Smith Mountain Lake-Virginia
Last season I had plenty of compliments on some of the articles that I wrote, since then I have put plenty of thought into what or if I was going to continue to write about for the 2013 season. I decided I would continue to write about my tournament experiences but I wanted to also write about other unique outdoor experiences I encounter while out on the water this summer.
This season I have already been to Maryland and Virginia. I fished the Potomac River, the first FLW Northern Wal-Mart BFL event of 2013 where I finished 51st. I then drove to Virginia where I spent time preparing for the Opener of the FLW Wal-Mart Northern Everstart held at Smith Mountain Lake, where I finished 55th. The reports and events of those two tournaments will be posted as soon as my editor (wife) catches up to my blog entries:)
Smith Mountain Lake would only be my second encounter catching a Striped Bass, prior to this I had only caught one, which weighed about 10 pounds during last year’s Everstart Event on
Kerr Reservoir in North Carolina. When I arrived to practice for the Everstart Event the last week in April, there were plenty of environmental factors that would make my experience with Striped Bass a trip to remember.
Spring had arrived which meant warming water temperatures. Anglers know that this means fish become active and will often move into super shallow locations where anglers have a chance at catching trophies no matter what species you target. Another factor was that it was spawning time which could also result in great feeding activity. The last and most important factor was the full moon was coming. For many of us in the North, the moon is often not a consideration when we go out to catch a few fish on the weekends. In the South on lakes with heavy shad populations if you do not understand the shad spawn, you are missing out. I am far from an expert on this but the last few events I have spent on lakes or rivers that have had heavy shad populations I learned plenty. To keep it short, shad spawn around the full moon. During this phase the shad will migrate
to rocky points or coves where they lay their eggs on the rocks. The shad will come in by the thousands to lay eggs and this is where things get interesting.
During my practice period I would see many fishing boats running planer boards along the shoreline,trolling as tight to the bank as possible, these boats were trolling for Striped Bass which were feeding on shad that had spawned or were leaving the spawning area from the night before. As I cruised the shoreline with my trolling motor in search of Largemouth bass I started to notice giant largemouth sitting close to the shore. The interesting thing about this was these fish were facing the shoreline and nosed up looking at the bank. I learned from locals in the area that these fish were doing this waiting for shad to come off the rocks for an easy meal. I recall one shoreline in a short stretch that had 6 largemouth all lined up facing the same direction waiting for that easy meal. As I passed over these areas I could also see on my graph, large balls of baitfish in deep water and around that were large"arcs" or fish which were suspended in the water column.
After seeing this in several locations and not really having any fish respond to what I was throwing I decided to throw a giant one knocker Zara Spook. This bait is basically a six inch
torpedo shaped bait which has a couple of bearings in it. The bait will cast a country mile and when worked back creates a topwater wake action while making a clicking noise. I figured those "arcs" I saw over deeper water, 20-30 feet, had to be bass waiting to feed on a distressed shad and I was just the guy to feed them. I fired out that bait and as it hit the water with a loud
splash and I began working it back towards me and over that school of fish, I was amazed when about halfway back to the boat the water exploded! I never saw the fish but knew I hooked something big. This fish quickly made short work of my baitcaster as it emptied my spool of 20lb mono. I began to chase the fish with my trolling motor so not to lose it. I would catch up to the fish just in time for it to empty my spool again. After about two big runs the fish came unhooked and my lure came to the surface. I never did see what it was but I knew it had to have been a giant striped bass. At that point I was there for my first big Tournament of the year but these fish definitely made me lose focus. Who could actually drive over a big school of fish suspended in 20-30 feet of water knowing that one of them might blast the surface to attack a topwater plug? Not this guy! I was addicted instantly!
During preparation for tournaments often times you don’t catch that many fish, you are trying to
pattern, locate and just know that they are there. This may consist of pulling into an area catching a few to see the quality and leaving the area. This can result in plenty of practice days of fishing many hours with only catching a few fish. That is probably one of the hardest things about preparing for events, learning to Not catch fish, and hope that when you return during tournament time they will still be there and want the bait you have tied on. Having ample time to fish Smith Mountain Lake, I dedicated a little time each day to catch a few of these giant stripers or let’s just say attempt to catch them!
One of my biggest fish I was able land, I caught on a Zara Spook and it was an awesome sight to see. The other bait that the stripers would go after was a jerkbait. I was throwing a Pointer 100 with a custom hook that had a large white feather tied on the bottom of it. This bait would work for one reason, if those giants did not come and hit that Zara Spook it meant they were bored and you had to entice them to the surface. The jerkbait would do just that and it was a matter of finding out the right cadence to the bait, did they want a real fast twitch,twitch, twitch pause or just a twitch with a long pause. Whatever it turned out to be, I could bring that school of fish up to the surface and right to the edge of the boat. I saw a fish that had to have been in the 20 pound class come right to the boat and was about to eat my jerkbait, shocked at the size of it I pulled my
jerkbait away fearing I would never land that fish and it would just destroy my $20 jerkbait! Looking back, I wish I would have taken the chance!
On another occasion I looked down to see about ten fish in a group circling that jerkbait like sharks until the smaller hungry one snuck in and ate my bait, by smaller I mean a 5 pound
fish. On another afternoon, I was pointed into a small cove with my boat and made a cast to the very back of the cove which had about a foot of dirty stained water in it. As I began bringing the frog back a large wake came out of nowhere and was gaining on the frog, as the bait got close to the boat a mouth suddenly appeared and was rushing the bait at high speed. Before I knew it, a
huge explosion of water, enough to actually get my feet wet, was coming at me! I thought to myself ‘I have just hooked the biggest largemouth of my life’! I was very wrong, as I quickly saw the large white belly of a striped bass zip under my trolling motor and It needed to head for open water. I was pulled into that spot where the bank was tight enough on both sides the only way out
was to backup; I did not have time for that! I ran to the back of the boat giving the fish line as it sped towards deep water. As I stood at the back of the boat watching my line empty off my baitcaster, I was running out of line. I put pressure down on the spool in an attempt to turn the fish, which I was able to do for a moment only to have the frog return to the surface with no fish
I don’t want to say that I specifically target the Striped Bass while on Smith Mountain but I sure did take some time out of each day to try and catch a few. I estimate I hooked into about twelve fish during my time on the water and landed only a handful. These fish are ferocious, high energy fighters that will leave you shaking after you see them blow up a top water plug or eat a frog as you scurry it down the bank. If during a dreary North Country spring you feel the need for a break, Smith Mountain Lake, VA may just be the place for you. There is beautiful water there with breath taking backdrops of the Blue Ridge Mountains and some of the nicest people on earth!
If anyone would like information on guides for the Smith Mountain Lake area drop me an email I will get you in contact with the perfect guide.
I have worked on a few things this winter to improve my professional fishing endeavors and I am looking forward to an exciting tournament filled season. Anyone traveling the North Country has probably noticed my vehicle; I now have a fully wrapped Toyota Tundra truck to match my boat. A big thank you to TJ Toyota of Potsdam who signed on with me and helped create the image I was looking to represent. The other local sponsors which I need to give a big thanks to are
the Ole Smoke House located in Madrid, NY, Hosmers’ Marina located in Ogdensburg, NY, The Computer Guys located in both Canton and Potsdam and FISHCAP, of ST. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. The support these local businesses provide me is imperative at making my fishing season a success. The local businesses in our area are our friends and neighbors so make sure to shop locally whenever you can to help support all of our communities.