As long as I’ve been fishing bass tournaments, December has been one of just a couple of months when there really wasn’t much on the schedule, even on the local level. That’s one reason that I’ve spent a lot of my December days on the water fishing for striped bass.
I think anybody who likes to bass fish loves catching stripers — as long as they’re not fishing in a tournament. They’re bigger, stronger and generally more aggressive than largemouths, and when you can hook up with one on bass tackle, it’s a blast — some of the best fun you can have.
As the water cools, stripers move into water that’s shallow enough to reach them with a handful of lures, including diving crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and jigging spoons. Stripers are a little harder to pattern than bass, because they move so much, but November, December and January are the best months to pattern them.
I’ve caught them in November and December at Lake Gaston, Buggs Island, Roanoke Rapids and High Rock, and on lakes in other states. I’ve had some great days in December catching stripers, and I’ve caught plenty of walleyes while I was striper fishing Gaston. The biggest striper I’ve caught on a crankbait was a 38-pound fish I caught at Cumberland Lake in Kentucky, but I’ve caught plenty of 28- to 30-pound stripers on Lake Gaston.
Where do I catch stripers? Mostly, I’m on the main-lake areas on these reservoirs, although Buggs Island is so big that you can go back in Nutbush Creek and catch stripers, and you can go back in Grassy Creek and catch them. There have probably been more stripers caught off the railroad trestle in Grassy Creek than any other place on the lake, but most of the time, I’m on the main lake, close to the river channel.
December is a month when stripers are going to be on structure, just like bass and crappie. You are looking for a sandbar, a long point — any place that’s got a little bit of current running over it. At Buggs Island, you’ve got a lot of real long, flat points they’ll get on, especially in Nutbush around Satterwhite Point. They always work. Stripers really like to relate to anything that’s really long; that’s why they get on road beds and long points. If you can find a brush pile, it can be tremendous, although there are some brush piles we fish where we only catch largemouths and some where we catch stripers.
I’ve caught most of my stripers on three different kinds of lures: deep-diving crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and jigging spoons. You’re looking for a crankbait that can run 10 to 15 feet deep. You’re also looking to get tuned in to the color they want. I’ve found that solid colors — chartreuses, whites and pearls — work really well. Poe’s used to have a color that was pearl with silver metal-flake; it was great.
Most fishermen know the basics of fishing a diving crankbait. I use the same equipment for stripers that I use for bass: a 7-foot-6 fiberglass Lew’s cranking rod, a Lew’s BB-1 baitcasting reel spooled with 10-pound Trilene XL. It’s a blast to catch a big striper on that kind of tackle. One thing I do, however, is I always start off with fresh line on the reel, and I don’t just spool on 40 yards or so, because if you get a 25- or 30-pound striper on, he can run 75 yards of line off your spool in no time.
Fishing a big, lipless crankbait is a little different. I fish them on a 7-foot or 7-foot-6 flipping stick, because you need the swinging power of that stick; stripers have tough mouths. When I’m fishing a big, lipless bait, I’ll spool up with 20-pound Trilene, and I’ll use XT, because I need that extra strength. I cast a big lipless bait out, let it fall to the bottom, then rip it off the bottom, let it fall, rip it, let it fall and flutter, rip it, let it fall. You can fish it pretty fast, because stripers will be aggressive. Most of the time, you’re going to feel just a slight tap when they take the bait on the fall, but the thing about stripers is, they’ll hit it when you pop it off the bottom, and when they do that, they’ll just about take the rod out of your hands, so keep a good grip on it.
I’ve caught a lot of stripers on a jigging spoon, an ounce-and-a-half Hopkins. You have to be a little more precise when you’re jigging. You can cast a spoon, but mostly, I catch stripers jigging it straight up and down. When I drop my Minnkota trolling motor, I turn it down on low and just sort of ease along jigging, right along the edges of the river channel. You jig the spoon vertically with the rod tip, raising it maybe a foot or two off the bottom. Again, most of your bites will come on the fall.
Jigging at Lake Gaston, I’ve also caught a lot of walleye in the same places I’ve caught stripers. I’ll bet most fishermen in North Carolina don’t even know there are walleye in Gaston — they’re in Buggs Island, too — and Gaston has a really good fishery. They’re easy to catch once you get around ’em; they’ll be piles of them in spots, and I’ve caught ’em up to 12 pounds.
So if you’ve got some time off around Christmas, you could do a lot worse than trailer your boat to a lake that’s got stripers, run to the river channel and look for the kinds of places these fish live. It could be a memorable experience.