Landlocked Stripers

Grassy_Knollington

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Yes, I know they aren't Saltwater fish, but I can't think where else this would / should go.

Stripers



I have some time on my hands over the next couple of weeks and thought I’d give everyone a small window onto a fishery that gets very little coverage this side of the Atlantic – and not enough coverage in the US. That fishery is Landlocked Striped Bass. Stripers can be found in impounded lakes and rivers as far south as Georgia and as far west as California. They provide a unique opportunity to catch saltwater fish in a freshwater setting. If you find yourself in the U.S.A. on business or on holiday and you are near a lake or river with Stripers; I would recommend you take a day or two to target them, it’s not easy fishing, but great fun. Hopefully somebody reading this will take the chance when traveling and get into some quality fish.

Disclaimer

I am definitely NOT a Striped Bass expert and these are my findings from a small selection of Landlocked Striper fisheries. I’ve just fished for them 10 or so times and wished I’d known about them earlier. I remember reading here that Mirimachi has a lot of experience with Stripers in the salt and I’m sure some of our other US and other members have fished for these fish far far more than me.

The Fish.

Origins.
First things first, the Landlocked fishery is NOT natural. The vast majority of these fish are stocked by State Fish and Game organisations into impounded rivers and lakes. Wild Stripers are anadromous fish which spawn in freshwater and then migrate to the Sea. For successful spawning the eggs of Striped Bass must be allowed tumble naturally in flowing fresh water for up to 72 hours. The nature of most impounded rivers and lakes means that the eggs generally sink to the bottom before they are ready to hatch. There are some self-sustaining landlocked populations out there, but these fish have all been stocked for sport fishing. The stocked fish show many of the same characteristics as their saltwater cousins, they are aggressive predators, school together and often make a ‘false’ spawning run to the uppermost reaches of their particular river / lake each year.

Sporting qualities. Why bother to catch a Striper? Well, they are strong, powerful and aggressive fish, they fight hard, run quickly and respond well to fly, lure and (especially) bait tactics. A 3lb Striped Bass will put a substantial bend in a 8/9 weight single handed rod, 5-6lbers will give a great fight, stripping line off and surfacing regularly, 8-12lb fish are strong, strong fish, 15lb fish…… you get the idea. A 20-30lb striper is a rare beast, but much more common than a 30lb Salmon….In basic terms it’s worth trying because catching them is great fun!
Behaviour
To maximise your chances you really need to understand just a little about the general behaviour of the fish and how they respond to the different environments they are stocked in. In broad terms the life of a Landlocked Striper is governed by a few key factors:

- Their food source(s). Stripers are large, active predators and they need an abundant food source, mostly this is provided by Blue Back Herring, or Shad. The shad are smaller and spend more time near the surface, the Herring are bigger and hang around in deeper water. For fly fishing, you really want a lake or river with a sizeable shad population – because your Stripers will be far more likely to be at the top of the water column and easier to target. The reverse is true for Bait fishermen. If you are fishing an impounded river, then you’ll find that Stripers always turn up at Dam generation time, where they can sit in the tailrace and get a ready supply of dead & confused bait fish.

- Water temperature. Stripers like the water cold – but not too cold and warm, but definitely not too warm…. In the Southern States, and Georgia in particular, the Stripers tend to be most active in the cooler months, from say October through to April. Once temperatures rise above 60 degrees the fish go deeper and above 65, they tend to sit as deep as possible, right on the thermocline. It is usually close to impossible to fly fish at these times and it’s best to leave the fish alone. If you do manage to hit a pod of Striper with the bait rods, they have very poor survival when released into the warm water at the top of the water column.

- The annual false spawn. Landlocked Stripers still have the urge to spawn and in March-May they will move towards the uppermost end of their impoundment to breed and lay eggs. On the way they will stop at reefs, points, drop offs and all the usual places a predator hangs around. The pre-spawn fishery can be extremely good.
- Light levels. Even in cold water Stripers like low light levels and an early start is recommended. They will come up on clear sunny days in the winter, but usually that will be after a specific school of bait, they come up, hit the bait for a few minutes at most, then go back down again - very difficult to catch them in these circumstances.

The Elephant in the Room.
You will see below that all of my fishing done from a boat. The Stripers do come in close to the shore and on some rivers you can get them while wading. However, on the bigger lakes a boat is a must for effective fly fishing. When they are hunting bait they move around so fast and change depth so quickly, you really need to chase them down and hit lots of marks to improve your chances of a fish. Unless you’re a resident of that state, the need for a boat means you really need a guide too– which is no bad thing if your time is tight and you can’t spend 10 years learning the water.

