I like to fish for stripers in December because they're so active. The water has gotten cold and the shad are slowing up, and the stripers become active and take advantage of them. When the water gets cold and the bass and crappie slow down, the stripers are still going. And they're feeding machines. They swim and eat, swim and eat, swim and eat. You can catch a lot of fish, and I like to take some home, filet them and cook 'em on the grill or fry them up.
The first thing I do is look for birds. One thing about December that's great is that the seagulls are here. You look for seagulls; they fish for a living, too, so they're in touch with where the baitfish are, and where the baitfish are, that's where the stripers will be.
When I'm driving along or going over a bridge, I try to pay attention to where I see birds, then when I get on the lake, I'll go to those places to start. Stripers are going to be around bait, and if I see seagulls diving, I know that the stripers are running baitfish to the surface. That's an area I want to fish.
You can throw topwater baits, swimbaits and bucktails at stripers, depending on the day. In December, we will have some warm days and some really cold days. If you get an overcast, warm day, you can get some good topwater action. If you've got a high-pressure, no clouds, bluebird day, you use a swimbait, a bucktail or even a jigging spoon.
This is where your electronics come in. Even if you find stripers chasing bait to the surface, they won't stay up long. The key is where they go when they go down, and that's why I keep my eyes on my Humminbird. You need to know where they're got settle down in the water column, the depth they prefer. That tells you how to fish for them.
I'll fish a swimbait or a bucktail when they're below the surface. I like to fish a swimbait on a Buckeye swimbait head. They make ¼- ½- ¾- and 1-ounce heads, and you can vary the size you use to get the bait as deep as you need to. That 1-ounce bait is a load, but you can cast it out, count it down to the depth, even 20 or 30 feet deep. If they're closer to the surface, you can go with a ¼-ounce head.
When it comes to bucktails, I fish them differently than a lot of people. I like to let bucktails glide. Bucktails are made of deer hair, and it's hollow, so it doesn't want to sink as fast. The deer hair gives the bucktail kind of a gliding action coming through the water, a very unusual action.
The way I fish a bucktail is to cast it out and count it down to my target depth. I'll raise my rod tip straight up, drop it and let the bucktail glide, then pick it up when you get slack in your line. I fish it that way from the time it hits the water all the way back to the boat. Instead of just casting it out and reeling it in, I want it gliding.
I fish a bucktail on a medium-heavy, 7-foot All-Star rod. All-Star has a 7-foot-2 swimbait rod - the same rod I used to win the BASS tournament in Alabama this year. As far as line size, when you're fishing in open water, you can land a 20-pound striper on 10-pound Trilene. On lakes like Russell or Hartwell where there is standing timber, those big stripers will try to take you down in the trees, so you need to be able to put a little muscle on them, so I'll fish 14- to 15-pound test. But in open water, or on clear, high-pressure days when things are slow, it doesn't hurt to go down to 10- or 12-pound test. I rarely fish a bucktail on anything but 10-pound test.
So if your freezer is full of deer meat already, December is the time to go striper fishing.