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Top Area Striper Waters - By Walter Claxton - Oct. 2004

Sure a lot of folks are hooked on saltwater fishing for rockfish in the Bay and near offshore waters along the Maryland and Virginia coast. But there are other rockfish you can target in the same region this fall -- those that frequent lakes and the upper sections of tidal rivers.

Called stripers by those that pursue them, these are the same fish as their saltwater cousins, they just frequent different areas. What follows are overviews of seven of the top area waters, plus tips on how to fish them for stripers provided by local experts.

1. Susquehanna River/Upper Bay

At the northern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay sits the City of Havre de Grace. This area is known as the Susquehanna Flats, which is made up of very large expansive sandbars that are perfect for striped bass to feed on their prey. The Susquehanna Flats range from twelve inches to twelve feet. This area is a Catch and Release fishery, and you will need to consult the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Regulation's prior to fishing this area or planning your trip. You can also contact the Staff at the Havre de Grace City Yacht Basin for further information at (410) 939-0015.

For those of you who read the Reader's Digest, in the May 2004 issue (America's Best 100 new discoveries) Havre de Grace, Maryland was listed as the number one destination for anglers in search of largemouth bass. The quote from the article cited the region as producing "largemouth bass to seventeen pounds". It is believed by most anglers in the area that they were referring to the spring migration of striped bass locally known as rockfish.
The Furnace Bay area adjacent to The Flats is a very well known and popular fishing spot for the local anglers. In the spring when the striped bass make their annual migration from their winter home off the North Carolina's Outer Banks area they move up the Chesapeake chasing after the schools of herring and hickory shad. The upper Chesapeake Bay is probably the largest spawning area for rockfish/stripers on the East Coast. It is almost as good in the fall, as the fish migrate back out of the Bay.

The weather and rain run-off amounts can have a large effect on this fishery, but it is common for angler's to experience seventeen-pound catches of striped bass in this area.

Captain Karl Bunch fishes this same area for largemouth bass. He and his clients accidently catch rockfish just about every trip. In October and November he suggests using topwater poppers and dog-walking baits on the Susquehanna Flats until the water temperature drops into the mid-50's.

Then, Capt. Bunch notes the fish will move out to deeper river spots like the mouth of the Bush River and the deep water just above the north end of Garret Island. Vertically jigged Silver Buddies and Riverside Rippers are the bait of choice later in the fall when fish are deeper.

Size and creel limits vary here from year to year. You can find out the current regulations by calling The Fishin' Shop at 410/391-0101 or by calling The City of Havre de Grace Yacht Basin at 410/939-0015. There is a very well maintained boat ramp at the Yacht Basin, which provides the visiting trailer boater with easy access to the Susquehanna River and the Susquehanna Flats, North East River, Mouth of the Elk River, Sassafras River, Bohemia River and the Main Body of the Northern Chesapeake Bay.
Contact Capt. Karl by visiting

2. Lake Gaston

Doug Biggs is the fellow that made news this spring when he landed a 40-4 striper from Gaston this past spring. He also caught two in the 30-pounder class, two 25 pounders and numerous 15-pound fish. So what's the big deal? Well, until Biggs' breakout spring, no one even imagined Gaston had stripers that big.

"From the Spring, I think Gaston is coming on pretty strong. Starting in October 04 the majority of the citation fish produced in Virginia are coming from Gaston according to the VDGIF," Biggs told W2.

The utility contractor knows Spring striper fishing is different than Fall efforts and is looking forward to the challenge.

"I'm not a big Fall fisherman, but I know they're here and I'm going to try and learn them. I concentrate on the upper end of Gaston from Holly Grove Creek up to the Kerr Dam. I had a wonderful Spring in this area, so I hope I the Fall is as good."

A typical day striper fishing on Gaston starts with Biggs checking his dock light for bait, mostly blue back herring. Only with bait tank full will he then head out in search of Gaston's striper. He will typically spend 30-45 minutes per spot, moving when he catches just small fish or when the bite is slow.

