Live bait is a part of most successful fishing trips for striped bass at Clarks Hill Lake this month, and guide Tony Shepherd said the quality of that bait can make or break a trip.

“Of all the things I’ve learned about catching stripers at Clarks Hill, keeping fresh, healthy live bait on my rigs is essential,” Shepherd said. “I go to extreme lengths to keep my bait healthy. First, I simply remove any bait in my tank that appears to be stressed. Stressed herring takes oxygen from other herring in the tank, and that bait has already become weaker, so I discard it immediately.”

Shepherd does not recycle baits after he uses them.

“A herring previously hooked up is weakened and even if alive when I reel in, I discard it,” he said. “They have less mobility and will likely not live as long. If I put it back in the tank I’ve found that when I catch the next bait for another rig, that weaker one is the one I frequently catch because it is less mobile.”

Shepherd said he only nets one herring at a time when re-rigging. By netting several to select just one, quality bait can be found, but the rest will get slightly scarred, downgrading their overall quality. 

“Quality bait is imperative,” he said. “I keep fresh bait on the hook all the time. After going to all the effort to find and pattern stripers, it’s worth a little more effort to use the best bait possible all-day long. I’ve found I’ll simply catch more and bigger fish with fresh bait.”