It’s January in Tennessee. The temperature is 20 degrees. The water temperature is 40 degrees. We search and search the places we have caught Hybrids and Stripers countless times throughout the year and cannot seem to mark any fish. As we move over the main river channel, the marks begin to appear. Schools of bait with larger marks underneath. Predator fish just “hangin” with the little guys. Kind of like me, staying close to the refrigerator, so I’m not too far from a snack!
Move ahead to March 5th. The lake temperature doesn’t seem to have changed much. It is still cold, unless you look more closely. Shallow water areas in the back of the largest creeks on the lake are significantly warmer than the main body of the lake. Where did the bait go? I marked it consistently in the main river channel until about a week ago. How did they know that the back of a creek is the place for them to be? Is it the length of the day? Are there some trace elements of warm water currents pulling them to the back of a creek? How do they know?... They just know!
Big fish know as well as the bait fish that there is a party going on in the backs of these creeks and that it is the place to be. The metabolism starts to shift into a higher gear and and the half hearted attempt to eat shifts to a more serious hunger for something besides a 3 inch shiner every 3 days. The biggest fish can be found in the shallowest water. The main body of the lake is 42 degrees and what was once, in the not so distant past, the coldest part of the lake is now the warmest. Somewhere around 48 to 52 degrees.
Doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but when you combine the day getting longer with the warmer water, these fish are preparing to spawn. It is a 2 to 3 month process that is so instinctive the same thing happens every year within a few days year to year. It probably has more to do with moon phase than specific calendar date.
Set your calendar to the big fish time where a patient fisherman can catch the heaviest fish of the year.
The fish are not in a frenzy to the extent they will be in early summer, but the reward for pulling bait with no weight on long lines on planer boards can be the biggest fish you’ll ever catch. I size the hook to the bait. My favorite hook is the Eagle Claw LO42, in every size up to 4/0. The fact that it is wire will allow the hook to deteriorate in a deep hooked fish when released as opposed to a stainless hook, which is undeniably stronger, but will not fade away in a fish when released. I use 30 lb. Berkley Big Game Line, P-Line 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader, with a small 100 lb. swivel. I use Striper Addiction Planer Boards.
I like to pull different size baits. Not all fish are in the same metabolic condition and I believe the opportunistic manner in which they feed requires all sizes of bait, from a 3” shiner to a 14” Skip Jack. Spread em’ out! Patience! Quiet!
We are blessed in Tennessee with an abundant bait fish population. Throughout most of the season, enough Gizzard or Threadfin Shad to fish for the day, can be caught with a cast net in very short order.
Thirty to forty bait fish of nearly any size can be caught in typically less than an hour. However.. certain water conditions cause Shad to move from the easily catchable, shallow backs of the creeks to the main creek or river channel. Smaller, lighter nets do not work as well when trying to catch bait fish in ten to fifty feet of water.
The hottest summer months cause the backs of the creeks to warm to ninety degrees and hotter, depriving the water of valuable oxygen. The lack of moving water and air will cause the fish to bail out of the typical shallow location to the slightly cooler deeper location near the mouth of the creek. It has been my experience that the fish will also school up, as opposed to being scattered as they are in the spring.
The Shad I typically catch in 2-5 feet of water move out to 8-12 feet. Sometimes the bait will be 8 to 12 feet over as much as 50 feet or more of water. At this time I have stopped throwing the net here and there in search of shallow, unmark-able fish. I use my electronics to locate balls of bait near the channel ledge before throwing. If you find one fish, you will find many. I do not use my big motor to search as I believe it spooks the fish. The trolling motor is a better option.
Throw the biggest, heaviest net you can handle. Throw less times but more calculated. Locate bait in the main river by watching for surface activity. The smallest activity over deep water can usually be a sign of many fish. The creeks do not seem to work the same way. The creek is hotter and the bait may never surface. You’ll need more time, so plan accordingly.
I use Fitec Cast nets. http://www.castnets.com/ model numbers, 15063 8.0 foot 5/8 Clear Mono $84.00.. and 15065 10.0 foot 5/8 Clear Mono $102.00. These nets are so throw-able compared to other nets I have used. They are soft, strong and open easily with a variety of throwing techniques. I like the 5/8ths inch netting as it allows the troublesome new hatch to swim out and the larger, preferred Shad, to stay in the net.
I like to use cooler tap water in my tank, with “Better Bait” bait saver. Sure Life Fishing Product ID: 120126 UPC: 733741001028MFG ID: SL102. http://www.sure-life.com It de-chlorinates the water and gives hard-to-keep, summertime bait a fighting chance. Be careful to not have too much of a water temperature differential from the lake to your bait tank as it will shock and possibly kill your bait; no more than around 10 degrees difference. Add about a cup of rock salt to fifty gallons of water.
