The striped bass has a long, colorful history, both as a commercial and recreational resource. From the booming commercial fishery in the Northeast in the late 1800s, stripers were transported across the country from New England’s coastal waters to the waters off California, the idea being reproduction of the burgeoning commercial fishery.
Although California’s fishery has never equaled New England’s, striped bass have been caught from just south of the Mexican border to British Columbia’s Barkley Sound. Along the way, they moved into some of California’s freshwater systems, where fluctuating water levels provided passage to and from O’Neill Forebay, San Luis Reservoir and Millerton Lake via San Francisco Bay.
To that end, a 67 1/2-pound fish caught in 1992 from O’Neill Forebay still stands as the freshwater world-record striper.
Two things that should never be underestimated is what stripers will eat and how they will continue to feed as the water gets colder and colder. A trip years back that produced my personal best kayak striper cemented those two thoughts.
Brad Knight, a Hobie pro staff member from Belton, S.C., and I decided a balmy 9-degree January day with water temperatures in the upper 30s would be perfect conditions to chase striped bass in Lake Hartwell. Knight deployed two umbrella rigs behind his paddlecraft and paddled up to 21/2 mph, as measured on his sonar GPS, to elicit a bite. He wound up with several chunky hybrid stripers that day.
My plan was to mimic the yearling, threadfin shad dying off in the back of a creek by slow-trolling two 1/8-ounce crappie jigs piggy-backed with live crappie minnows. Although Knight accused me of crappie fishing — I was using 10-foot crappie rods and 8-pound line — my reasoning was to match the hatch and see if I could fool a striper.
On the third pass across a bend in a creek channel locally known as a good striper hole, one of my rods bent double and started peeling drag; I was helpless to stop it. Of course, the beauty of fighting large fish with light tackle in a kayak is the boat itself becomes part of the drag system, and I was treated to something like a controlled sleigh ride.
What happened next was more providence than skill. With the spool almost empty, the striper, in search of something to wrap the line around, decided to seek the shelter of a boat dock. Fortunately for me, most of Hartwell’s boat docks are floaters, with no pillars extending to the bottom, and this dock was also devoid of cover underneath.
While the striper wallowed under the dock, planning its next move, I managed to salvage my line and gain ground above the fish. A couple of short but tiresome runs brought him to the boat.
The big striper pegged my scales at 25 pounds. He was released in good shape and was the only fish I caught that day, but it was a day to remember
I’ll end this with a challenge. The first kayak angler to land four stripers in January 2018 — one saltwater and one freshwater each from both Carolinas — and e-mail me the photos at firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a Sportsman shirt and be featured in an upcoming column. Photos must show the fish, a kayak and enough background to reasonably establish your location. Submission deadline is January 31, 2018.