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Guide Tactics for Winter Striper - By: C.C. McCotter - Feb. 2004
One of the most popular and growing aspects of fresh water angling is the
pursuit of land-locked stripers. These notoriously finicky cousins of
saltwater rockfish have been stocked over the years in many of the man-
made lakes in our region and are thriving today.

Take a moment to count the number of center console rigs on the lake the
next time you are out and you might be surprised. While, striper fishing can
be accomplished in a variety of boats, from center console to bass, pontoon
to aluminum, you do have to have them rigged right and know how to fish and know where the fish are and know how to present bait or lures to them,

Do you like a challenge? Well, here's some advice from top guides around the region you might want to heed as you get geared up to catch stripers over the next few months.

Lake Anna

Jim Hemby used to be a bass angler. That is until he caught striper fever
15 years ago and turned his laser-like focus on catching linesides from Lake
Anna. He began fishing out of bass boats, but eventually switched over to a
specialized pontoon boat, rigged to his specifications.

One look at his 22' rig, powered by a 150 hp Yamaha outboard lets you
know his level of seriousness. When "fully loaded" Hemby can work 10 lines
at once for clients. He can carry over 150 pieces of live bait in aerated
tanks. The right gear is clearly very important to this guide. As a rule, most
good striper guides are fastidious (serious and picky) about their gear.
What's Hemby's advice to beginners? He offers the following in order of

"First, hire a guide. You need to learn seasonal patterns and how to
actually fish for stripers. There's no faster way than with a good guide,"
explains the striper guru. "A good guide won't hold anything back because he
or she will know striper fishing changes each year." A beginner should also take time to outfit themselves properly, notes Hemby.

"Gear is everything. The most important is your depth finder. That is the
best dollar spent for your return. Don' scrimp on this item. And don't just
turn it on, have someone teach you how to get off the automatic modes and
learn how to use the custom modes." Hemby fishes live bait about 95% of the time when guiding. To do this properly he relies on another important piece of equipment. "For running bait, using a trolling motor that you can keep constantly on and adjusted is very important. Most striper anglers use a Minn Kota Auto Pilot Power Drive. This allows you to run many more lines since they are always being pulled."

Fishing tackle is also crucial to success. Here's this striper expert's opinion
on what to buy:

"The right rod with the right tip and the right reel is the next most
important part of your gear. A reel with a superb or excellent drag system
allows you to use lighter line (10-12 pound Trilene XT) so you get more
strikes. I have used ABU Garcia Workhorse Rods (7' medium action) and ABU
Garcia C3 reels for many years and recommend them to anyone looking to
get started in this sport." Lastly, Hemby offers this advice on his secret baits:
"If you can collect natural baits, they will consistently outperform store-
bought baits nine months out of the year. However, in January, February and
March jumbo minnows will do fine."

Smith Mountain

Spike & Kathy Franscecini have guided on Smith Mountain Lake for almost
20 years. They've seen 40+ pounders come to the boat and others even
bigger become snagged in the lake's numerous submerged trees. This
husband and wife guiding duo know that keeping good records and using the
right tackle is important when first starting out.

"We have kept some detailed logs of our trips over the years," says Capt.
Kathy, "And when we had enough to start studying, we noticed the seasonal
patterns usually repeated themselves within three weeks."
From their logs, the Franscecinis know where to be at what time of the year
to catch bait and to find stripers. If adjustments are necessary, it's usually
just a bit of fine tuning, they say.

As far as tackle goes, these guides like it heavy. Trilene XT in 17-20 test is
necessary to even have a chance at a big fish when fish around the lakes
submerged forests. Heavy action rods and bait clicker reels accommodate
the strong line. They don't even allow the fish to pull the clicker alarm,
instead they keep the reel engaged and listen for a subtle click of the reel as
the anti-reverse is engaged on the strike.

John Goyne is an artificial lure specialist guiding on Smith Mountain Lake. He
rarely uses live baits on his guided trips. Over the past 10 years he has
observed some important constants for beginners to remember.
"One of the most important things to remember when using artificial lures
on Smith Mountain Lake is not to use a real big lure. Anything over 1/2-ounce
is usually too big here. You want your lure to have a natural presentation, not
to fall too fast.

"I use heavy duty bass rods and reels for striper fishing -- heavy action,
seven-foot rods and 12-14 pound green Stren. Line heavier than this will
create unnatural presentations, too," explains Goyne.