We fish the same bodies of water most of the time and find ourselves fishing areas that bring fond memories of the fish we have caught in the past. The areas we consistently fish have brought us good catches in the recent past and therefore we generally see no reason why they will not again.
I guess what I am now asking is why we were successful in the first place? How did we end up in these places that have produced fish? I think most people, if they are honest, will say that a friend or better fisherman at some point, gave us a tip or showed us a place that has caused us to look and fish certain areas. These past successes can be our crutch that cause us to be limited in our pursuit of predatory fish such as a Striper. If we fish “spots” and do not look deeper into the reason why those fish were there in the first place, will, in my opinion, restrict our fish locating abilities when we are presented with a tough day or we venture onto unfamiliar water.
The eye opener for me was a tournament held on my home lake and I watched “out of towners” fish areas of “my” lake where I thought there were limited chances of catching a good fish .. until the weigh in. These “out of towners” had success that I never would have predicted and showed me that I needed to look a little more in depth as to the “why and where” these winning fish were caught.
“Stripers like deep water!” How many times have I heard that statement? Though not untrue, there are other contributing factors as to why a Striper will be found and or caught in or near deep water.
Stripers like shallow water! Again, I’ve heard it said many times.
The man made reservoirs in the southeastern United States have a common trait in that they all have an older, deeper main river channel that is the water source for the construction of the lake. The main river or creek channels are the super highway and main travel arteries of any reservoir. Fish like to be in or near the channel. However, as anyone that has driven through North Dakota can attest, Interstate 94 can be a lonely place. If you find yourself on I -94 a little further upstream, say in Minneapolis MN, you might find a little more action. These river channels are the same, in that, not all of the channel is created equal. So where do we look?
The first thing we need is a good Topographical map, either electronic for your on board GPS or a hard copy. There are more and more companies developing software maps that are available for your electronics. Navionics, LEI, Lake Master, Magellan, Garmin, just to name a few.
I look for “S” turns in the channel. These are the some of the best first places to look at when looking for Stripers. If there are are shallower flats and structure near these sharp turns in the channel, they will typically hold fish. The bait fish will live predominately shallow and the bigger fish will live and travel around these areas. Nothing is absolute, but a Striper will feed across these curves much like the vertical line through the the dollar sign ($). This allows the fish to hunt shallow and retreat to deep water in the event of perceived danger. This configuration also is typically loaded with ambush points for predatory fish. I think Stripers are as lazy as the next guy, in that, this configuration gives the fish the most hunt-able “bang for the buck” with the smallest amount of travel and space.
A singular, short tight curve in the channel may also yield the same result. A long straight away in and of itself is not my favorite place to look, however, there can be other factors in this type of area that can be fishy.
If the channel passes near the mouth of a long narrowing cove that holds bait, the fish can be found, at different times, in the back of the cove or out near the channel. If there are humps or drop offs near the channel these areas can also hold fish. The river channel is the oldest part of the lake and therefore can create over time, bluffs and lay downs near the channel. These areas can also be productive. There is no substitute for time on the water. The guy who looks and spends time with his lines in the water will ultimately be able to rule out unproductive areas.
Covering the water column with bait is key to finding and settling on a pattern that catches fish. We are fortunate in Tennessee to be able to fish as many rods as we can afford. My favorite method, when fishing and experimenting with live bait, requires at least seven rods. The lines furthest from the boat are the shallowest. 5 long lines with planer boards and floats, and 2 Carolina rigged poles, with at least an ounce and a half, up to three ounce slip sinkers should do nicely. The rods are set in a specific order with the electric trolling motor moving the boat forward at a slightly faster speed than I would fish the lines once they are all set. About 1.5 MPH allows the planer boards to get into position quickly and then slowed to .6 to 1 mph while fishing.
The rear or furthest lines are set first. The bait is hooked straight up through the lower jaw and out the top of the nose. This gives the same hook exposure to the fish no matter which direction the the bait is attacked. It should be attached to a line with no weight. 20 to 30 feet of line and then the rear float. This will fish directly behind the boat approximately 75-100 feet away. The rear left and right planer boards are hooked similarly with the difference being that each line has a small split shot about 2 feet above the hook, to fish a little deeper. The forward planer boards get 2 split shot on each line to fish a little deeper yet. The Carolina rods are set to the deepest depth and set the furthest forward. The Carolina rods are also a good indication of your trolling speed. These lines should be nearly straight down. If not, you may be moving too fast. Pay attention to which rod the fish came on. See if it happens more than once. If so, you can adjust your other poles to increase you chance at success. There are no absolutes when it comes to Striper fishing, but if you find yourself on a strange lake or you are having a tough day on your home lake, this is something to try. This method also translates to creek arms as well. the depths may be different but the approach is still the same.
Good Luck.. Patience!
Capt. Bob Angello
To book a Striper fishing trip with Captain Bob Angello,
call 615-498-7833 or send an e-mail to Bob@FishForStripers.com