How I live bait fish for Smith Mountain Lake Stripers Dec 13, 2019 15:20:06 GMT
Post by Ghost Comanche©® on Dec 13, 2019 15:20:06 GMT
How I live bait fish for Smith Mountain Lake Stripers
by Tyler Early
Here's some live bait information I wrote a couple years back. I got tired of typing stuff everytime someone asked me about it, so I wrote this up. Not sure if I ever completed all of my thoughts, but I'll share what I have saved. This isn't the "right" way to live bait, it's just how I do it. Feel free to add how you may do things differently.
Live Bait Care
Keeping bait healthy can be a daunting task if you don't know what you're doing, but it is relatively simple if you follow the right steps. There's no worse feeling than looking in your tank to see all of your bait belly up. We've all been there.
To begin with, you will need a round (or oval), filtered, and insulated bait tank with a good aeration system. I recommend either the Creekbank or Super II bait tanks. These are the leaders in the industry, but there are others that will work. A good filtration system is needed to rid the tank of scales and waste matter that will harm your bait. Without a filtration system, ammonia will build up in warmer water and eventually kill your bait.
When filling your tank with water, use water that is as close as possible to the surface water temperature your bait is coming from until the water temperatures reach about 70deg. At that point (usually late spring, early summer), you will want to try to keep the water temperatures 70 deg or under. Cool water is key to keeping bait alive, especially in the summer time. In the summer when the water gets hot, I like to use well water to fill my tank, since it is cold, clean, and chlorine free. If you use city water, make sure you use a dechlorinating agent to remove chlorine as it will kill your bait. I use a product called Stress Coat that you can buy in the pet section of Wal-mart.
Next, you will need to add salt to your bait tank to help harden the scales of the bait. You can purchase a 40lb bag of water softener salt at places such as Lowes or Home Depot for $4-5. Here’s where I differ slightly from some other live baiters. Most suggest 1 cup of salt per 10gal of water. I like to add at least 1.5cups per 10gal of water, sometimes 2cups. Here’s my reasoning for doing so: more salt turns your baits lighter in color and makes them shiny, therefore stripers can see them easier than they can darker baits in the water. I will also add some shad keeper to help reduce the stress of the bait, lower the ammonia levels, and to help keep my aerator cleaned out so the air bubbles are micro in size.
If you catch your bait fresh, which is mostly the case on SML, I often recommend you let shad purge in a holding bucket first. I use a big party drink tub to let them de-slime and rid themselves of that initial waste. For alewives, I usually avoid the purge bucket and dump them straight into my tank. Reason behind this is that alewives are much more sensitive to scale loss and more handling equals more scale loss, especially in the summer months. They also are not as dirty as shad, therefore the biggest concern is getting rid of the scales in your tank that come off the baits.
I will check my filter every hour or so after filling the tank with bait to make sure it is clean. This is critical to ensuring that ammonia does not build up in the tank. If you are keeping the bait for extended periods of time, it may be necessary to do a water change every 4-6 hours for the first few days. In the summer time, it is important to keep the water temperature in your bait tank between 60-74; slightly warmer earlier in the summer (still fishing relatively shallow), cooler mid to late summer (fishing deep mostly) is usually what I prefer. Most of the pumps in tanks nowadays suck air in from the outside; therefore, in the summer, those pumps are pulling hot air into your tank and warming the water. If necessary, you can either do partial water changes or add ice to maintain cooler water temperatures. (Again, if your ice has chlorine in it, you will need some type of agent to remove the chlorine.) If you manage your filter and water temperature, you should be able to keep bait for days, possibly even weeks. I will also add some Foam Off every so often to keep the foam down. It is necessary to remove foam or you will greatly reduce the oxygen that the baits are receiving from the surface, which is their main source of oxygen. A lot of people think the aeration systems in the tanks are providing oxygen to the baits. The aeration system is more or less just expelling gases (CO2, etc) from the water to allow the water to hold more oxygen. Most of the oxygen comes from the surface; therefore, it’s critical to keep the foam down.
How many baits can I keep in my tank? This is a tricky question that varies by the time of year, size of the bait, etc. In general, you hear, 1 bait per gallon of water. In my 50 gallon tank, I can typically hold 20-25 average size gizzards and about double the number of good size alewives. If I’m just using gizzards in cold water, I can hold up to about 40, unless they're big (12”+) gizzards and then I can hold about 25. Overcrowding your tank is a sure way to kill all of your bait.
