Even though I make my living fishing bass tournaments, I’m like a lot of other fishermen; I love to fish for all different species of fish. And it seems like, in South Carolina, the month of December and striped bass go hand-in-hand.
With the water cooling down and us starting to get some nasty weather, stripers will get more aggressive. With the water temperature dropping, the shad will start to slow down, and if it’s really cold, you may see them start to die off. All of this combines to put stripers into a feeding frenzy.
Big, aggressive fish that are thinking about nothing but eating really get me going, and that isn’t even taking into account the fact that I love to eat stripers. If I catch a legal striper, I keep him, take him home, cut him into small strips and fry him up into Striper McNuggets. They seem to me to taste especially good when they’re caught out of colder water.
Hmm, hmm, good.
So where do I go about finding them, and how do I catch them?
Stripers are in almost all of our big reservoirs in South Carolina, either stripers and/or hybrid bass. It’s just a matter of what’s most convenient for you and how much time you have.
When I decide where I’m going — and I can be on Lake Greenwood or Lake Murray from my house in just a few minutes — the first thing I do is look for sea gulls. They’re doing the same thing the stripers are: feeding on the baitfish. Then, I’ll start looking at my electronics. I have a Humminbird 1190 on my console, and next to it, a 998. I’ll keep one on side-imaging and looking at the bottom. I’ve got the birds looking for me above the surface and my electronics looking for me under the surface.
You’ll find stripers around bait, and you could start fishing as soon as you find the bait, but I like to look on my electronics to see the fish in with the bait. You can definitely tell a keeper-sized striper from baitfish on your screen. So I don’t just stop and fish as soon as I see bait; I want to see the bait and the fish together.
Where you find stripers is likely to depend on the weather, and it’s hard to predict from year to year. If it’s really, really cold, they will move out of the creeks to the main lake. Typically, however, they will be in the creeks, because that’s where the baitfish will be. They’ll be migrating out as it cools down, but most of the time, they’ll still be in those big creeks.
Once I’ve found them, I’m going to fish probably three different baits. If they’re fairly shallow, maybe suspended under the baitfish, I’m going to have a swimbait tied on, a Storm Wild-Eye Shad. I’m going to have a jigging spoon tied on in case I have to bump the bottom. That happens a lot on a real bluebird day, a bright-sky day when they’ll get down on the bottom. And I’ll have a lipless crankbait tied on — probably a Storm Rockin’ Shad. I might fish anywhere from a ¼- to a ¾-ounce lipless bait, depending on the size bait I think they’re feeding on. I can fish it when they’re on the bottom or suspended under the bait.
The really good thing about December stripers is that most of the time, they’re going to be feeding. At times, if you get a lake with some stained water, some wind and low-light conditions, it can be a fish on every cast when you find them, and with the average fish weighing around five pounds, you and your buddy can catch two limits and have enough fish for a sure-enough good fish fry.
Although I love to eat them, I really want to have fun when I’m fishing for stripers, so I downsize my tackle a little bit. If I’m fishing a swimbait, I might go with spinning tackle and 8- to 10-pound line. If I’m fishing a spoon or a lipless crankbait, I might go with 8- to 15-pound line. I’m using Trilene 100-Percent Fluorocarbon because it has no stretch, and it’s invisible. I’ll fish spoons or lipless baits on a 6-foot-6 or 7-foot, medium-action All-Star rod and a Pfleuger Patriarch reel. I just like the extra sport you get tangling with a nice fish on that kind of tackle.
No matter which of the three baits you’re fishing, 90 percent of the bites are going to come while the bait is falling. When you’re fishing a spoon, jigging it vertically right below the boat, there are days when I’ll barely jump it six inches off the bottom and let it flutter back, and there are days when I’ll pop it off the bottom three feet. You’ve just got to figure what the fish want that specific day. It’s like a crankbait; don’t get stuck on just one kind of retrieve.
If I’m fishing a Rockin’ Shad, I can let it sink to the depth where I think the stripers are holding if I find them suspended under the shad, and when I count it down, I can sort of yo-yo it back through the fish. If they’re more toward the bottom, I’ll let it sink to the bottom, rip it off the bottom and let it flutter back down. That’s one thing that’s great about a Rockin’ Shad. When you let it flutter back down, it doesn’t roll over on its side and float down in an unnatural fashion like some baits do; it stays straight up and down and flutters down from side to side, and the fish can’t stand that. I can rip it up and let it fall back, all the way back to the boat.
So don’t put your rods and boat away for the rest of the year without remembering how much fun you might have chasing stripers on your local reservoir. I love catching those big, strong fish on light tackle, and I really love to eat ’em. So catch some, filet ’em, roll ’em in the flour and have a great meal.