Morone saxatallis, or the striped bass, as most of us call it, was introduced to Murphy, NC’s Lake Hiwassee three years ago. Since then, this 22-mile long reservoir has been one of the fastest growing striper impoundments in the Southeast. With its abundance of bait and cool, deep water (sourced from a number of fast-moving rivers, where the stripers go to spawn), Lake Hiwassee has proven to be a perfect location for M. saxatallis to thrive.
To locate and catch these hard-fighting sport fish, you will need to know a few key factors. First, learning the stripers’ seasonal-movement patterns on this lake is essential. The winter, November through February, can be very challenging due to their fast movement around the lake; however, if you get out there early, you will usually be rewarded with some awesome top-water-busting fish feeding off shallow points and in the shallow backs of creeks. Once the sun comes up, they head to deeper water.
Although they cannot produce viable offspring, stripers still replicate the habits of spawning, and from spring’s March to June season these big stripers are super hungry. They will move towards the rivers and can be found in the shallow creeks and humps around the lake.
Summer brings on big numbers for us. In the months of July, August, and September, these landlocked Hiwassee stripers gather in huge schools and head to deeper waters. Look for steep, rocky ledges, river channels, brush piles, and other areas that similarly hold large quantities of bait. You will need to rely heavily on your graph this time of year.
Fall brings on some exciting fishing on Hiwassee. From October-December, water temps start falling, and those deep stripers start coming up in the water column to feed. With the same patterns in mind as the summer season, look for fish off of rocky banks and shallow humps and over brush piles throughout the lake. It is also not uncommon to pick up some fish in the fast-moving rivers that feed this lake.
Next, let’s discuss technique. There are countless ways to hook-up with these aggressive fish, but my goal is to get you started with a few basics.
· Umbrella rigs: These are great tools for catching and locating stripers. We like to use umbrella rigs as a means of covering a lot of ground while using the outboard motor at slow speeds. This is an easy way to search out the schooling fish. It is also not uncommon to catch more than one at a time with these.
· Free-lining live bait: When fish are up, keep your line up, simple as that. Trolling free-lines with live bait is a great way to get hooked up with some top-water stripers.
· Downline: When stripers school up, downlining with live bait is one of the most effective methods of catching freshwater stripers. A downline is basically a Carolina rig with a longer leader.
· Planer Boards: This is one of our favorite tools. Some of our biggest fish have been caught using this technique. Planer boards are used to troll multiple lines, and they push the lines out and away from the boat. Baited with live bait, they are excellent for covering a lot of ground.
· Artificial: There are many types of artificial bait to be casted, trolled, and jigged in search of stripers. When the fish are busting top water, I like to go with my Zara spoon, a small popper, or a trusty Red Fin. On this lake, however, there are no limits. The state record striper was caught on a plastic worm, so use whatever you have in your tackle box and you might just be surprised.
Finally, be sure to pay attention of your surroundings. Monitor temperatures, and notice what Mother Nature is telling you. For instance, the appearance of a lot of sea gulls means bait fish are near, and bait fish mean sport fish are near, too. Watch your banks—sunny shorelines in the winter will hold fish, and the same for a little shade in the summer. Muddy water usually indicates that the fish will be scarce, and if the water temperature is warm, the fish will usually be deeper. Mother Nature gives you almost all the answers—by paying attention, you will find out a lot about catching fish on this lake.
Being in Western NC, we pride ourselves on knowing the specifics of our home lake, Lake Hiwassee. This lake has so much to offer, and it’s only going to get better in the next few years as the striped bass population is healthy and growing fast. So if fishing sounds like your next adventure, and you want to reel in some of the hardest fighting fish, give Big Ol’ Fish Guiding Service a call. Located in Murphy, NC, we are the area’s only full-time fishing guide and Western NC’s only striper charter service. For the fishing experience of a lifetime, book your trip now!