Planer Board Fishing
There’s no right or one way to planer board fish. I’m just sharing how I generally do it.
Rod, Reel, and Main Line Selection
Again, there is no perfect rod or reel. It’s more a personal preference type thing. In general though, you will want a Medium to Medium Heavy action rod with a soft tip. 7-8ft in length. You want something with a flexible tip to allow the fish to hit the bait and get it situated in it’s mouth without feeling the rod. But you also want a rod with a strong backbone for good hooksets and to keep fish out of structure. I use the 7ft MH action Ugly Stik Striper rods for live bait planer board fishing. At $25-30 with a 6yr warranty, they’re hard to beat.
As far as reels, again, it is a personal preference. In general though, you’ll need a round baitcast reel that can hold a decent amount of 20lb test line (150-200yds). A good drag system is also a must. The standard for years has been the Abu Garcia 6500C3. In recent years, a lot of people are using the Okuma Magda 20 Pros due to their good value and line counter function. I personally use the Shimano Cardiff 400As for planer board fishing and I love them!
My simple advice is to buy the best equipment you can afford and go fishing!
Line, especially the brand, is yet another personal preference thing. In general for planer board fishing, you’ll want a monofilament in the 15-30lb range. Monofilament is the best line, in my opinion, for planer board fishing. Braid can be used, but it lacks stretch which is often your friend when live bait fishing. Most people on SML probably use 20lb mainline on their reels; I have myself for years. However, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel that 25-30lb mainline is necessary for those fish that force you down into trees, etc. Even 12-15lb fish can get you down in the trees when you have a planer board out 75ft, so it’s important to have a line that can handle those situations. A larger diameter line allows you to put more pressure on that fish when necessary to keep it up. It also prevents as many break offs when you do get down in the trees. I use 20-30lb Berkley Big Game. It’s cheap and readily available at most any tackle store.
Leader Material, Hooks, and Rigging
Smith Mountain Lake is a fairly clear body of water, therefore I prefer to use a fluorocarbon leader when planer board fishing. I like 20-30lb Yo-Zuri Disappearing Pink. It’s an awesome soft, strong, invisible line that comes in relatively small 30yd spools, so you’ve always got fresh leader material. Another brand of fluorocarbon that I really like is Seaguar Red Label. It runs $10 for a 200yd spool, and it is great fluoro for the money. The size of your leader should vary based on season, size of bait, etc., but in general, for planer board fishing on SML, a 15-25lb leader is appropriate. I often hear people say, “I use a lesser lb test leader than my mainline, so if I hang up, I can break it off easily.” To me, that doesn’t make much sense. I fish to catch fish; not to worry about what happens when I hang up. Right? Fit your leader to the size fish you’re catching, or to the size of the hook or bait you’re using. Lesser lb test leaders will allow a bait to swim more freely in the water. Therefore, it is not a bad idea to use smaller diameter leaders with alewives than you would with big gizzard shad. Right now in the spring months, my leaders are all 25lb Yo-Zuri, as I’m expecting to use some big baits and hopefully catch some bigger fish. In the summer time, I’ll be using 15lb fluorocarbon.
Hooks are yet another personal preference for striper fishermen! For planer board fishing, I prefer a J or octopus style hook. I don’t like circle hooks on boards. I use the Gamakatsu Octopus hooks in both black and red colors. Eagle Claw and Mustad both make some very good hooks also, among others. I know some people like big hooks for big fish, but I prefer to match my hook to the bait. Small baits should have small hooks and big baits, big hooks. The bait has to look natural to get bites. We’ve caught several 20-24lb stripers on tiny Gamakatsu hooks so small hooks can catch big fish, although it does make you nervous! I rarely use a hook above 2/0 anymore when using alewives; 3/0 is the absolute biggest I’ll use. For most gizzards (6in to 18in), I use 3/0 to 6/0 size hooks.
It’s essentially a Carolina rig for stripers! I run two types of lines on my planer boards: freelines (or lines with no weight) and lightlines (or lines with some weight). When running freelines, I just add a glass bead to my main line before the swivel, leader are tied on. With lightlines, I add a 1/8-1/2oz egg sinker to my line before the swivel, leader are tied on. If you are running freelines and notice the lightlines are working better, you can always add the split shot sinkers to prevent having to retie a bunch of lines. I prefer the egg sinkers since I feel like the split shots may nick my line. After adding either the bead or sinker, I tie (using an improved clinch) on an 80-100lb ball bearing swivel at the end of my main line. From there, I add a 3-6ft leader of fluorocarbon leader, as discussed above. Then I either use a snell knot or the improved clinch knot for my hook.
