Buggs Island Lake Fall Striped Bass Fishing Dec 13, 2019 1:09:29 GMT
Post by Ghost Comanche©® on Dec 13, 2019 1:09:29 GMT
Buggs Island Lake Fall Striped Bass Fishing
by David Johnson at www.woodsandwatersmagazine.com
The return of Fall always brings some predictable changes here on Buggs Island Lake. The leaves changing color, shorter days and cooler nights are things that I look forward to each and every year here in southside Virginia. The other change and most welcome of all, though, are the seagulls.
As we hold onto the late summer, weather patterns and the days are still pretty warm – these seasonal migrants will show up little by little. In fact, I saw a small gathering of five gulls by early October in the main lake area.
Now you wouldn’t think that a group of five birds sitting and bobbing on the lake would be enough to capture a grown man’s interest, but I have to admit – I was ecstatic to see them. They are like long lost friends that return each year to visit. Their appearance means that it won’t be long until the water temperatures cool and the striper become very active.
I know several guys here on Buggs that target and catch striper all year long. I spend most of my time on the rivers, chasing smallmouth until it gets much colder, so it’s a perfect transition into winter to get out there and striper fish.
The striper fishing at Buggs Island can be fantastic. With the right weather conditions (which are typically terrible – more on this later) and proper techniques – 60-70 fish days are not uncommon. Much like other fishing – there are a myriad of ways to catch these fish. Most days I will use a combination of three techniques when I go out. From time to time, when the fishing gods are happy, only one technique is needed all day. I am going to discuss the different aspects of predicting the best times to go, locating the striper, and the techniques I use to catch them in this article.
Predicting When Is the Best Time to Go
If you are like me, this is easy to answer – go anytime you can. Of course, we all have obligations, work, and things that prevent us from being able to hand pick the days we fish. That being said – there are some days that are worthy of calling in “sick”, procrastinating on a home chore, or just dropping everything to get out there.
These days are what we, as fisherman, call the “worst” days. Stiff winds, rain, sleet, snow, cold snaps, and overcast conditions are the ideal conditions for striper fishing. They seem to become very active in the winter when these conditions exist, and even more active when these conditions have been present for consecutive days.
My fishing buddies have come to know that in November and December when the forecast looks awful – I will be calling! My most productive days on Buggs striper fishing have been in the worst conditions you could imagine. The striper seem to love bad weather – but if I had to pick one element that seems to be a common denominator on the best days I have had, it would be overcast conditions.
Overcast skies are the one thing I love to see most. Add in some form of precipitation and wind and you better believe the striper will be moving and feeding.
Locating The Striper
There are three ways to locate striper when you go out. These are all common knowledge and everyone who goes striper fishing in the winter uses these three things to find the fish in some form or fashion.
The birds are the easiest and most exciting way to find the fish. They will always be around the fish and when you see the birds diving, screaming, and feeding – there will be fish there. You should ease up to the birds and make very long casts into the area. Don’t run your boat into the middle of them. Stay far back and trolling motor on low speed and ease around if possible.
Admittedly, I am not a huge electronics person. I have a Lowrance HDS5X unit that performs well, and I am learning to use it more effectively each trip out. Of course, electronics are a critical tool in finding fish, especially when they are not schooling or feeding. When they are staying down and out in deeper water – this is the only effective way to find them.
Sheer luck is another way to find striper. Last winter we were jigging spoons in a cove and out of nowhere the striper started boiling and feeding in that cove for 30-40 minutes. Just being out there in the wintertime – you have a great chance of stumbling across feeding fish.
When they are feeding and on the surface they are very easy to catch and presentation and lure of choice won’t matter much – they will hit anything you throw at them. Also, even though it goes without saying, fishing areas that have been productive in the past is a good strategy. Especially on the slower days when they are hard to find.
Catching the Striper
As with any species of fish, there are a ton of different ways to catch striped bass. I have three techniques that I rely on when I go.
I do not troll or use live shad. While those techniques can be very effective, I don’t have the patience for trolling and don’t have the desire to go out and catch live shad. I also don’t have an effective way, due to boat space limitations, to keep shad alive and frisky.
Casting is the most effective technique when you find the fish feeding. You will typically see their boils on the surface, see them breaking the surface, or see the gulls smashing into the water and stealing the baitfish they have pushed to the top. I prefer to use a 7’ medium action rod with a 2500 or 3500 size spinning reel. I prefer this set-up due to the long casts I can make and the fact that with a baitcaster, backlashes are a good possibility – especially with cold thumbs and trying to get that extra little bit of distance to reach the school. Nothing worse than trying to pick out a backlash while your buddies are hauling in striper. I also typically use 20 lb Power Pro braid on this set-up.
I only cast a few things in this situation, but the one common denominator is a single hook. I only throw single hook lures due to the fact that you are able to get it out of the fish quickly and get back in the water. Treble hooks create the biggest mess ever when a striper is landed.
