The Adventures Of LCJ: Striped Bass

This past weekend, my brother, Dawson, and I learned how to fish for striped bass. I had never been fishing on Lake Santee and was looking forward to trying something new. Ryan Stephens joined as our guide, and we left for Santee at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning. We stopped at a Tackle Shop to buy some live minnows for drifting bait. We also bought rattletraps and soft swim bait to use for schooling stripers.
I have been told that the upper lake (Marion) is full of stumps. These stumps will ruin a boat motor, so I was a bit leery about taking out our skiff. Richard Calhoun was fishing that day, and we followed his boat closely to avoid an accident. The lake was constructed near the beginning of World War II, and the project was short on funding which is why there are so many tree still standing in the lake. We followed Richard along the dam and into the diversion canal to the lower lake (Moultrie). This lake has no stumps and you can drive freely, even outside of the main channel.
Striped bass must be 26 inches or longer in order to keep them. A boat is allowed to bring three fish back per person. The fish are gathered in large schools on Lake Moultrie from October and into December until the water temperature cools. When the temperature drops below 60 degrees, the best way to catch stripers is by using live bait below the boat. The minnows gather in tight schools near the bottom and make easy targets for a hungry striper. You will not catch as many fish as in the schools, but they will be larger overall.
We started off by searching for flocks of birds which are an indication of feeding stripers. As we approached the schools, you can see the fish popping and splashing under the surface with birds diving to eat the shiners. You can catch fish as quickly as you can cast when close enough to a big school! It was not uncommon for us to have three fish on the lines at the same time and working around each other trying not to get tangled. The schooling stripers were of smaller size compared to those on the upper lake, and we caught some up to 25 inches long. Fishing the schools was easy and fast action. Even the smaller stripers gave a tough fight! This fish seem to be much stronger pound for pound than most other freshwater fish we have caught. Eventually, the school of fish went deeper, and we were not able to catch anymore. We waited for another school, but after seeing no birds anywhere, we decided to ride back to the upper lake.
The stripers on Lake Marion did not gather in schools as they did on Moultrie, but they tend to grow larger. We had 5 rods with a live shiner, 2 feet of leader, and a weight set different depths below the boat. We drifted with the wind and watched the depth finder to see if we were crossing any schools of bait fish. This method of fishing requires more patience but can catch a big striper. One of our rods bowed over, and we were in for a fight! Ryan reeled a 25 inch striper to the surface, and Dawson netted it.
We returned to the landing with no fish in the cooler but had released close to 20 fish! It was a great day with fast action, and I cannot wait to go again!

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