December is sort of like vacation time for me, because it’s the offseason for bass tournaments; I’m not traveling, and I don’t have to do boat and fishing shows until January.
Like a lot of guys, I’ve gotten most of my deer hunting out of the way, so when I look for something to do, I usually wind up fun-fishing for striped bass on the Saluda River and Lake Murray near my home in Ninety Six.
I can’t say that I love stripers, but I do love to catch them every once in a while, put some fillets up in the freezer or even cook right there on the river and eat some fresh fish. I enjoy getting out on the water without having to worry about bringing something to the scales at the end of the day.
We’ve had a fairly mild fall, so the seagulls haven’t really gotten here yet; they’ll show you where the bait is, and in effect, where the stripers are. So I’ll have to pay special attention to my Humminbird electronics, because you have to find the bait. I know I used to have two units on my bass boat; now I have three or four, and some of them are big enough that they look like a wide, flat-screen TV, but it’s all about finding where the bait is, and that can be from day to day depending on any rain we get and the clarity of the water.
Stripers feed non-stop, so they must be around bait to make it, and because they mostly feed by sight, they prefer clear water. That’s not to say you can’t catch them in dirty water, but most of the time I’m looking for them in slightly stained or clear water.
You can troll for them, fish live bait or artificials, cast to them; it’s a matter of personal preference, and I’ve done them all. The one thing I’ve really settled on is fishing for them with relatively light tackle. For instance, if I was fishing for stripers in a tournament, I’d probably be using 14- to 17-pound test, but I like to use 8-, 10- or 12-pound XPS fluorcarbon when I’m fishing for them for fun. They’re so aggressive that you really don’t need to use light line to get more strikes; I just do because it’s fun. I’ll fish them on a 6-foot-6, medium-action Bass Pro Shops Carbonlite baitcasting rod with a Johnny Morris signature series baitcasting reel.
As far as lures, I like to fish swimbaits, bucktail jigs, spoons and topwater; they’re all good, depending on the day. If the water is a little stained, I like to use something with a vibrating tail like a swimbait; I’ll fish a bucktail in clear water. If it’s not really cold, you have a good chance to catch them on topwater.
Stripers are going to be as deep or shallow as the baitfish want to be. In my experience, blueback herring are going to be in deeper water, and threadfin shad will tend to get up in shallow water, on those great 5-foot flats. If the bait is closer to the surface, the stripers will be underneath them, trying to push them all the way to the surface; that’s when you see fish breaking.
I pay close attention to my electronics to see the bait and fish and pinpoint where they are. With the kind of technology we have today, you can actually see the fish moving around on the screen.
One thing I like to remember is that when the bait and stripers are up in shallow water, they’re really going to be moving around fast. When the stripers get them herded toward the surface, the only thing baitfish can do to survive is by swimming away. That’s why you’ll see fish breaking in one place, then a minute later, they’re breaking a hundred yards away. They don’t tend to move as much or as quickly when they’re in deeper water.