Striper fishing patterns change on Lake Murray as spring gives way to summer, but the constant is that fish-catching opportunities remain excellent — as long as you adapt to changes in the weather and water that result in fast-changing striper behavior.
The good news is, the lake is loaded with stripers, according to several guides. They describe the spring and summer of 2015 as excellent in terms of quality and quantity of fish caught, and expectations are soaring for the 2016 season.
Even with plenty of fish to target, anglers need a game plan to consistently score limit catches, and guide Brad Taylor said being versatile is a keys to success in June.
“I’ve learned to diversify my fishing techniques for stripers at this time of the year,” Taylor said. “We’re loaded with a good striper population at Lake Murray, but late spring and early summer requires fishermen to adapt to evolving striper patterns. A one-dimensional approach, such as fishing topwater only, for example, won’t provide consistency in terms of catching limits — and this is prime time to take limits of stripers.”
Taylor, 39, from Batesburg, guides for a number of different species, and when it comes to stripers, he’s prepared to fish topwater lures for schooling fish as well as live bait on down rods for deeper, suspended fish. He’ll employ free-lines well behind his boat and will employ planer boards to keep his baits away from the boat and to work shallow flats where stripers frequently forage.
“This plan of attack greatly enhances my odds and enables me to take full advantage of the excellent striper population,” he said.
Taylor proved his point on a trip late last spring when he caught stripers using all the aforementioned methods during the first 90 minutes.
“It’s a daily problem in terms of predicting patterns, but that is not atypical at all,” he said. “I begin fishing very early, and as the morning progresses, the wind, cloud cover, water temperature and water clarity influence decision-making and how I present my baits. I make new decisions daily regarding the best tactical approach to striper hookups during the first couple of hours.”
Of all techniques, the early morning topwater bite can be the most exciting. Guide Mike Glover typically begins his day targeting schooling fish. When he points to an open-water target and says, “There,” smart money says to get a lure airborne in that direction. Typically, the lure lands in the middle of a pack of surface-feeding stripers, and it’s game on.
Glover said it’s important that one angler watch for signals that stripers are about to surface, so others can get the lure in the water just as the melee begins.
“On my boat, I’m that guy,” Glover said. “Typically, the best topwater action is very early and late in the day. At this time of year, I fish in the lower end of the lake, because stripers are piling up near the deeper water. The striper fishing is typically great by mid-May and improves over the next several weeks.”
Glover, 57, lives on Lake Murray and has been guiding for 30 years. His go-to lures for schooling stripers are Super Magnum Flukes in white ice (color) as well as an ImaSkimmer topwater lure in a ghost minnow pattern.
“The Fluke is usually my preferred lure, and it typically produces great action for the first couple of hours in the morning,” Glover said. “I like these big Flukes; the smaller versions simply do not produce as well for me. The ImaSkimmer is a walk-the-dog type lure and produces very well, but it’s expensive. Occasionally, it will produce more hookups if the stripers are not aggressive, so when I need that lure, I have it with me. But the versatility of the Fluke and the ability to work it on top or just under the surface is usually more than stripers can resist.
“I employ a double-hook rigs on the Magnum Flukes, and it does result in more hookups. Generally, these (big) lures will prompt bites from larger stripers and schooling fish, and it’s a great way to hook plenty of quality fish.”
Glover said he studies the water, looking for any sign that fish are about to surface. When he sees pods of baitfish being pushed, he’ll use his electric motor to move in that direction quickly, but quietly.
“I think it’s crucial to get on the schooling fish fast, and when one gets hooked, another fisherman can cast behind that fish and typically will instantly be hooked up,” he said. “I think when one bites and the water churns, it puts them into a feeding frenzy. And sometimes this action is on very shallow flats.”
Glover and Taylor said that when the sun beats down and the topwater action slows, they make the switch to live herring. Taylor targets underwater topography changes and works points, underwater islands, ledges and deeper holes.
“I’ll also use multiple rigs when fishing live bait,” Taylor said. “I have to keep the number of rigs out manageable to be effective, because on live bait, multiple hookups are the norm when we find a school of fish. I’ll get a good assortment of rigs such as down rods with weights fished at depths at or slightly above where I am marking fish on my graph. But at the same time, plenty of stripers roam shallower in the water column, so I pull a couple of no-weight free-lines, and usually one or two with a small split-shot, until I hit the right depth pattern.
“It gets interesting when we’ve got a fish or two on down rods, and then the free-line and planer-board rigs hook up,” Taylor said, “but that’s the spice of summer fishing I enjoy. We may have multiple fish flopping in the bottom of the boat, and I’m working to getting rigs back out as quickly as possible. But that’s the fishing we expect at this time of year.”
As the calendar turns over from May into June, Taylor expects stripers to begin primarily suspending in the deeper water. The key will be water temperature and color — and what the forage fish are doing.
“This annual pattern change has no set timetable, no specific day or week that it will occur,” he said, “but it’s a pattern we’ll see by fishing daily, and as it changes, so do successful tactics. This is not a bad situation, because as more fish get consistently deep, we can really hammer the stripers. The fish will congregate in big groups, (and) we’ll spot them using graphs and drop the bait to a foot or two above the depth they’re suspended. That action can get real wild, real fast.”
Glover agrees that change can be good and said he still like to mix up presentations to add more fish to the cooler.
“At some point, the fishing for schooling fish becomes less reliable, but (it) can still be an option and one I look for,” he said. “But the primary pattern will become more deep-water, down rod-oriented. But even then, I’ll still often use free-lines or add a split shot to get it just a bit deeper, especially for early morning, low-light fishing.”
Proper tackle is crucial; Glover uses 7 ½-foot rods with medium-light tips mated with baitcasting reels spooled with 12-pound test line. He ties on a 2 1/2-foot leader of 12-pound Big Game fluorocarbon below a swivel and ties to a 2/0 circle hook, the small hook size enabling the bait to move freely. He’ll use up to 2 ounces of weight on down rods and no weight on some free-lines, but he will add a split-shot on others until he determines a pattern for that specific time of day.
“We’ve got a lot of stripers in Lake Murray right now, and we’re in a good phases of catching quality and quantity of stripers,” Glover said.
HOW TO GET THERE — Lake Murray’s 50,000 acres lie west of Columbia, roughly between I-26 and US 378. For a complete list of public ramps, visit www.lakemurrayfun.com/ramps.shtml.
WHEN TO GO — Stripers are moving between late-spring and summer patterns as June arrives. Fishing is great in June and gets better in the summer as fish gang up in large schools.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Fish topwater baits early and late and on cloudy days, especially in late May and early June. Transition over to live herring fished on down lines, free lines and behind planer boards as the topwater bite wanes. Action can be fast and furious using either technique.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Brad Taylor, Taylor Outoors, 803-331-1354, www.tayloroutdoors.com; Mike Glover, Captain Mike’s Guide Service, 803-609-0066, www.stripermike.net; Townsend Wessinger, 803-924-0370; Lake World, Lexington, 803-957-6548. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
REGULATIONS — On Lake Murray and the middle reach of the Saluda River, it is unlawful to possess more than five striped bass per day. From Oct. 1 through May 31, it is unlawful to possess a striper less than 21 inches in total length. From June 1 through Sept. 30, there is no minimum size length.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Lake Murray Country, 866-SC-JEWEL, www.lakemurraycountry.com.
MAPS — Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257, www.kfmaps.com.