My first coastal experience with stripers (rockfish), came about purely by accident.
I had been fishing for late-season largemouth bass along the west bank of the Edisto River without much success. There was plenty of topwater commotion along the banks, but nothing I tossed made a difference.
Finally, in desperation I switched to a leaded tailspin lure called a Lil George. The lure cast easily against the winds and I thought at least I will get on top of the fish before they move.
Some 20 or so casts later I was still fishless and found myself closer to the bank than I had intended. It seems my concentration had resulted in poor boat handling and now I was caught in the shallows with an outgoing tide and pushed up against a fallen tree.
Things got worse when my boat tilted into the current and began taking on water. I stepped out onto the tree which made things even worse; the boat righted itself and swung into the current. My position on the tree prevented me from gaining leverage, and the boat drifted off.
When Jerry came around the bend an hour or so later I was still hanging onto the tree, which was now 3 feet above the water. I was relieved to see he had my boat in tow and that my fishing gear was still intact.
After a few futile attempts, my rescue was celebrated with a warm cup of coffee and the introduction to a future fishing partner.
I later learned that had my cap not fallen into the water, Jerry would not have known I was in trouble.
A few weeks earlier I had purchased a trailer from Gator Trailers in Florida and the cap was a gift from the salesman. Jerry was fishing a few bends downriver when he saw the symbol of his alma mater drifting past. Being a Florida Gator and knowing no self-respecting fisherman would discard a perfectly good fishing cap, he decided to investigate. He found my unoccupied boat resting on a sandbar and a strange man sitting on a fallen tree just around the bend.
Tales of our exploits soon became the norm around docks, piers, tackle shops and fish camps -- so much at times I began to doubt our credibility, but I was reeled in by Jerry with the remark: "What the hell, let's give them something to aim for."
And the good times just kept on coming.
Now, in my later years, my exploits may be a bit more subdued, but there will always be stories that need telling and fish to be caught.
With cooler weather, striped bass have begun to feed more actively. There is no need of a secret spot or the elusive magic lure, just use a bit of common sense. You may not need to hang from a tree to locate your quarry, but you will need to step out of your comfort zone a bit.
The best striper fishing in the Lowcountry is in brackish waters. The Combahee, Edisto and Ashepoo rivers are popular among the locals and these easily accessible waters have produced some heavyweights.
When making your choice of waters, the lures and baits you choose will remain fairly stable. Your game plan may change depending on tidal influences and water levels, but for the most part it will not be necessary to make large purchases of expensive lures that are most likely already common among your arsenal. Large, 4- to 6-inch diving plugs in light colors of white, silver or gray work well. A variety of lead head jigs in red/white, white/chartreuse, yellow/white or solid colors in these schemes also will produce given the right conditions.
Fish main river channels where current flows are strong and bait fish are present. These swift-water areas are prime for trolling deep diving plugs and 1-ounce to 1.5-ounce jigs and bucktails. If things slow during your trip, move to bank and structure areas that have old wood pilings or turnstiles, or that hold hard bottom.
Oddly, it seems the worse the weather the more cooperative the stripers become. Some of my largest specimens came about during a week of bitterly cold winds and light rain. My most abundant takings were more common just before a cold front.
Stout rods in 7-foot lengths are perfect for trolling and it is not normally necessary to use more than a 12-inch monofilament leader, but I do recommend you employ swivels in your rigging. Lures that need to be tuned or trolling speeds not matched to your bait cause line twist and should be corrected as soon as possible.
Next time out, give the local striper bite a try, you may be pleasantly surprised.
While fishing for stripers on the upper lakes of the Santee, Jerry convinced the local chef to share his favorite method for this excellent table fare:
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped white onion
2 ounces bacon, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, drained and diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (2- to 3-pound) striped bass fillet, skin removed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the oil in a sautè pan and sautè onion over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper and white wine, and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Lay fish in a 10x14 baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce mixture over fish and bake uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.