I fished with a number of guides. The best and most experienced of which was Henry Cowen. If you are around Atlanta, or are interested in hosted Saltwater Striper trips, then I can’t recommend him highly enough. There’s a podcast at the bottom of this post where he explains what I have covered in a much more professional and competent manner…


See the next post for more...
 

Grassy_Knollington

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Fishing tactics

- Stripers can make good eating and most folk will be fishing bait or lures for them. Fly fishing is still a niche sport, but it can be very productive. I’ll talk about fly fishing mainly.

- Fishing is done in stillwaters & rivers with 9’-9’,6” rods between 8 and 10 weight. You can fish double handed rods in some rivers and I nearly got the chance to do that on the Coosa river in Alabama. I’d think a Skagit and a fast sink tip would be a great way to catch these predators….

- Surface fishing is possible and there are apparently times when a big popper can nail stripers on the surface. Conditions have to be right for this kind of fishing and in my few trips, they never were.

- Subsurface fishing makes up the vast majority of fly fishing that will be done for Landlocked Stripers. One thing to remember with these fish is to strip-strike. When the angler feels the fish, they grip the line and draw the retrieving hand back smoothly and firmly in line with the rod to set the hook; before raising the rod. Do anything else and the fish are rarely hooked and never hooked well. Think the opposite of a Salmon and you’ll be in the right place.

There are 3 ways in which I’ve fished the fly for Stripers.

1. Feeding Fish. In an ideal scenario you are casting a baitfish pattern, Clouser or ‘Game Changer’ type fly beyond a bait ball where Stripers are breaking the surface and feeding actively. When the fish are on the surface a Sink Tip line can be productive, but you can still get good results with a fast sinker. You cast, decide whether you want to keep the fly up, or count it down to a depth. Once you’ve hit your target depth, retrieve in strips of between 6 and 12 inches at varying speeds with occasional pauses for 2- 3 seconds to let the fly fall down – imitating a stricken bait fish. Mostly, the Striper take on one of these drops.

Here's what it's like (not my video)


Strip, strip strip, pause, strip, pause, strip strip strip strip pause,,, FISH ON! This fish, (posted already on the forum) was caught early morning right at the tail end of the fishing (Early May) on Lake Lanier in Georgia. We saw the birds, saw the bait boil, set up the boat and I made 2 casts. On the first I dropped the fish and on the second, I didn’t. Weighed at 8.5lbs, it took me right into the backing.

Daylight 1.JPG


2. Hit the marks. Like all predators, Stripers will hang around in places where the bait concentrates and / or comes to them. Points, shallow shoals of rock, the edge of drop-offs, freshwater flows into a lake, the necks of large pools on rivers. With some knowledge, you can target these spots, generally with a fast sinking line. Fish towards, around and through the areas of interest, count the fly down to various depths and retrieve in the same way. This way of fishing is good when light levels are at there highest in the middle of the day.

This fish was taken at 1330 one afternoon just as we were heading in for the day. At the meeting point of several rivers into a large lake the current flows gently over a submerged rock shoal where the water depth is between 5 and 15ft – as opposed to 40-80ft either side. Bait fish accumulate there and so do the predators. We picked a spot, drifted over and nailed this one. 6-7lbs, it looks smaller – honest! This fish went mental, jumping everywhere and took a while to get in.

Daylight 2.JPG



3. Dock lights. Now this is really exiting fishing, it does add to the artificiality of the experience, but also to the fun! If you’ve ever been to a marina you will likely have seen the underwater dock lights, which aid navigation and identification at night. These lights also attract algue, micro organisms, larvae, bait fish and Predators. The basic tactics are the same, it isn’t hard fishing. The key success factor is local knowledge, knowing who has their dock lights on and where the fish are likely to be.

Picture the scene; it’s 0400 in the morning, you’ve set off from the boat launch and are streaking across the lake in the darkness. The guide cuts the engine and tells you you’re in a ‘high percentage’ spot. As you come closer you can see the dim green or yellow glow of the light, 4-10ft deep and usually situated next to or under a boat dock. As your eyes adjust you can see the bait fish breaking surface and then, just below, you see a bigger shape, cruising like a submarine through the light and occaisionally darting in to take a meal. Underneath are the bigger fish, some way over 20lbs. The boat gets back to casting range with the trolling motor and out comes the sinking line, cast, count down, retrieve, pause Bang!

Take a look at this Vimeo Video for some examples. There’s a few decent fish at about 40sec and then at 1.37 a >25lb submarine comes in…again, it's not my video and sorry about the music.:ROFLMAO:


Here’s a some I took off dock-lights one morning. even the smallest one made a couple of great runs off the reel. I never got any of the monsters, but I did hook a couple. The larger fish are spookier, hard to control and even harder to land. They often wrap the line around the dock light – which is what both of my ones did.

