Mine the mother lode of cold rockfish: Trolling is a great way to catch Lake Tillery’s winter stripers

Alabama rig, umbrella rig, tandem bucktail rig will put Lake Tillery stripers in the boat.

Craig Holt

February 01, 2013 at 7:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Guide Maynard Edwards admires a nice Lake Tillery winter striper.
Craig Holt
Guide Maynard Edwards admires a nice Lake Tillery winter striper.
After the Revolutionary War, a young Hessian soldier found a yellow rock lying in the bed of an almost dry creek that was part of the Yadkin River drainage.

As the story goes, the soldier took the stone to his cabin and used it as a doorstop. Someone eventually discovered the rock actually was a gold nugget, which started North Carolina’s first gold rush and eventually resulted in the Reed Gold Mine at Midland.

It shouldn’t be surprising that today another natural commodity along the Yadkin drainage has become as good as gold to the local economy and anglers: Lake Tillery.

The 5,260-acre lake has an excellent striped bass fishery. The chance of catching these fighting gamefish pulls anglers to Tillery, even during the winter, but Tillery’s striped-bass mother lode isn’t likely to be mined dry. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission stocks 27,000 striper fingerlings into the lake each June.

"Stripers like cold water, so when winter arrives, it’s one of the best times to fish for them," said guide Maynard Edwards of Lexington.

Edwards, 60, who retired in 2012 after 28 years as a teacher at Central Davidson High School, has been guiding part-time for 19 years, taking clients for crappie, bass and stripers on reservoirs along the Yadkin River chain.

Tillery, which forms the border between Montgomery and Stanly counties, is the sixth lake from the top of the Yadkin system, although half of the impoundment technically belongs to the Pee Dee River system.

The Pee Dee geographically begins where the Yadkin and Uwharrie rivers join at Tillery. South of the Tillery Dam, aka Norwood Dam, the river widens into Blewett Falls Lake. Beyond the Blewett Falls Dam, it flows into South Carolina, where it becomes the Great Pee Dee.

Similar to other striper fishermen, Edwards moves from lake to lake along the Yadkin chain as the bite ignites at one and/or slows at another.

"I’m still learning Tillery because I fish mostly High Rock and Tuckertown," he said, "but how I fish for stripers doesn’t change much from lake to lake. I fish the same way at Tillery as I do at High Rock."

The big difference is how Tillery’s depth affects the places Edwards fishes.

"In February, I mainly fish the main part of the lake below the (NC) 24/27 bridge," Edwards said. "You really catch most of them below Jacobs Creek. You’ll be fishing in 40 or 50 feet of water, catching fish 25 to 30 feet deep.

"I just work around the main channel until I find bait on my depthfinder and mark some big hooks, then put the baits out."

Edwarsd said that Tillery tends to be a lot clearer than High Rock, so stripers hold deeper, especially in the winter.

"It’s always been that way," he said. "Twenty to 30 feet has always been a good depth to catch ‘em."

Edwards said that late in the month, fishermen may see a few fish heading up the lake as they prepare for their spring spawning run.

"Later in February, they tend to start moving up the river and getting shallower," he said. "If you go above the bridge, you can catch ‘em 15 to 20 feet deep. The channel is 30 feet deep up there, but there are so many humps and long points — that’s where they move up."

Edwards’ technique for striped bass is almost identical to the way he fishes for crappie, with major differences the size of his tackle, lures and baits.

"I think slow-trolling is the way to go for stripers," he said. "I barely move across the water if I’m pulling artificials or live bait."

Although he owns a bass boat, Edwards prefers his 22-foot pontoon boat. The pontoon’s stern rail sprouts as many of his Extreme Fishing Concepts rod-holders as he wants to use —four to six — for stripers. He can place more holders on the gunwales, and on the inside starboard gunwale behind the captain’s seat, he recently added a new wall-bracket rod-holder that can store as many as 16 ready-to-fish rods, most of them rigged for trolling but a few rigged with lures to cast if a school of feeding stripers surfaces nearby.

If he decides to fish with live bait — when stripers are reluctant to attack trolled artificials — the front of the pontoon is open so he can throw a cast net. Edwards watches the screen of his depth-finder until the boat cruises over a school of bait, then he throws the net.

"At Tillery, most live baits are blueback herring or alewives," he said.

Edwards prefers trolling artificial lures, using 6 1/2- to 7-foot Tsunami rods with medium-stiff spines.

