Fall the right time for striped bass
Does the thought of casting top water lures into a school of feeding game fish excite you? It should, since anglers spend more time searching below the surface than above looking for fish to catch.
When it comes to fishing, there are no guarantees of catching. Yet there a species of game fish that is easier, more predictable and fun to catch in fall and winter.
That is when the average or even novice angler stand greater odds of catching striped bass. Many lakes in the Southeast have healthy populations of stripers and the cooler months keep the fish in shallower water than during summer.
The reason is the fall turnover. That happens when a lake circulates from top to bottom and water temperature is uniform throughout. Without layers of a thermocline, or defined comfort zone, stripers and other game fish roam throughout the water column.
During fall and winter the stripers chase and feed upon baitfish, and for anglers, that means two things.
“You’ve got to be proactive and stay on the move, just like the stripers,” notes Shane Watson, a third generation striper angler.
Watson should know. He operates Shane Watson Guide Service (phone: 770-235-9829, lakelanierstripers.com). His fleet of Carolina Skiff and Sea Chaser boats operates with six full-time guides averaging 300 days of fishing on Lake Lanier and elsewhere around Atlanta. Watson is also an inductee of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.
“Stripers feed on or near the surface during fall and winter because they are comfortable and the bait is more plentiful in shallower water,” he explains.
On Lanier, blueback herring stay on the move and the stripers follow. That makes being at the right place, at the right time, the most important part of the game. The same scenario applies anywhere else that baitfish are primary prey for roaming stripers.
Bird activity is a striper angler’s best friend. As opportunistic feeders, gulls move inland during fall and winter months. Stripers and other game fish push baitfish to shallower water. They are easier for the birds to see, plus cold water causes shad die-offs.
Call it bird watching of a different kind. Watson recommends cruising the open water of a large impoundment, keeping an eye on the tell tale sign of spiraling flocks of birds diving into the surface of the lake.
Manage to get to the feeding frenzy soon enough and the fun begins. If stripers don’t spook and continue feeding the choice of what to do next is easy.
Cast topwaters like the Heddon Zara Spook, Cordell Red Fin, or a leadhead jig tipped with a soft plastic fluke. As a bonus, Watson free-lines live baits about 20 or 30 feet behind the boat while on the trolling motor.
Prime time for topwater action is early and late on sunny days. Overcast, raining conditions can keep the topwater bite gong all day.
Watson does not suggest staying around after the school disappears.
“Don’t commit to a long wait thinking they will come back up,” he advises. “The fish will say on the move with the bait.”
One option is down lining, or trolling umbrella rigs during a lull in surface feeding. Do that over main lake points and keep the lures within the 30-foot range of the surface.
“Create opportunities, don’t wait for them,” is the bottom line advice from Watson.
For decades, Watson has fished from Sea Chaser and Carolina Skiff, having owned up to 20 of the boats over the years.
“Carolina Skiff builds a quality boat with all the features an angler needs,” he says. “They are great people, have a fine dealer network and will help you find an affordable boat with the most value.”
Watson’s personal boat is the Sea Chaser 26 LX. At 25' and 11" in length, the boat has an extremely wide beam of 103". That offers plenty of deck space for guide clients to move around the deck while trolling lines are out, or for casting to surface-feeding fish. His fleet also includes a full line of Carolina Skiff models, including the roomy 238 DLV, at 22’ 8” and the 218 DLV, at 22’ 10”.
See the full line of Carolina Skiff and Sea Chaser boats at carolinaskiff.com. With 60 different options and models, you can use the Build A Boat feature. On the website, you can find a dealer, request a catalog and more. Check out the loyal following of Carolina Skiff fans and owners on Facebook.