A few years ago, I was casting a bank in October and as far as I know I was the only boat in the creek. The solitude was broken by a sudden strike about 50 yards away and by the time I swiveled my head to investigate all I could see was a large disturbance and a couple bait fish landing back in the water. I didn’t have a topwater plug at the ready, but I had one in my tackle box and of course I tied it on. Easing over with the trolling motor I made a cast, but the huge strike I was expecting didn’t happen. However, another blowup erupted (this time within casting range) and I quickly landed my plug nearby and the take was almost instant. After a few drag screaming runs, a 24” striper came to the net. By experiment, I learned that if you could land the plug within 20 feet within 10 seconds of a strike it was almost a guaranteed fish. That day, I landed 9 topwater striper and unfortunately no one to share the experience with. You know I love speckled trout, but you can’t beat a striper topwater strike.
Since then, I’ve never been able to match those numbers, but I always have a rod rigged with a topwater plug within arm’s reach if I’m in that general area in the Fall. I’ve learned over the years that striper are hard to pattern. They are marauders, chasing the last remains of bait out of the estuaries and hunting as a wolf-pack, balling them up and blasting them. You may get frustrated trying to find them, but if and when they show themselves you won’t have time to tie on a plug until they are gone, and you won’t make that mistake again – ask me how I know!
Truth be told, I’ve never fished for them in our lakes, so I am relating what I’ve learned as a saltwater angler who has become somewhat infatuated with these striped fish. I’ve tried to learn what I can about their behavior in the coastal rivers. To try to learn more, I received permission to start tagging striper caught in the coastal rivers. I’ve yet to have one of my tags recaptured but a friend of mine has. It was a 27” fish tagged in Goose Creek and recaptured at the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree rivers – over 90 miles away. Its well known that striper travel way upriver to spawn, but of course there are always exceptions in nature. For example, I’ve caught a male in brackish water in March that was shaped like a football, absolutely full of sperm, which seems to be out of character.
To find out more about what fishing for riverine striper is like above lakes Moultrie and Marion, my business partner Ralph and I chartered Capt. Justin McGrady of The SC River Guide (thescriverguide.com). Justin guides in the vicinity of downtown Columbia in the Broad, Saluda and Congaree River systems. These rivers have vastly different characteristics and are very rocky with high flow and rapidly changing water heights. Accessibility to the fish is difficult and you need to have the proper equipment to be successful. Justin runs an aluminum, shallow-draft boat with a jet-drive motor that allows him to navigate the rivers. He says one of the best parts of guiding new clients is watching their faces as he approaches the rapids and puts the hammer down. From experience, I can tell you it’s a wild ride. Justin literally knows every rock in the river and has navigable pathways that he keeps tight to his vest.
As for the fishing, it’s incredible. On our recent trip with Justin, we caught approximately 30 striper in a few hours, averaging around 25 inches, all on artificial lures. We caught them on Eye Strike TexasEye jigs with Z-Man Scented JerkshadZ, topwater plugs, suspending lures, and even on the fly. The abundance and quality of the fish in these rivers is amazing and not to be taken for granted. Justin is an outspoken advocate for the fishery and his charter business is strictly catch and release only. He believes that many of the fish in his area are resident.
Ralph tells stories of the coastal brackish water riverine striper abundance in the 1970’s that are incredible in the context of today’s fishery. It would be amazing if the striper can rebound in the coastal rivers as they are such an incredible gamefish. If we had a striper fishery below the lakes anywhere close to what exists above the lakes it would open up a whole new aspect of our inshore fishery in Charleston.
It is my sincere hope that the present abundance of striper above and below the lakes is sustained and hopefully improved in the future. I can’t tell you what the regulations are, because, to me, they are irrelevant. When I catch a striper, it’s automatically getting released. In my humble opinion, they are way more valuable to catch than on the dinner plate, I don’t care how good they taste. As they say, a fish (striper) is too valuable to be caught only once!
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing