Shortly after I first met Ralph, he shared a pic of him and a friend from the summer time holding up a nice striper. I couldn’t believe it! I’d fished here in Charleston for years and only once or twice heard of one caught and the details were always a mystery. He had been catching them for many years and so this was nothing special for him. Ever since, I have been on a personal mission to catch them and learn more about their behavior.
What do I mean by “riverine” striper? Well, these are different than striper caught in the lakes in SC. These striper exist in our coastal rivers that start as fresh water and end in the salt at our coast. They are either stocked by SCDNR or self sustaining.
In years gone by, the Ashley river had a strong self sustaining population of striper, and probably due to development far upstream where the water is fresh, the population has died out completely. Any striper you catch in the Ashley has been stocked by SCDNR. In the past many years, there has been a program to try to bring the stock back, but for mysterious reasons it has failed. I’m paraphrasing a DNR biologist friend of mine, but they seem to last approx 2 years after being stocked, then they disappear. When they are there, its fun because you can easily catch 10 in a trip, but they are all pretty small, generally under 14″ or so. Last year, I heard of exactly 1 striper caught in the Ashley. They haven’t been stocked in 2 or 3 years…
Same is true I believe for the Wando river. The Wando is unique because it isn’t fed by a large source of fresh water so its much saltier. But, when the fish are stocked you can catch a bunch way up at the top of the river (above Paradise Landing). I once caught a tagged striper below the 41 bridge and DNR told me that was as far down as they had had a recapture.
The Cooper river, however, is special. As is the Combahee and Edisto (but, alas, I have yet to target them in those rivers so I can’t comment on experience). Striper are fairly prevalent in the brackish portion of the Cooper and based on my personal experience, the numbers seem to be improving over the last several years. I base this on my personal catches, and also the fact that both the Youth (27″ by Grant Allison, caught on my boat) and Adult SSWA club records (29″ caught recently by your’s truly) for striper have been broken in 2017.
Here are a few observations I have made over the years
- They are very hard to pattern, as they are kind of “marauders”, meaning they move around a lot – chasing bait fish schools around I believe. They don’t hold on particular structure on particular tides like redfish and trout do. For this reason, in the Fall, I never fish there without a rod with a topwater tied on and readily available.
- In the spring time, around March, they spawn. I have caught a male that was as fat as a football, and it wasn’t eggs or food he was full of!
- They seem to move down into the lower reaches of the river in the Summer. I’m not sure why, but it might be because of lower oxygen levels upriver due to the extremely hot water.
- Fall time is prime time. If you are in the right place at the right time, you might see an acre of fish push a bait fish school up and the water erupts with breaking fish. If you are prepared (see above) you can have an absolute blast catching them while it lasts. While it lasts, is the key phrase here
- Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the aggressive explosion of a striper topwater strike in October, inshore anyway.
Well, they are an amazing sport fish, and I’d like to make a case for conservation. It’s my dream that riverine striper are made illegal to keep, at least until their numbers are much, much higher and sustainable. The lower slot is 27″ and I’ve only seen or heard of 3 or 4 taken at 27″ or above. This suggests that all keepers are kept, and I wouldn’t be surprised. Just because there are legal catch and creel limits doesn’t mean we can ignore them and release all fish regardless of size. These fish are truly too important to keep.
For the past several years I have fin-clipped the striper I catch for analysis by SCDNR. They analyze the DNA to tell if the striper are stocked and if so, when and where. If you would like to get involved, go to dnr.sc.gov and get a kit.
Lastly, it’s time for an annual challenge that I call the “Margarita Slam”. It consists of Redfish, Trout, Flounder, Striper, Largemouth. It’s a brackish water super-slam that is a real challenge and quite rewarding to accomplish. To count, it must be completed on the same trip. Plus 100 points if you do it using the same artificial lure setup. I’ve accomplished the latter exactly once 🙂