiently; you could be waiting for 1 or 2 bites a day, but they could be giants. Bass are present and feeding early and late in the day in twenty feet of water.

Kerr lake was fishing really good last fall and early winter. I got on the lake in late December, and we caught fish, but they were all shorts. I haven’t been back or heard much from locals there in weeks.

Here are a few from this morning on Jordan lake. I was on the water three hours and caught my personal best largemouth and a very big striped bass minutes later.

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The winter bite is the same as it usually is this time of year each year. You just have to fish steady and believe the bite is coming. And when it does be ready. Use your electronics and don’t fish areas without bait and marks on your sonar. Make note of the depths you’re in when you catch and stay in those depths.

Good luck!

Gaston Lake Thanksgiving Stripers

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So striped bass were crushing trolled baits at Lake Gaston this Thanksgiving.

My brother went up the day before Michelle and I, and ruled out the main lake, which was muddy from recent rains. Then, he found some stripers in a creek we fish a lot. He caught stripers and catfish the first day and kept three nice ones for a game dinner the day after Thanksgiving. I was bringing up a backstrap from my first deer of the season, and the striped bass fillets would go great with it. He and my Dad went out the next morning for a few hours and caught more too. From there on out we stayed on them the rest of the trip.

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As soon as Michelle and I got up to the lake, Joey and I launched the boat as I hadn’t run it in quite a while. I just wanted to run some of the old gas out, which had been treated with Stabil a few months prior. We figured, why not drop a few baits though, right? Without even getting out all the rods, the first doubled over. It wasn’t a huge striped bass, but we knew they were still in the area.

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It was cloudy, overcast and cold, probably in the 40’s, and when the wind blew, it was out of the north and stinging. The trees up there have been dropping leaves a while and there were patches of water that had to be avoided as lines and baits would tangle with pinestraw and dead leaves.

So I called Michelle and told her to get ready as I was coming back to the house to get her. She had never caught a striped bass before, and we had tried a few times on previous trips, but luck hadn’t been in her favor. That was about to change. So we ran back to the house, scopped her up, and motored back to our area.

After a little while the action started. When the first rod started bouncing wildly I handed it over…and she fought it perfectly, bringing the linesider boatside like a pro. I could tell by the look on her face she had the bug. Then, another rod doubled over and Joey fought that one in.

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After dealing with the first two, the action slowed a few minutes. We were still seeing birds moving about though (which is a dead giveaway for feeding striped bass in cold weather). Seagulls will often crash the water violently, snatching scraps, when fish are feeding underneath them.

Soon, it was my turn again and when the rod started going off, I grabbed it and started on the fish. Moments into the battle however, the other rod started really bending over. I hollered for Michelle to grab it and we had our first double on! We had to change positions a few times in the boat as she had a biggun on running out drag and trying desperately to escape the situation. I got my fish netted after a few minutes and used the boat to make her’s easier. It hit the top of the water a few times and we could see it had two of the jigs on the Bama rig in it. I had freed the first fish from the net while she was fighting hers, so it was ready when she got the bigger striper boatside. After some hollering it was in the net, and she had experienced her first striped bass double (feature photo).

I’ve taken her fishing a good bit over the last year, and we have caught a ton of fish, on kayaks and in different boats, but every time it’s been her turn, a different species was on the other end of the line. She has caught largemouth bass, crappie, white perch, white bass, carp, catfish etc. And now finally some stripers.

After the double it was time to go in for Thanksgiving with the family, but the fishing wasn’t over…

The next morning it was freakishly cold. Michelle opted to sleep in and Joey wanted to go on his kayak, so I took the boat out alone. It was 29 degrees with a light wind out of the north and cloudy, no sun greeted us at dawn. But the birds were working. It took a while to get the fish going, but we were marking tons of bait and arches on the sonar. Joey started the morning with a largemouth off a point in nearly 30 feet of water.

A few minutes later, I was almost about to go in for coffee and wait a couple hours for it to warm up when the first rod went off. I could tell it was a nice fish, and set in to battle it in freezing conditions…that’s when things got interesing! The second rod started bouncing much harder (just like the day before, a minute after the first fish hit). The boat was moving about 1.5mph, as slow as I can run without knocking off. As I fought the first fish, hollering for Joey to come my way, I watched the other rod just going off. A few times during the fight it almost straightened up and I thought it was off, but it stayed attached. I used the net on the first fish, as it was a nice one, then set in to fight the second. That’s when I realized it was a big one, for sure.