Docklight 1.JPG


Docklight 2.JPEG


Docklight 3.JPEG


Tackle:
- Rod:
I used a Greys GRXi 9ft 8/9 weight rod for all of my Striper fishing. I got it for £50 for Pike fishing and it’s been great. I’ve banged it around and caught Pike, Trout, Redfish, Spotted Bass and Stripers with it. It sits around the lighter end of the range and is about spot on. You could manage with a nice strong 8 weight, but it is hard to throw the lines & patterns in anything less. I really wouldn’t want to be fighting anything above 3-4lbs with a 7/8 weight rod. Of course you do get quite a few Largemouth & Spotted Bass as bycatch and a lighter rod is much more fun for these species.
- Lines: I had hoped to get a couple on surface lures, but it didn’t happen. An 8-weight Barrio SLX is the perfect line for smaller poppers, for the larger one a really aggressive predator or short head line would work, think Wulff Ambush or integrated OPST for examples. My catching was all done with a 30ft Intermediate line (the Scientific Anglers SONAR 30 Clear Intermediate 1.25ips), or the RIO InTouch Striper Sink Tip, 30ft 8.5ips. That RIO line in particular is amazing. It took very little time to get used to having just the right amount of line out to give an easy lift off and minimum false casting.
- Reels: I strongly recommend a smooth Disk Drag. I used an Orvis Hydros IV, it’s been good with Salmon to 12lb and was equally competent with the bigger bass – which are much stronger IMLE than a 12lb Salmon.
- Flies. Very subjective, I fished what I was told to and they worked. Henry Cowen often fishes small flies and always with just a little bit of Flouro Pink Flourofibre. He makes a very good case for the effectiveness of this material in this context and his flies certainly work. I also caught a couple of Articulated Game Changers and standard 4-5” baitfish patterns.

Bait fishin’

- Bait fishing with livebait can be extraordinarily productive for Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass. I’ve just casually introduced another species there. Hybrids have been bred to tolerate high(er) temperatures than pure Stripers. They only live 3-5 years and grow to around 5-7lbs mostly. They are just as strong and aggressive as the equivalent Striper, they just don’t grow as big.

- If on a short trip or whenever faced with a big lake, I’d recommend booking a guide and definitely definitely ask if you can take the fly rod too. If you fancy giving it a go at a tailrace or similar location, then you should be able to find lots of bait shops where you can pick up 20-30 herring. Loose line them ‘dead drift’ until they get taken, or fish them under a Balloon. Watch the balloon start moving before it is drawn under and pops! Great fun.

- To give you an idea of how productive bait can be with a knowledgeable guide, we caught these in 2.5 hours. I was desperate to get the fly rod out because we had an extended period of top-water action over a wide area, when I did I only caught a bloody Catfish! (also a very strong fighter). Before anyone gets all C&R, remember, these fish are stocked, there are tens of thousands of them and the Hybrids don’t live very long. We put 3 Stripers back that day.

IMG_3213.JPG


Locations.

Landlocked Stripers can be found in river systems and lakes in many states, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennesee, Colorado, Arizona, California, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Kentucky etc. Just google where you are, ask in a local fishing ship and see if fishing for them is an option during your visit. Guides will set you back somewhere between $300 and 400 less tips for a 6-8 hour trip. That’s a lot of money and there are loads of places you can catch Bass or Trout for the cost of a licence alone. However, the rates are fair when the cost of boats, tackle etc are added up a $70k boat takes a while to pay off….

Hopefully everyone who got this far enjoyed reading and some of you might just give this ago when the opportunity arises.

Further Information:

Henry Cowen / Tom Rosenbauer Orvis Podcast - Fishing for freshwater stripers

Blane Chocklett 'Flylords' Interview & Pictures

There's lots of youtube videos out there too1

Rgds

GK
 
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Jockiescott

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I enjoyed that GK! Thanks for taking the time to put together such a detailed and interesting couple of posts.

Excellent!!! ?
 

Clydebuilt

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Great read Gk and looks like braw sport.?

I didn't know about the land locked Stripers, I was only aware of the coastal saltwater striper fishing in the US.
Everyday is a school day

Cheers
Cb
 

ArchieL

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Very informative read and thanks for posting. Looks great sport and i assume they are good eating ?
 

Grassy_Knollington

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They can be very tasty, depending on where you catch them. The Hybrids we caught bait fishing come from a very clear, very large lake and tasted great. The fly caught ones in the picture were from a lake where they can taste a bit 'muddy', especially if there has been a lot of rain.

I noticed that I forgot to add the podcast, so I've stuck it on the end of the last post along with a couple of other links worth looking at if anyone is interested.
 
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