Tactics for Winter Striper - By:
C.C. McCotter - Feb. 2004
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
Take a moment to count the number
of center console rigs on the lake
next time you are out and you might
be surprised. While, striper fishing
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.
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
specialized pontoon boat, rigged to
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,
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
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
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
best dollar spent for your return.
Don' scrimp on this item. And don't
turn it on, have someone teach you
how to get off the automatic modes
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
on what to buy:
"The right rod with the right
tip and the right reel is the next
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
"If you can collect natural baits,
they will consistently outperform
bought baits nine months out of the
year. However, in January, February
March jumbo minnows will do fine."
Spike & Kathy Franscecini have
guided on Smith Mountain Lake for
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
right tackle is important when first
"We have kept some detailed logs
of our trips over the years,"
Kathy, "And when we had enough
to start studying, we noticed the
patterns usually repeated themselves
within three weeks."
From their logs, the Franscecinis
know where to be at what time of the
to catch bait and to find stripers.
If adjustments are necessary, it's
just a bit of fine tuning, they say.
As far as tackle goes, these guides
like it heavy. Trilene XT in 17-20
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
the anti-reverse is engaged on the
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
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,
to fall too fast.
"I use heavy duty bass rods and
reels for striper fishing -- heavy
seven-foot rods and 12-14 pound green
Stren. Line heavier than this will
create unnatural presentations, too,"
This lure striper guides sticks with
1/4- to 3/8-oz. lures depending on
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
Goyne does not use a trailer. 3/8-oz.
jig heads with a ZOOM Super Fluke
Super Fluke Jr are also favorite lures
for this Smith Mountain Lake guide.
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
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,
fish tend to move into the upper
portion of reservoirs. On Gaston
from Holly Grove Creek on up.
Gilmer notes stripers gang up at
the mouths of the creeks when the
is flowing strong out of Buggs Island.
Good areas are around the bridges
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
Gaston, but most fish run between
five and seven pounds. Gilmer says
action usually begins in late February
from the mouth of Smith Creek on
to the Kerr Dam.
Jerry Sauter is one of Maryland's
most recognizable anglers. He's
about every fresh water record for
game fish over the past 30 years
known for his acute knowledge of
"the reservoirs". The
works part time at the Baltimore
Bass Pro Shops and fishes on his
Here's his advice to anglers wanting
to start striper fishing in area
reservoirs like Liberty, Piney Run,
Tridelphia and Rocky Gorge. Pay
because when Sauter speaks he is
like a library.
As far as his gear he uses a Shimano
Charter Special for either live
trolling. For trolling he uses 30-lb
test line. He notes a plug knocker
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 casting lures like big Redfins,
he uses a 6'10" medium heavy
rod with a Lews reel and 20-lb.
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
will also use planer boards to get
bait away from boat. Sauter prefers
just two rods, but four is allowed.
Baits should generally be 30 yards
from the stern.
"One thing I also like to do
is put one rod right behind the
(10 yards) with bait on a float.
I think the motor actually attracts
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
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
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
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
too. Sauter is frank when revealing
one of the best spots: "The
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
but the best bet for big rockfish
over the next three months is to
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.