"They’re built for ocean trolling, but they work for stripers," he said.

His reels are Penn baitcasters spooled with lead-core line.

"Lead-core line helps me control how deep (lures or baits) run. The line is color-coded," Edwards said, explaining that each color marks 10 yards of line. "If I’ve let out three full colors, I’ve got 90 feet of line out.

"If I’m going 2.3 miles per hour, one color in the water means lures are running about six feet deep," Edwards said. "So if I let out three colors, my lures are 16- to 18-feet deep."

For stripers Edwards primarily uses three type of artificial lures — tandem bucktails, Alabama rigs and umbrella rigs.

The Alabama rig is one of his favorites. A relatively recent invention,it is basically a scaled-down version of a saltwater umbrella rig. It’s got a leadhead similar to a spinnerbait head with three to five 6-inch wire arms with snap swivels at the end of each arm. When the arms are spread, they resemble an umbrella’s ribs. Anglers attach soft-plastic grubs threaded on hooks to the snap swivels. When trolled through the water, an A-rig’s lures resemble a school of swimming baitfish, something stripers have a hard time resisting.

"The Alabama rig is bad to the bone," said Edwards, who likes to outfit his Alabama rigs with 3-inch white/pearl Zoom Swimming Flukes.

"Sometimes I use disco-violet Flukes," said Edwards, who usually pulls at least two Alabama rigs when he’s trolling for stripers.

His second trolling outfit is a tandem rig that includes 3/8- and 1-ounce bucktails with 7-inch lemon-lime curlytail Striper Sniper tails. Edwards ties the heavier bucktail to the rig’s bottom and the lighter bucktail up the line on a separate leader so the outfit resembles two baitfish

His third trolling set-up, an umbrella rig, really increases the ante for large stripers. Edwards uses 40-pound braid, because the rig features nine wires and 6-inch Panther Martin swim baits with green heads and light brown bodies — to mimic alewives.

"As the spring gets closer, I’ll drop down to 4-inch swim baits," Edwards said. "You haven’t lived until you’ve hooked two stripers at once with an umbrella rig."

Several years ago, Edwards said he guided a husband and wife who insisted on catfishing, even though he knew the striped bass bite was hot.

"I told the man if we fished one hour for stripers and didn’t catch anything, I wouldn’t charge him," Edwards said. "Well, I saw birds circling. I’d just put out an umbrella rig and was putting out a second when the first rod bent double. I handed the bent rod to the husband. When he got the rig to the boat, he had hooked two fish, a 6- and 8-pound striper. He said, ‘Good, Lord!’ Then his wife, with the other rod, was screaming, "Mister, Mister!" and she ended up with a 8- and 9-pounder."

The average Tillery striper will weigh from five to15 pounds, but the lake holds larger rockfish.

"It’s the only Yadkin lake where I had a striper straighten out my hooks after I tightened the drag," Edwards said.

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

HOW TO GET THERE/WHEN TO GO: From An N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission ramp is at the NC 24/27/73 bridge over Lake Tillery, east of Albemarle. From Lexington, follow NC 8 south to Albemarle, then take NC 24/27/73 east. A public ramp is on the right, just across the bridge. From Asheboro, follow NC 49 south of NC 109, turn right on River Road (SR 1150) and west on NC 24/27/73 for one mile to the ramp. Striper fishing is excellent from January through March.

TACKLE/TECHNIQUES: Medium-stiff trolling rods, 6 1/2- to 7-feet long, paired with level-wind or baitcasting reels spooled with 40-pound braid. Tandem bucktail rigs, Alabama rigs and umbrella rigs are all productive, with 3-inch Fluke-type plastics or 6-inch swimbaits.

GUIDES/FISHING INFO: Maynard Edwards, Yadkin Lakes Guide Service, Lexington, 336-249-6782 or www.ExtremeFishingConcepts.com; Joe’s Bait & Tackle, Albemarle, 704-982-8716. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS: Stanly County Chamber of Commerce, Albemarle, 704-982-8116 or www.stanly-chamber.org.

MAPS: Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257 or www.kfmaps.com; DeLorme’s N.C. Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-452-5931, www.delorme.com.

Lake Tillery stripers tend to hang out below the NC 24/27 bridge through the winter until they begin to stir and start their move upstream to spawn.
Lake Tillery is a valuable resource for freshwater striped bass anglers during the winter.
An Alabama rig is a great trolling tool for stripers on Lake Tillery.
 

View other articles written Craig Holt


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