Simply put, planer boards are a device that allows you to spread your baits out away from the boat. They attach to your line and when tension is applied to the line, they "plane" out from the sides of the boat. Planer boards allow you cover not only a wider area of water, but they also allow you to cover the entire water column due to the ability to set the line of each board at a different depth. Planer boards can be used to fish a shallow point without spooking the fish that may be holding on that point.
When running my planer boards, I'll typically use a combination of weights to cover the entire water column to start with. That way I can fish right up on the banks out into the deeper water of the channel. For example, my furthest board from the boat might not have any weight then I may put a 1/4 once on the middle board, and then a 3/8 once on the board closet to the boat. If I particular combination of weight and line out is working well, I can switch all of the rods to this combination. As discussed above, I rig my lines with a bead or sinker above the swivel. One of the benefits of this is it allows my boards, when a fish strikes and the hook is set, to pop free and slide down to the bead/sinker where our mainline meets our leader. This prevents the board from sliding all the way to the hook and potentially knocking the fish off of the line.
All of the tackle and techniques discussed can be used in exactly the same manner with floats directly behind the boat. I like to use Redi-rig floats since they attach and release similar to most planer boards. I’ll also usually run at least 2-4 flatlines out of the back of the boat as well. These are basically like the freelines or lightlines discussed above without any planer board or float attached..just run straight out of the back of the boat, 40-70ft back.
Some common questions I see with planer boards are…
How much line should I put out behind my planer board? This depends on the time of year, water temperature, aggressiveness of the fish, etc. There’s no exact science. Generally, 6-25ft is probably about right for most times of year. If you’re unsure what is working, vary your line lengths behind your boards until you hit on something that is working. It’s always best to let the fish tell you what they want versus trying to guess what they want.
What type of planer boards should I buy? This is one of the most asked questions I see. I prefer the inline style boards for live baiting on rivers and lakes. There are many great boards out there and many guys even make their own. I use the Outcast planer boards and have been more than pleased. They float and pull better than any I have ever used and their durability is above average.
How fast should I pull my boards? This is another question you hear a lot. 0.6 to 1.0mph is a good speed for most baits. However, if you’re pulling larger baits, up to 2mph+ is acceptable. Vary your speeds and direction when pulling planer boards to raise and lower your baits. What worked yesterday may not work today; always be willing to change your presentation to what the fish want.
When should I pull planer boards? Generally speaking, spring and fall are planer board seasons. When the water temperatures are 50-70deg, most live bait fishermen are pulling planer boards. That’s prime water temperature for stripers. Typically, you’ll find fish scattered throughout the water column and lake.
What’s the best bait to pull behind planer boards? It’s a rarity that I leave the dock anymore without both alewives and gizzard shad. I know how effective both baits can be and I just can’t go out unless I have that variety. Your success will be dramatically increased with a variety of baits in the water. You can certainly have good days with either alewives or shad by themselves, but day in and day out, having both is a recipe for success. A lot more work and time is involved in catching both, but quite often it pays off. However, if I had to choose one bait to use year-round on SML right now, I’d take 5-7” alewives (“jumbo ales” I call them). They’re pretty much money year-round.
How do you hook the baits? I hook both my alewives and gizzards in through the mouth and out a nostril. If I’m having an abnormal amount of hooks turned back into the bait, I will hook the bait in between the nostrils to grab a little more meat. I’m hesitant to do this since I’ve learned that you do not often get as good of a hook set this way when using gizzards (the hook does not pull out of the bait’s mouth as easily).
Summer time is downline time! Once mid July gets here, and the stripers gather up into their huge summer time schools, downlines will be one of the most effective live bait techniques. Personally, downline fishing is my least favorite way to catch fish, but it is highly effective in the summer time, and year round for that matter.
Rods, Reels, etc.
Most of tackle discussed in my planer board section can be easily converted to downline tackle. In general, you want a 7-8ft Med Light or Med action fiberglass rod with a soft tip. I use the 7’6” Med Light action Ugly Stik Striper rods. These are long limber rods that are almost perfect in my opinion for downrod fishing on SML. As far as reels, line counter reels with a good drag are almost a must. Linecounters allow you to quickly and accurately put your baits in the right location as large schools come under the boat. Okuma Magda Pros and Daiwa Accudepths are good entry level linecounter reels that are affordable and reliable. I personally have used the Abu Garcia 6500LC3 reels for the past two years. I've been pleased with them so far. The Shimano Tekota line counter reels are probably the best out there I think, but the price tag shows it. If you don’t have line counter reels, you can easily watch your levelwind; on most reels from one side of the spool to the other is 10ft.
