If a poll were taken to rate the greatest all-around game fish, I believe the striped bass would be near the top of the list. Although stripers are technically a saltwater species that move into freshwater to spawn, they can also live and thrive fulltime in freshwater as well. That characteristic has allowed striped bass to be stocked in lakes and reservoirs throughout North America, making this great fish widely available to inland anglers as well.
Stripers commonly reach weights of 20 or 30 pounds, either in the ocean or landlocked, and some exceptional fisheries will produce monsters of 40 to 50 pounds. A striped bass of any size is a strong and determined fighter, and they can be caught by a variety of angling methods, including live bait, artificial lures and even fly-fishing. They are also a handsome fish, with bright silver flanks displaying the perfect rows of stripes that give the species its name. Finally, stripers are also excellent eating, their white, flaky flesh tasting somewhat like crab.
About the only problem I have with striped bass is that I don't get to catch them nearly as often as I would like. Earlier this month, however, I enjoyed one of the best days of striper fishing I've ever had on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. With nearly 500 miles of shoreline, this sprawling impoundment is located about 25 miles southeast of Roanoke. Smith Mountain has long been famous as one of the best inland striper fisheries anywhere, and I have always wanted to fish there.
My fishing partner for that first Smith Mountain adventure was fellow outdoor writer Ken Keiser from Olathe, Kansas. We were at the dock at sunrise to meet Capt. Kenny Short, our guide for the day. Short lives and guides on Smith Mountain Lake year-round (www.KennysStriperGuideService.com), and he knows the lake intimately.
As we stowed our gear aboard his boat, Short was candidly pessimistic about the fishing prospects. He explained that high barometric pressure and other recent weather conditions could make it a tough bite. Fortunately, those concerns were unfounded, and we had a successful morning, boating six stripers by 9:30.
Our fishing method was slow-trolling with live alewives, both on small planer boards and weighted flat lines. Short rigged the 4- to 6-inch baitfish on circle hooks. These uniquely shaped hooks have recently become popular for catch-and-release fishing in both fresh and saltwater when using live bait. Because of their design, circle hooks almost always hook a fish in the corner of the jaw, where it can be easily released with little or no harm, rather than in the gills or deep in the throat.
Good electronics are vital for striper fishing, both for finding fish-holding structure and the fish themselves. Short has state-of-art Lowrance sonar fishfinders and GPS on his boat, which added some fun to the morning. While I was on the bow of the boat, attempting to photograph the fall foliage along the lakeshore in the warm, morning sunlight, my companions were intently watching the onboard electronics. Then, in unison I heard them say, "Here comes a fish."
An instant later, one of the rods beside me began to bounce as a striper made off with the bait. Talk about calling the shot. They had actually been able to witness the fish on the sonar unit as it moved up for the bait.