I typically opt for the Case Plastics Sinkin Salty Minnow which is a small 3 ¾” fluke type bait. These are durable and much heavier that the others available. Due to the weight they cast better and sink much faster which I like. I usually put them on ¼ or 3/8 ounce jig head with a 3/0 sized hook. Make sure you use a stout hook as the striper will bend the lighter gauge hooks with ease.
Bucktails are another standard for striper. I like to thread a 4-5” grub trailer on my bucktails – usually white or chartreuse seem to work best.
Vertically jigging spoons is a lot of fun. I enjoy this technique very much. On top of being very productive, it is easy to do and you have the potential to catch anything in the lake. Last year on Buggs Island I was fortunate enough to catch and land striper, largemouth, white bass, white perch, flatheads, blue cats, crappie and walleye while jigging spoons. One of the flatheads I caught was approaching 30 lbs.
This presentation appeals to a wide variety of fish and especially striper. This is one application where your electronics and buoy markers are critical. I like to find the fish and jig my spoons vertically over them. Once I hook up I like to drop a buoy marker immediately to use a point of reference.
The other thing I have realized the past couple of years is that you don’t have to jerk the spoon or blade bait 4-5’ off the bottom when you are jigging them. Sometimes the fish want and prefer a small, soft little pop. I will typically very my jigging presentation until I find what works best. It can and will change from day to day no doubt.
For this presentation, I only use a bait caster. The jigging of the spoons and the flutter will twist your line terribly on a spinning rod. This is a bait caster application and I usually opt for a 7’ MH stick and 20 lb mono line. I have had success with the Terry’s Krazy Blade the last few years. These are a blade bait, similar to a Silver Buddy. They vibrate like crazy and come in an assortment of colors. The chartreuse and the green color have worked very well at Buggs Island for me.
In regards to a more traditional “spoon” I like the Toothache Spoons or the Cotton Cordell spoons. I like to use something at least ¾ ounce for my vertical jigging and I only use the silver or gold colors when vertically jigging spoons. As you jerk the spoon off the bottom, most hits will come on the flutter back down. I have become “trained” to anticipate the thump from the spoon hitting the bottom after being jigged up in the air. When that thump doesn’t come and you don’t feel the bottom again – set the hook.
Many people strictly use live bait to fish for striper. I will be the first to admit that it is very effective and works as well if not better than anything else. For me personally, I prefer to buy and use jumbo minnows. A quick stop at Bobcats (five-minute stop) is well worth knowing I am going to have some live bait to fish with once we find the fish. There are several reasons I choose to use jumbo minnows. The first is that I don’t have room on the boat for a 20- or 30-gallon baitwell. I guess I do technically have room, but prefer to take a 3rd person fishing as opposed to the 500- pound baitwell.
Aside from that is the chore of catching shad. I have gone out and caught shad every winter since I have been fishing. As avid cat fishermen – I know how to do it, I just prefer to use those 90 minutes fishing instead of getting wet throwing the shad net.
This is just my personal preference – oddly enough I truly believe that the larger striper will always be taken on live shad. The guys that do this are well deserving of the fish they catch and have my respect for sure! I don’t ever leave the ramp without my Bett’s cast net though – when and if the bait presents itself, I will throw on them and keep a handful in the small livewell.
I hope this information helps you in catching some striped bass this winter. I have also included a couple of quick pointers / tips / ideas for winter striper fishing below as well…
#When you find aggressive, feeding fish – a good technique to seek out the larger fish is to jig spoons under the typically smaller schooling fish. Many times the larger fish are in the same area, they are just a bit deeper.
#Don’t get hung on only throwing HUGE baits. I have caught just as many big fish throwing 3” baits as I have throwing 5” baits. For me, I prefer and use smaller baits typically speaking.
#Get a good rain suit – they are with every penny. I can recommend the BPS Pro Qualifier Bibs and Parka. My buddy has and swears by the 100MPH Gore-Tex Bibs and Parka. There is no substitute for quality apparel when fishing in the dead of winter.
#Get some ski goggles so you can see what’s going on when running the boat if it’s raining, sleeting or snowing. Even if it’s not, they keep your eyes from watering when running or moving which can be dangerous.
#Always take a pair of binoculars. Constantly scan and keep an eye out with the binoculars. Can’t tell you how many times I have found birds feeding with the binoculars that were not within the range of the naked eye
#Take a kid fishing this winter. Wrap em up, put a good PFD on them, and take them with you for half a day. It’s a great time to take them when they have the visual stimulation from the birds and can see the fish “busting”. I put my little girl on “bird patrol” when we go and she is in charge of keeping an eye out for the birds – a task that she takes seriously and no doubt she tells me when she sees any bird.
#You don’t need a huge boat with a motor to catch striper. I had several fantastic days on Buggs last winter (specifically New Years Eve) in my kayak casting for striper 100 – 200 yards off shore. With the right safety equipment, not only is it safe, it is an absolute blast catching striper from a kayak.
#Don’t go out in the winter without a PFD. I have a Mustang PFD that inflates automatically with the HIT technology – I highly recommend them. Very comfortable and thin – they are not a hindrance to fishing at all and may save your life.