The terminal tackle used for downline fishing is essentially the same as for planer board fishing. I’ll typically use the same 20-25lb mainline that I would for planer board fishing. The only thing I will change is my leader. I will often use a 12-15lb fluorocarbon leader versus the 20-30lb leader I may use when planer board fishing. You’ll get more bites this way and I’m not as concerned with big fish and trees; mainly because I am not targeting big fish. I will also increase the length the length of my leaders slightly. This gives the bait more freedom of movement; although it’s important to not give them too much freedom or they will constantly tangle each other up. I use the exact same rig as with my planer boards, but I will typically use sinkers from 1-2oz to keep the baits down. I try to use the least amount of weight that I can get away with while still keeping the bait in the target area.
Hooks are the biggest difference for me when changing from planer boards. I’ve come to like circle hooks with downrods. When I first used them, I hated them because I felt like we missed a lot of fish. But mainly we were missing fish because our natural instinct was to pick the rod up when a fish first strikes. I’ve learned to just let that rod bury in the holder and start reeling. There’s no hook set necessary. I do not even touch the rod until I am confident the striper is hooked up, usually after several cranks on the reel. Ever hear a guide in the summer yelling, “Reel, reel, reel!” (It’s annoying as heck, but they’re trying to get their clients to reel versus setting the hook). Only after I’m sure the fish is hooked up will I grab the fishing rod and begin to fight the fish. One thing I like about circle hooks on downlines is that often we’ll have 2, 3, even 6 fish hit at once. When this happens, often you can’t get to every rod at once. If you’re using regular j-hooks, 7 times out 10, you’ll either lose the unmanned fish or it will be gut hooked. Circle hooks generally prevent this and often will hook the striper in the side of the mouth for you while you are fighting another one. Again, your hook size should match your bait size. Circle hooks actually have a much wider profile than J hooks. Therefore, I use 1/0-2/0 circle hooks for most all alewives. 3/0-5/0 circle hooks are about as big as I’ll use for gizzards on downrods.
Electronics play a big part in summer time downrod fishing. If you’re not on fish, you’re not on fish. Not much sense in sitting in one place for very long if you’re not seeing fish. I often won’t actually fish until I see fish on the finder or have exhausted every other option or run out of gas, whichever comes first! I see some people that sit in the same place all day long. They may catch some fish, but I think you can catch a lot more if you stay on the move to keep up with those big schools. When you find fish, get your lines and baits down fast. Vary the depths until you hit on a particular depth that is working well. Generally, you want to keep your baits slightly above the fish you are marking. If I’m marking a huge school, I’ll lower some baits down into the middle of it, if the fish are not coming up to hit the baits.
Some common downrod questions…
How tight should my drag be? My drag setting for down lines is varied depending mainly on how deep I am fishing the lines. If I am fishing them deep (>25ft deep), then I’ll set the drag pretty tight. I’m using monofilament, which has a lot of stretch in the line, so you can get away with a tighter drag on those deep down lines. Additionally, if you hook into a decent fish on a deep line with a loose drag, you’ll have a tough time keeping it out of the trees. When reeling in a fish, as it gets closer to the boat, you can then loosen the drag to account for less stretch in the line and less threat of a fish hanging you up. When fishing shorter down lines (12-25ft), I’ll keep a slightly looser drag to account for less stretch in the line also.
Where should I look to find these schools? Well, if you haven’t caught on that Becky and Betty’s is generally a good location to look in the summer months, then you want to check the major feeder creeks around the mid to lower lake areas. Also look out in the main channel near trees and underwater humps, roadbeds, etc.
What time of day is best for downrod fishing? In the summer time, in my opinion, early morning is the number one time for live bait fishing. By noon, the boat traffic has picked up, the sun is high and bright in the sky, and the stripers are retreating to deeper, cooler water, often near trees. The evening can be very good also early in the summer. I won’t fish in the afternoon/evenings past about mid-July. It’s just not worth the hassle to me.
How do you hook the baits? Just like with the planer boards, I hook both my alewives and gizzards in through the mouth and out a nostril.