"I think Holly Grove Creek, from the bridge out to the main lake, is one of my favorites," notes Biggs. "Hawtree Creek is another good area to try."
In the main, upper section of Gaston, there is a large area these fish frequent. Just above the steel bridge and between the railroad trestle and I-85 is where you might find Bigg's this fall.

For anglers that prefer artificial lures, Biggs says the mouth of Allen's Creek is a good place to toss 3/4-oz. white and chartreuse bucktails with a curly tail jig.
"Me, I'm going to keep fishing like I've been fishing with freelines, sideplaners and corks with an occasional downline depending on what I see on the depthfinder," Biggs admits.

An average fall day on Gaston should produce limits for each angler in the boat -- that's four per angler. If you've got the bait, Biggs notes it's doesn't matter what time of the day you fish.

On occasion, Biggs will break down and throw a pencil popper and bucktail if the water is running hard behind the Kerr Dam. Biggs reminds anglers that navigation is dangerous in this region. Once you get above Little River or Buggs Island you really need to be careful. Only if the water is running hard is it considered easily navigable.

Biggs is excited to use something he's created dubbed the Stealth Planer on Gaston this fall. This original creation is a cigar-shaped cork that functions as a planer to spread a live bait anglers offerings in a wide array behind the boat. Where the Stealth Planer surpasses other planers is how it works when fishing herring. Biggs says you can really tell how lively your bait is and it also helps the angler to detect strikes.

Something else interesting about Biggs' Stealth Planer approach: he fishes this rig a little differently than most by keeping the spools on his ABU Garcia 5600C reels disengaged, yet with the line out alarm on.

"Most of these stripers hit so hard here, all you have to do is engage the handle and you are hooked up," explains the Gaston resident.

Stay tuned to W2 on how to get some of Biggs' Stealth Planers. They are patented and now in the manufactured process.

3. Lake Anna

At just under 10,000 public acres, Anna is on the small side to produce truly massive stripers, but this central Virginia lake has surpassed all expectations and continues to draw anglers from all over the region. Sheer numbers of fish in the four- to 10-pound range is the reason.

Lake Anna's striper fishery is the result of an aggressive stocking program by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. On a typical year over 100,000 three-inch fish are dumped into the lake. By three years old, they usually reach the minimum size limit of 20". While initial estimates did not predict Anna would ever produce stripers approaching 20 pounds, it has. In fact, the lake record stands at just under 28 pounds.

Guide C.C. McCotter has spend almost 20 years fishing Anna and the last 13 have been for hire. He's seen some dramatic increases in the past five years as far as the fishery.

"I am continually amazed at the amount of stripers in this lake. When I see numerous schools over 100-fish strong on my Lowrance, I know the VDGIF is doing a good job here," he says. "I think a lot of anglers will be surprised how good the striper fishery has become recently."

McCotter and his striper guides use both live bait and lures to pursue fall stripers on Anna. Some clients want to use live bait, others prefer to cast artificial lures. Each trip is tailored to the client's desire.

For October, he says Anna's stripers will be on the move toward the upper portion of creeks and other areas of the lake with a good source of food. Depending on the region of Anna, that could be blueback herring, gizzard shad or threadfin shad.

"In the midlake region we target creeks with herring. Uplake you are on more of a shad bite," he explains.

Why is it important to note the difference?

"Anna stripers can be picky. Pull a herring in front of one that is feeding on 3" threadfin shad and you usually don't get bit. It's very important to match your offering to what the fish are feeding on," the 35-year-old guide notes.

His October and November trips feature the use of side planers, free lines and corks when using live bait. Artificial lure selection is fairly simple. His choices include soft plastic swim baits, walk-the-dog topwaters and soft plastic jerkbaits. All are usually fished in water less than 15' deep, with the best in less than 10'.

Good October through much of November striper areas on Anna vary from year-to-year based upon baitfish migration. McCotter suggests visiting anglers target the back of mid lake creeks like Contrary and Pigeon, the uplake region of the North Anna around the mouth of Gold Mine Creek and above the mouth of Terry's Run in the Pamunkey Branch. A quick boat ride through these areas around 4 o'clock in the afternoon should tell you a lot about what's going on.

