The Spring Run for striped bass has begun as they migrate from Lake Marion, up the Congaree River, into Columbia to spawn. Unlike Largemouth Bass, Striper live out their lives in the lakes or ocean and migrate up into rivers to spawn. The spring spawning run creates the unique opportunity to fish for striper casting artificial baits in fast flowing water. The reports started to show up that people were catching striper and so our group made 6 trips individually wading out to various spots with no luck. On one such trip I observed a fisherman who caught a few stripers while standing on a rock and I decided that I would fish from there next time I had my canoe.
Ryan Stephens, Dawson Jordan, Shannon Jordan, and I planned to make a trip together on Saturday, April 16th. While Shannon and I loaded the boat on Friday night, Ryan was already on the Congaree and fished until midnight. His report was like our other attempts, not catching anything but a crappie, but we hoped our luck would change the next day.
Shannon and I loaded the canoe in the parking lot and just when we finished strapping on our waders, I got a phone call from Ryan. He had caught a 10-pound striper and another smaller striper, all before 6:30am. This was exciting news, and we hurriedly rolled our canoe to the river. Shannon and I reached the end of the paved road and had to remove the wheels and carry the canoe down the hill. The path was rocky with scattered boulders, so we unloaded the boat to carry it to the river. Once on the riverbank, we ran uphill to gather our gear, loaded the boat, and shoved off into the river. Once past the rock, the current hit us and swept our canoe sideways into another rock nearly capsizing us. I stepped to the bow with Shannon, and we spun safely from the rocks. We continued to paddle across the current until we reached slack water behind a large rock formation and paddled up to the rocks.
With the canoe secured on the rocks, Shannon and I unloaded our fishing tackle and started casting towards the current. A rapid rushed past us on the right side which would be our focus for the morning. The weather was cool and cloudy with heavy rain in the forecast. We wore waders and raincoats and could wade around the rocks without getting wet. The water was stained but not muddy, so we used dark colored lures. I was wading and turned around to see Shannon standing on the rock fighting a fish. I rushed back to the rocks and grabbed the net as Shannon continued to reel in the fish. It rose to the surface, and I reached out to net her flathead catfish.
The catfish would have been great to keep but my big cooler was being used as a dry box for charcoal and other gear, and a smaller cooler was packed with food and drinks. We intended to cook out on the river along the way, but I wasn’t confident enough to plan on cooking fish that we caught. I asked Shannon where she cast to catch the catfish and she said that it hit at the base of the rapid above us. I cast my double fluke rig (donkey rig) into the rapid and hooked up with a striper. The striper shook its head and rushed with the current, but I managed to draw it out of the current and to the rocks. I had the striper on the surface by the rocks and Shannon reached underneath and scooped it up with the net. I released my striper and we returned to casting.
At 7:15, Shannon cast into the current and was retrieving her lure through the rapid when her lure was smashed by a striper. Shannon didn’t have to set the hook because the striper was already pulling. The striper came to the surface mid rapid and splashed her tail in the water, revealing the size of the monster Shannon was up against. The striper dove into the current and line began peeling from Shannon’s rod, the Penn reel was screaming. The striper surged down river in the current and I occasionally reached over to tweak the drag on Shannon’s reel. I looked up and saw a swirl in the water on the other side of the rapids, against land, nearly 100 yards downstream. I debated launching the canoe to chase it but decided not to. Shannon pumped the rod and tried to pull to the left to gain control of the striper’s head. If you can turn the stripers head, then you can determine where they swim. We needed her to swim to the left, back through the current into the still water. That is exactly what happened. Shannon pumped the rod up and reeled down on the striper over and over and I reached over to tighten the drag. We were gaining on her now and the once empty spool was now full of line. The striper’s head stuck out of the water, got a good look at us and thrashed around some more. It wasn’t until now that I realized how big she really was. Shannon continued pumping and reeling and I reached out with the net. Only the head fit in the net, and I held the tail with my other hand, then Shannon took the other side of the net, and we carried the monster onto the rock. Laying down, the striper measured 37” in length, weighing in at 23 pounds. Shannon was shaking from exhaustion and excitement. I removed the hook and handed the giant striper to Shannon for a picture. She said, “How am I supposed to hold that?” We took a few pictures and then Shannon held the striper in the water, facing the current, until the striper kicked its tail and disappeared below. Shannon’s trophy striper was released to continue to spawn for future generations of fishing.
Shannon climbed out of the water, and we returned to casting. I sent pictures to Dawson and Ryan, and they committed to leaving their spots to join us. Ryan walked off the river and followed a trail back to his truck and drove to us, but Dawson had a much more difficult task. Dawson had to paddle to shore, carry his kayak and gear up a 50-foot hill to his car, load the kayak on top, drive to the Broad River, and carry his kayak and gear back to the river. Despite the legwork needed to move, Dawson appeared paddling towards us in no time and Ryan was walking on the trail. Ryan didn’t have a boat, so I pushed off in the canoe to give Ryan a lift. We arrived back at the rock and found Shannon laying down, taking a well-deserved break. She had already caught a trophy fish and so now, she could relax and watch the boys try.
Ryan and I got right to work and started casting into the current. Dawson could be seen fighting a fish from his kayak and finally held up a flathead catfish. The already cloudy sky grew darker with incoming rain clouds, and we could see the rain coming from upriver. Shannon, Dawson, and I all had raincoats and waders, so we were untouchable to the rain, but Ryan only had a poncho. The rain started and Ryan turned his poncho over and frustratedly asked, “Where does my head go?” He finally got situated and continued fishing but was totally wet. I was standing in the water fishing a rapid when I hooked my second striper. I was using a top water plug with a bucktail tied two feet behind the last hook and waded back to our rock as I reeled it in. Shannon took the net and scooped up the striper. Shannon hooked another striper but the 50-pound braided line broke. I tied a new bait on, and the line snapped again. I realized that the eye at the end of the rod was chipped, and it was acting like a cutter on the end of the fishing rod. We used pliers to break off the tip of the rod, then rigged it up and gave it back to Shannon. She turned around and took a cast, then set the hook on a striper. Her rod tip was jerking around as the striper thrashed under water and Ryan stood by with the net waiting for the perfect moment, and then netted her fish.
We saw Dawson on his kayak moving down river with his rod in his hand and realized that he was being towed by a fish, a Nantucket Sleigh Ride. Dawson fought the fish until we could no longer make out what was happening. When he finally paddled back up-river to our rock, an exhausted Dawson shared that the fish, which he thought would be a giant striper, turned out to be a giant grass carp that he tail-hooked.
The water was rising and getting muddy. Our rock was shrinking, and the fish did not bite again after 9:30 am. I ferried Ryan back to land and paddled back to the rocks for Shannon. We loaded our gear into the canoe and paddled downstream in the rain. Our fleet paddled through rapids, stopped briefly to fish the confluence, (where the Broad and Saluda Rivers meet to form the Congaree River) and pulled out on the Congaree near downtown Columbia.
This trip was a classic example of the phrase, “The early bird gets the worm.” Our group hit the river early, had a full day’s excitement, and loaded our boats onto the trailer to return home by 10:30 in the morning. We paddled rapids, braved storms, caught numerous stripers, one being a trophy, and caught other river monsters along the way. Shannon clearly won the day with her 23-pound striper which was also her first striper ever having caught. In all, our group caught 6 striper, 2 flathead catfish, and one carp. The spring run of stripers is on fire now, and it offers a rare opportunity to battle giant spawning striper in roaring rapids. It’s the closest you can get to Alaskan King Salmon fishing without leaving the state of South Carolina.