So I dead-boated it. After killing the engine the fish started burning drag and I just held on. Then, I felt the weird sensation striper fishermen sense at times. There was a strange tug-of-war coming from the end of the line. I had two fish on! It took some time to get the mess boatside, and I had already tangled a striper and hooks in the net, so I tried using fish grippers to get the big one, which looked to be a 30″ fish. But it’s mouth was not going to open. So I opted to reach for the Bama rig and pulled both fish over the rail and into the boat. Another triple by myself, man that’s an adrenaline rush for sure.

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My hands were absolutely frigid by the time the fight was over so I had to leave biting fish to get warmed up. Joey caught a few more, but by the time Michelle and I came back out the bite was over. It was really a brutal day out so we cut our time short and went in to have a wild game Thanksgiving; a second day of feasting. We released everything from the two days of fishing as Joey had secured three nice fish for our feast on the first day.

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We will catch those guys again one day…and they’ll be bigger…

 

Spring Stripers, White bass & Crappie

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I got out on Jordan Lake this afternoon and found striped bass, white bass and crappie feeding heavily.

It was a perfect afternoon; the cloud cover was thick, rain was light to non-existent, and the wind was light. I couldn’t stand it.

Launched the kayak around 1:00 and started into a narrow area I’ve found fish laying before. I started with both rods rigged with KVD 1.0’s; the pics will show what happened…after just a few moments, one of the rods bounced, and I decided to reel it in and make sure it was clean; the area I was fishing was shallow and there was no reason to pull crap around. But on the retrieve, as I was approaching a fast rate, the rod doubled over with my first striped bass of 2018.

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I didn’t want to be disrespectful to the fishing Gods, so I tossed it back after a quick pic.

Then after a few more minutes, and having no luck, I thought to myself, I’ve seen this movie before, let’s speed this up, and within seconds this nice crappie joined the party. Well it is spring….burn em!!!!

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After that, the pattern had revealed itself and the fish repeatedly fell prey to the same technique. Stripers, catfish, perch, crappie, and white bass couldn’t resist the tiny crankbaits.

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Then, after a short break, cuz my legs were burning…my first double of the year, a duo of white perch that were far more trouble to document than they were worth…

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I was releasing everything today, and these were no exception.

Then…more stripers!

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And the clouds got really scenic for a bit…

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They seemed to roll in some direction I was supposed to follow, so I did, and then…bam!!

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And then…bam again!!

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At this point it was kind of embarrassing.

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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

 

 

 

Summer Stripers & White Bass

Big white bass and stripers were feeding good yesterday afternoon.

I got a call from Captain Stu Dill yesterday afternoon. He was on the lake and the fish were chewing. He had two white bass in the livewell and had already caught a largemouth bass and a crappie.

I got a few rods together and jumped in the truck to join him. It had been raining off and on all night and throughout the earlier part of the day. It was cloudy, the barometer was moving and there was a front stalled just off our coast.

Perfect.

I’m currently in the second round of editing on my book; this time with the publisher’s editor (so it’s easier now after the majority of the work has been done) so a break from the keyboard would be a nice distraction.

I got aboard in the early afternoon and we put the hammer down to cross the lake and drop lines. We went to a spot that’s been producing a few striped bass, but nothing was happening after a few passes watching the sonar. So we motored to the area uplake where Stu had been catching earlier.

After a few minutes of trolling we put the fourth species of the day on the boat; the scourge of the lake; the notoriously voracious white perch. We found them on humps and started catching them 2 and 3 at a time. It was fairly steady action for a while and after only landing one channel catfish aside from the myriad of perch, it took some discipline for us to leave those fish biting. They were stacked on humps just off the sloping red-clay banks that lined that part of the watercourse.

But we knew where we needed to go.

So we made the run back down to another area we’ve been checking lately and after dropping one rod back we started running too shallow, but as I was reeling up some line the rod doubled over in my hands. It fought like a striped bass, shaking its head violently, but after a few moments I saw the taller profile with the stripes and brought a nearly 15″ fish taco into the boat.

I just love everything about white bass. They feed readily in the right conditions, fight like crazy and make excellent table-fare. Especially fried in peanut oil! So now we had three nice ones already in the livewell.