By the end of November, he says some of Anna's stripers will be headed backdown lake and often get bunched up at the bridges. Sea gulls will also begin to indicate baitfish concentrations. Use these two clues to pattern stripers during your visit.

"Stubb's and Holiday Mill Bridges are two that usually have fish within a quarter mile of them where you can count on at least a week of super striper fishing," the Lake Anna angler reveals, "Keep an eye out for birds early and late in the day and you should be able to find the stripers."

An average day on Anna over the next two months should produce 10-15 stripers of varying sizes. Live bait trips often produce more fish. Thirty-fish days are not unusual.

You can reach McCotter's Lake Anna Guide Service at or by calling 540/894-9144.

4. Smith Mountain

Last year was not the best for SML. An infestation of parasitic copepods, a poor spawn, a lack of threadfin shad -- for whatever reason, it was a tough year. 2004 has been different. Smith Mountain's famed striper fishery looks to be on the rebound. While the 50-pound fish it once produced won't be back for a while, things are looking good for an excellent fall season.

Spike and Kathy Franscenini have called Smith Mountain Lake home for the past 20 years. They operate Spike's Prime Time Fishin' from their lake side home. They know SML stripers.

In October and November, Capt. Kathy notes the stripers will mostly be deep. Yes, you read it right -- deep. Sure there are some breaking fish that will stay up through the end of October, and you can chase these around all day with lures or hope to get in front of them with bait. But the money's on Spike and Kathy who will target larger schools of deeper fish.

A typical morning set for Captain Kathy includes four downlines (20-30' deep), two planer boards and two freelines.

"They hit the lower stuff as they are coming up. They hit the planers as they are feeding and then go back again," the female portion of the Franscenini duo told W2. "They really can be all over the water column this time of year. Definitely leave the planer boards out during the day."

While the tactics aren't really different from the summer, the Fransceninis will refocus on the upper end of Smith Mountain. The Hales Ford Bridge to the Hardy Bridge region is where they'll be. If you want to try your hand at some tricky navigation, fish on up to the Bay Roc region.

Main channel points in the upper portion of SML are your bet over the next two months. Once the small gizzard shad move to the back of the creeks, that's where a lot of the fish will go. Kathy suggests trying Stoney, Indian, Hatfield, Beaverdam and Lintonville Creeks for this pattern.

Trolling has been extremely effective on Smith Mountain this year. The umbrella rig has been the top choice of local anglers, says Capt. Kathy. The key is fishing them on 60-pound braided line and tipping them with lime green Sassy Shads around a large bucktail. Getting this offering down to 18-20' is also important. Schoolies are what is mostly caught using this pattern, but the bite is consistent and fierce.

Those that want to catch SML stripers on lures should use white/pearl Zoom Super Flukes. The Fransceninis have done very well with this lure using it in a variety of retrieves and presentations. Rigged on a 3/8-oz. jig head you can fish them on the drop, jerk them, swim them or vertically jig them.
How does Kathy feel the lake is doing after the copepods?

"[Copepods] are almost non-existent now. This year has been pretty much a normal year except for a volatile spring season. The power generation schedule has changed a lot, so this is the major reason why we are re-learning fish patterns," she says, "I feel that there are still some big fish left in the lake."

A average morning with the Franceschinis on Smith Mountain now produces 10 fish. Twenty-fish days are not uncommon.

5. Maryland Reservoirs

Over the years, Jerry Sauter has landed many land-locked rockfish over 30 pounds from Maryland Reservoirs. He even held the state record for a time. Of all the inland Maryland waters, Sauter says Liberty Reservoir stands out as the best striper producer.

The current MD state record of 47-4 was pulled from Liberty. Sauter's best fish of 40 pounds was also a Liberty product.

"I really think someone will get one out of there over 40 pounds again. Not only do they have a lot of trout in there, there's a lot of white perch now, too," says the part-time Bass Pro Shops employee.

For October, Sauter suggests you target the area of Liberty from the Nicodemus Bridge into the headwaters. Use live shiners from Reisterstown Bait & Tackle (you must use reservoir-certified bait) pulled on free lines with or without planer boards and/or corks. These offerings must be set 30 yards beyond the boat for the fish to be attracted.

