With Corey moving jobs and cities and me about to welcome my first child into the world, I only anticipated having one last hoorah with my friend before the duties of fatherhood slowed my river stalking expeditions. I would never have believed that I would break my all-time, personal record for striper and finally break the thirty pound barrier on a skinny tributary off Lake Weiss a full month past striper season. Life is funny like that - I pressed myself for two years hunting trophy striped bass with swimbaits, only to be rewarded with my largest-ever striper when I wasn't even trying.
We braved a sketchy put-in and take-out to launch amidst old tires, broken glass, graffiti, and other debris to drop into some prime but off color water. I got on the board first with a fat, fat, fat spot that choked a vibrating jig-swimbait combo. This is a really cool combination I have been tinkering with. The vibrating jig-swimbait offers a ton of thump and vibration for swimbaiting in off-color water. This stud spotted bass charged from under an overhanging log and smoked a Bobby D's “Grinder-Big Hammer” combo. Bobby D's baits are what Clark Rheem uses, and offer a quality hook and wire tied skirt. They are a much, much better alternative to the Z-man "original" “Chatterbait”. I still don't understand how the "original" is the lousiest offering on the market. The Dobyns “Champion 765 Flip” is the perfect rod for controlling the heavy, thumping rig. Look for more to come on my experimentation with the vibrating jig-swimbait combo as I stocked up on Roboworm 6" saltwater swimbaits.
We caught them on just about everything early, but a strong midday sun drove the fish deep in cover and I had to extract them with the heavy stuff. They were chewing hard and I caught fish flipping into the nasty stuff for a couple of hours until I ran out of Big Bite Bait “Fighting Frogs” in the hematoma color. Flipping is one of my favorite techniques - a close second to swimbait fishing - because it is a consistent big fish producer. Dobyns 735, 65lbbraid, a pegged 1/2oztungsten sinker, and a stout hook are the way to go. I actually prefer EWG hooks with a keeper over a straight shank flipping hook. The BBB Fighting Frog is real sleeper bait; the “frog” moniker throws you off, but it is super weedless, super dense, and has some nice action.
I tend to fish fast and up front, which doesn't often make many friends, so I let Corey take point for a while and fish clean water. He scored a few nice fish and I followed up any fish he missed with a fluke. Fluke fishing is now one of my favorite techniques. It is a search bait, finesse bait, power fishing tool and a killer follow up bait. If you are ever fishing behind a good angler, toss a fluke in behind them and anything they miss will absolutely demolish your fluke. I find that if a fish boils on a bait, slashes at a bait, or follows a bait, they are interested but in an overall neutral mood. Dropping a wounded baitfish imitator on their noses will often entice a strike from non-committal fish. Corey was working an outside bend with a California swim jig- Roboworm “EZ Shad” combo when a big fish slashed at his bait. I fired a white fluke back to the bank and worked it back with frenetic rod tip twitches. This big spot charged from cover and choked the fluke.
Halfway through the trip, Corey bagged a couple of nice striper on the Bandit “200”. I will never be a great bass fisherman solely for the reason that if there is a .0001% chance of catching a striped bass, I will abandon all bass techniques and chase the striped ghosts with reckless abandon. Luckily, I had packed my A-rig box in the off chance a striped bass presented itself. 65lb braid, five swimbaits, and a sore arm bought me a slew of stripers between 2 - 10lbs. The action was fast and fun, so I didn't take too many pictures of the cookie-cutter fish. The Yumbrella loaded with five Netbait “BK Swimmers” was the magic ticket that kept me in constant action.
Striped bass love a slow-rolled umbrella rig. Hangups are a constant in a shallow, woody river so here are a few tips to maximize fishing time and minimize time spent yanking on stumps. Downsize your jig heads to 1/8oz or even 1/16oz. I buy bulk 1/8oz jig heads from Barlows, but WalMart carries Lucky Strike jig heads in 1/16oz ounce with a 1/0 hook. These are excellent for shallow-water umbrella rigging as they are stout enough to hold big fish, but will bend out when snagged. No-stretch braid is also key, as it allows you bend out jig heads lodged in timber and reel into hooksets, rather than swinging for the fences. Striper will hook themselves on umbrella rigs, so by the time you feel the strike the fish is already hooked and turning the other way. By reeling into the fish you eliminate false hooksets that drive barbs deep into log jams, so freeing snagged baits is as easy as paddling to the other side of the object and shaking your rod tip. The weight of the other four baits usually frees the snagged one.
Back to fishing. After some technical difficulties (which included Corey using my best rig for a shallow water anchor) and busting off a very strong fish I never saw, I stuck a "healthy" one. The strike was something akin to swinging a Louisville Slugger into a Tim Hudson fastball. I was standing up, working the head of a deep pool, when the leviathan broke one off in my Yumbrella rig. The fight was of epic proportions, dragging me across the river and back again as I stood balancing on the deck of the paddle board. She made two drag-smoking runs towards nasty-looking wood cover where I had to thumb-lock the spool and pray it held. I finally got her boat side where she had one bent-out hook hanging in for dear life. It took three tries to hoist her up onto my lap, as the side of the board kept dipping under and taking on water. She immediately went on the fish grips and back into the water, where I kept her turned upright for about thirty minutes. I crushed a Mexican lager, trying to settle my shaking hands. After walking her around in the shallows, she swam back off into the cold creek water, hopefully to grow into the next state record.
This fish was by far my largest striped bass ever, and I have a feeling could be one of the larger striped bass to come out of Lake Weiss on artificial baits. This fish easily broke the thirty-pound mark I had failed to reach two years in a row. She may have topped forty pounds, but I rarely carry a scale. Weight is just a number to me anyway. This fish was a trophy I have stalked since I began striped bass fishing in 2009. Breaking the thirty pound mark is a goal I have set the last two years in a row on the YakAngler forum in our yearly “fishing goals of the year” thread.