After another pass we hung the first striper (feature photo). It fought hard as it took the crankbait, which was all we caught fish on all afternoon, they wouldn’t touch bucktails of any color, spinners or a Bama-rig. The fish was just short at 19″, but we made the call to put it in the livewell a few minutes to recover. To hell with the ticket if the warden would rather we throw it back to die. Striped bass can’t take the struggle and being thrown back into hot surface water right after the fight. So we took the chance and let it go when we felt it would live. And it did. Right to the bottom! If you can get them past that first 5 or 6 feet they’ll usually do ok.

We started catching perch again and a few more nice white bass before calling it a day. It was a 6 species outing with steady action all afternoon and I took home 5 fatty white bass for a fish taco dinner.

 

Gaston Lake Schoolie Striper Smackdown

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The striped bass have started biting on Gaston Lake, so Capone and I got out there this past weekend to get in on the action.

I had a little time Friday afternoon and got on the water about 4:00. First, I rode around and checked as many areas as I could before the last hour; places I’d caught stripers in spring there before. I’d caught a few largemouth bass on big #5 inline spinners in 50′ of water on the main lake as soon as I’d got to my first area. They always bust there in the afternoons when it’s warm, there’s low boat traffic and calm. But I hadn’t located any striped bass.

I planned to head back to Pea Hill Creek and hit a few more points and humps before sunset. It was warm but the cloud cover was well received. I passed under the bridge and started into the creek and quickly saw good marks on the sonar in 20′ of water. Nice marks with lots of color. So I dropped lines and started trolling, but as soon as I’d started the wind really picked up and a light rain accompanied it. The sun was peaking through at times and the cloud cover’s colors varied from dark, likely rain holding clusters to light and smooth, low-lying cirrus and cumulus puffs hovering at all heights. It was too windy to troll where I was, so I took off across the creek for cover.

The plan was to wait out the weather and then get back to fishing before dark. And after a few moments I was about to anchor up in a windbreak when fish started busting around a point near me. I dropped the anchor back in the bin, started the boat and carefully got to within casting distance of the commotion.

I had a rattletrap tied on a braid pole and soared it at the boiling water. One dip and a striper was on.

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I snapped a pic and tossed the schoolie striper back into the lake. Then, after a few more throws the fish stopped their assault on the shad. I saw lines on my sonar and opted to start trolling the area. The fish were in shallow water and were positioned in the slot of a cove near an island; so trolling was going to be difficult, but they weren’t hitting anything else.

It’s a good thing I decided to risk losing gear, because I didn’t lose anything, but man did I get on a school of short stripers. I had maybe a three-hundred yard run that ended at one end in a cove and the other in deep unproductive water, and had to navigate two humps that came up into 5′ of water. The fish were active in 15′. I was pulling my gear on leadcore with two colors out, which put me at close to 10′ with the lures. There was also the slot to deal with; I had to turn through both humps and hit the slot where the largest portion of fish were positioned. It was tough but I didn’t hang once.

First, they were hitting the ‘Bama rig.

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Then, the fish tossed any qualms they had with color, shape or size and hit everything I trolled by them. I didn’t measure any of them as I could tell they were short of the 20″ minimum, and I only snapped pics every few fish. The action stayed on fire for a good hour and I fished til dark. I probably caught 15 to 20. Here are the rest of the pics I took that afternoon.

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So the sun set on that day, but I decided to wake up at 5:00 am and get back out. I was hoping some bigger stripers would join the party.

The next morning started a little slow, and I started off catching perch in the same area I’d finished up the prior day. But pretty soon the stripers woke up again…

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It was basically a repeat of the previous day. No keepers, but a ton of fun action and Capone got in on the party!!

I had planned to help Pop out with a few things at the lake house at midday and ended up helping a neighbor with a little labor too. Then, we were gona head back out but another freakish windstorm cancelled afternoon fishing plans. So me, Pop and his wife just enjoyed the cooler weather on the porch and watched the hummingbirds. They’re just starting to visit the swings and feeders up there. There may have been a few cold beverages too.

We thought about fishing again Sunday morning, but I figured that school of fish was tired of my harassing behavior, so I just woke up, put the boat back on the trailer and headed back to town. People who know the lake wouldn’t believe me if I told them where these fish popped up. Never seen them there before and probably never will again. But it was a lucky coincidence of stripers hunting and baitballs escaping wind and current, and I was happy to have experienced and learned from it.

I’ll be back there soon when the action hits the main lake.