Trolling is also a good early fall tactic, notes Sauter. His system employs two rods in holders. The deep side rod is rigged with a Mann's Stretch 20 plug. The shoreside rod is tipped with a shallow Redfin.

"I haven't used them yet, but those rainbow trout Storm swimbaits look to be deadly," predicts the Maryland angler.

By late November and December, Sauter says to stay closer to the ramp and used the same tactics. There is a reason for the change of focus.
Years ago when Sauter was hammering the big stripers, the MDNR was stocking rainbow trout in October. Liberty's stripers would gorge on these morsels right near the ramps.

Now they put them in early December. Sauter says you should adjust your fishing habits accordingly, keeping in mind the trout are still dumped in at the ramps and you can now fish though December 31.

6. Buggs Island

Better known as a powerhouse largemouth fishery and more recently for huge blue catfish, Buggs Island is also a great lake for striper anglers. The lake is so large, these fish actually reproduce successfully. Buggs Island rockfish run all the way up the Roanoke and Dan rivers each spring so year classes are produced without supplemental stockings.

In the fall, the fish again run into the upper reservoir, not to spawn, but to follow the food bag of shad. Around the first of October, the fish will migrate into the Clarksville area. You'll should find them from Butcher's to Rudd's Creeks and at the mouth of Grassy Creek. Most of these fish are caught by anglers using live bait on freelines or free lines with sideplaners. There is some trolling going on, but the live bait fisherman out fishes the troller now.

Later in the mouth, Buggs Island stripers will linger at the mouths of Grassy and Buffalo Creek and up into the river above Clarksville. Corks on free lines are good now, as the fish feed shallower. Some stripers will also be up in Grassy and Island Creeks.

For November, stick with the same patterns as October and focus on the Clarksville and above area. This is the time to fish a bucktail off a long clay point using a bottom bouncing retrieve. Try Bluestone Creek for bigger fish (pushing 20 pounds) and Grassy for numbers (up to 10 pounds) with the bucktail pattern. Top choices include a bucktail jig in white/chartreuse and the Storm Wild Eye #4 Series swimbait.

Vertical jigging is also very good on Buggs by the end of November. Fish the same long clay points, just fish deeper. 35-45' is the preferred range with a 3/4-oz. Hopkins spoon. Get locked onto the right depth and you can point hop. A good day with this pattern could produce 50 fish.

Potomac River

Captain Steve Chaconas doesn't target Potomac River stripers, but like Capt. Bunch, he catches a lot of them in the fall on largemouth bass trips.

Most of his fish hit lipless crankbaits like Lucky Craft LV-500s fished around the deep points around Washington, D.C. at South Point, the Wilson Bridge, Blue Plains and Fort Washington. Other good fall Potomac River spots include the discharge at the Possum Point Generating Plant, Buoys 44 and 43 and the overhead power line pylons in the same area.

Just about any rock current break at the mouth of a creek is worth a cast or three. Serious Potomac River striper anglers will hit the river rigged up with a four-inch pearl Sassy Shad, a Super Spook and a 3/4-oz. white spinnerbait. The beauty of river fishing versus lake fishing is the ability to catch dozens of fish from one spot using artificial lures.

Capt. Steve has caught Potomac River stripers up to 15 pounds, but most fall fish are around five.

Perhaps the best spot on the entire Potomac River for big stripers is all the way down at the 301 Bridge crossing in front of the Morgantown Generating Plant discharge. This area is best when the temperature differential is highest. November is usually a better month than October. Some truly massive fish linger here during the colder months of the winter feeding on shad drawn to the warm water. The top bait is a 6- to 8-inch pearl or chartreuse Sassy Shad on a one-ounce jig head. The current is very strong here and several humps exist so the heavy, large lure is necessary to draw strikes from fish often hugging the bottom.

Regulations for the Potomac River striper fishery can be obtained by visiting . Contact Chaconas at

Editor's Note: For detailed maps of all these areas with launch ramp information see the GMCO map selection on pg 9 or go to . A good video to watch is River Rockfish, also available from W2.


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