“What ya after?” asked the crusty old bank angler after I launched my boat. ?I pointed out toward the center of the lake where, in the glassy calm of the morning, it was easy to see a quarter-acre sized school of striped bass crashing the surface.?? His face looked like a tattered piece of leather that had been chewed on at great length by a hound dog, but it brightened considerably upon receipt of my answer. He flashed me a grin only an orthodontist could love and then snickered.?? “Son, you can’t catch them striper bass… everybody’s been trying but they won’t hit cuz they’re spawnin’.”
Well, I knew that he was way off base because it was mid-October and stripers are spring spawners, but I didn’t let on. I told him I was going to give it a try anyway just for kicks. He nodded and wished me good luck – said I was going to need it.
I hopped in the boat and sped out toward where the stripers were still boiling. When stripers boil on the surface like that, it can mean only one thing: they’re chasing baitfish up to the top and then feeding, frenzy-style, on them.?? Normally, to get a hookup, it’s just a matter of slowing down far enough away from the fish that you don’t spook them with the boat and then tossing anything into the fray. ??I did just that and didn’t get a sniff, despite the fact that I ran my surface popper right through the entire school of fish. As quickly as they appeared, the marauding stripers sounded and the lake got quiet for a moment. Then they popped up behind me, feeding like crazy again.
I lobbed a Zara Spook to the far edge of the school and reeled it over the heads of 400 actively feeding fish – without so much as a nibble or even a follow.?? The next time the fish showed, I tossed a 1/4-ounce Kastmaster into them and couldn’t buy a strike. I then showed them all the Rapalas in my box, my entire collection of swimbaits and every last spoon I owned. I even lobbed a live minnow out there. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.
Maybe ol’ leather face was right.
Then, somewhere along the way home that evening, it hit me. I recalled how I watched all day as those stripers fed on the surface. I knew that threadfin shad were the primary forage fish in the lake but I didn’t see any of them fly out of the water as they’d normally do when pushed to the top by big bass.?? So, I then decided that the shad must have been tiny.
Maybe the stripers were so keyed in on the pint-sized silhouettes of the shad that they wouldn’t eat anything that didn’t match that profile.
With that thought in mind, I stopped at a tackle store on the way home and looked for the smallest silvery shad-looking lures I could find. A few 1/12-ounce Kastmasters later and I was on my way home to get ready for the next day’s action at the lake.
The tiny Kastmasters were so light that I had to spool up with 2-pound test line to have any chance at all of casting them more than 10 feet. I also had to switch to a long, limber rod to protect the cobweb-like line I was going to attempt to use. It seemed like an unlikely setup for chasing stripers but I had to try something different.
The next morning, the stripers were again feeding on the surface in great roving schools. I eased up to the edge of a pocket of churning bass and whipped my Barbie-sized spoon into the action. I made about two cranks of the reel before a nice 5-pound striper latched onto my lure and the battle was on!?? With the light gear, it took a good 10 minutes to subdue the fish but it was a ball. After letting that bass go, I made another cast into the school and…PRESTO… another crushing it. And that’s the way it went all day long. Cast. Crank. Bite. Screaming drag. Cast again. Crank. Bite and so on.
I caught those “spawning stripers” until I my arm couldn’t take it anymore. Mystery solved!?? My leather-faced friend was there at the ramp as I pulled in that evening. With more than a bit of sarcasm, he asked how the fishing was.??”Got skunked again,” I said as glumly as I could.
Hey, you’ve got to keep some secrets to yourself, right?