This lure striper guides sticks with 1/4- to 3/8-oz. lures depending on how
deep he needs to fish. He says beginners should stock a good bucktail in this
size range. His favorite has short hair and chartreuse, gray or blue feathers.
Goyne does not use a trailer. 3/8-oz. jig heads with a ZOOM Super Fluke or
Super Fluke Jr are also favorite lures for this Smith Mountain Lake guide.

Lake Gaston

On a lake best known for its bass, Dennis Gilmer just about has Lake
Gaston's striper population to himself. He uses artificial lures for his trips
when clients want to focus on stripers and says monitoring baitfish
movement is critical to success on his home lake.

"We don't really have a huge population of shad on Gaston, so we you have
to really stay on top of where the shad are if you want to catch stripers,"
notes Gilmer. A good depth finder with a minimum of 168 pixels is
mandatory, he says.

Current flow is also critical when chasing stripers on Gaston and other
lakes. As a general rule of thumb, when consistent current is present, the
fish tend to move into the upper portion of reservoirs. On Gaston this means
from Holly Grove Creek on up.

Gilmer notes stripers gang up at the mouths of the creeks when the water
is flowing strong out of Buggs Island. Good areas are around the bridges and
mouths of upper Gaston Creeks.

This guide's top choice for Gaston stripers is a 3/8- or 1/2-oz white
bucktail with a white fluke trailer. Fish up to 20 pounds are not uncommon on
Gaston, but most fish run between five and seven pounds. Gilmer says the
action usually begins in late February from the mouth of Smith Creek on up
to the Kerr Dam.

Maryland Reservoirs

Jerry Sauter is one of Maryland's most recognizable anglers. He's held just
about every fresh water record for game fish over the past 30 years and is
known for his acute knowledge of "the reservoirs". The 63-year-old angler
works part time at the Baltimore Bass Pro Shops and fishes on his days off.
Here's his advice to anglers wanting to start striper fishing in area
reservoirs like Liberty, Piney Run, Tridelphia and Rocky Gorge. Pay attention,
because when Sauter speaks he is like a library.

As far as his gear he uses a Shimano Charter Special for either live bait or
trolling. For trolling he uses 30-lb test line. He notes a plug knocker is very
important and the David Fritts version is Sauter's choice. The Baltimore-area
fishing expert prefers Penn Power Plus rods (6'6" heavy action) for trolling.
For casting lures like big Redfins, he uses a 6'10" medium heavy baitcasting
rod with a Lews reel and 20-lb. test maximum.

Sauter's live bait rigs are modified free lines. He employs a 2/0 Gamagatzu
Kahle style hook and light barrel weight if he needs to get the bait deep. He
will also use planer boards to get bait away from boat. Sauter prefers to fish
just two rods, but four is allowed. Baits should generally be 30 yards back
from the stern.

"One thing I also like to do is put one rod right behind the electric outboard
(10 yards) with bait on a float. I think the motor actually attracts the fish,"
reveals Sauter. Sauter uses Mann's Stretch 25 plugs when he trolls. "To get them to run true is tricky," he notes, "The Stretch 30's run straight right out of the box."

Silver and blue is a good stock color but Sauter has had friends airbrush
his top baits to look like rainbow trout. Store-bought shiners are fine for bait
days, says Sauter, as are live eels. Native baits are good, too, however you
must be a certified Maryland bait dealer to use them.
Beginners often are lost when it comes to finding where land-locked
stripers are in the reservoirs. Here's Sauter's advice:

"In Liberty you'll find the fish up past Nicodemous Bridge. Baitfish and the
spawning ritual drives this behavior. The spawn is over by the end of May and
they head back down lake."

In Piney Run, Sauter notes the lake is smaller and the fish don't congregate
in the upper end as tightly.

By the end of March, you'll find stripers in the upper portion of Tridelphia,
too. Sauter is frank when revealing one of the best spots: "The Patuxent
River is a stocked trout water for Maryland, and the stripers will run right up
into the first pool and feed heavily."

This pool is about five minutes north of the Sunshine ramp.
In Rocky Gorge, Sauter says the stripers are throughout the entire lake,
but the best bet for big rockfish over the next three months is to start
fishing above the Route 29 Bridge in March. There's an S-turn that warms up and attracts baitfish early that striper anglers will want to try, he explains.

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