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Small Changes Make Big Difference

By Michael W. King

During the early to middle '90s, before I had any thoughts of becoming a striped bass guide or professional striped bass angler, I used to pursue these tackle busting brutes solely at night with artificial lures.

My all time favorite lure of choice was the Rebel 6" Spoonbill Minnow. My preferred colors where blue back with silver sides, black back and yellow back. Another of my favorite lures for night fishing for stripers was the Cotton Cordell Redfin.

I would normally start night fishing for stripers on my favorite lakes here in Virginia around the first week of March.

The fish at this time of year would start to move up onto shallow points, into creeks and along flats to feed aggressively at night on baitfish.

During March I would catch a lot of fish just before to right after dark with the bite moving later and later into the night as the season progressed to the spawn in May.

You could always tell if hungry stripers were feeding in an area at night by the tell tale popping noises they would make on the surface when engulfing a baitfish.

I would cast the Rebel to the sound along the bank in the dark and use an agonizingly slow retrieve to entice strikes from these large fish that were very wary in the shallow water. You would have to real the lure extremely slow, barely moving it. The explosive strikes would come without warning, sometimes right at the boat. This is very exciting action and anyone who likes to striper fish should try it.

During one fishing trip on Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake, I had left a friends house on the lake in my 20 ft. Winner bass boat around 12 A.M. The time of year was May and I proceeded down the lake to Cedar Keys cove where at this time the stripers would congregate to spawn in large numbers.

As I approached "The Keys", as the cove in Witcher Creek was called, I shut down the motor just before reaching the mouth of the cove and listened. I was in deep water and the banks here fell away sharply. As I listened into the night I could here the tell tale popping of some extremely large fish to my right. Apparently they had moved in on the spawning alwifes that were swirling right up next to the steep banks. The fish were enhaling them right against the banks as they were in there spawning frenzy

I moved in slowly with my electric trolling motor and positioned the nose of the boat toward the bank, enabling me to cast my Rebel parallel to the bank, up close, and slowly retrieve the lure back. The feeding was fast and furious and I was on pins and needles, expecting a massive blow up strike at any moment.

After 45 minutes of repeated casting and many color changes, I was fishless and befuddled. The alwifes continued to spawn, making swirling sounds against the bank, and the stripers continued to blow up on them. I tried the Rebels in assorted colors and the redfins as well, but no luck. As I was digging through my tackle box in desperation I retrieved a tangle of lures and noticed a sound coming from the tangle that resembled the sound the alwifes would make when spawning on the surface.

As I untangled the mass of hooks and lures I found within a redfin I had forgotten about. It was a black backed and silver sided jointed model. I tied it on and tested it beside the boat. As I pulled it across the surface slowly I noticed it made a sound like the spawning alwifes on the bank. I repositioned the boat and fired a cast down the bank.

About 4 cranks into the slow retrieve there was a monstrous blow up at the bait and I was into the first fish of many I would boat in the next hour. It was a wonderful night and I caught numerous fish over 20 pounds and one pushing thirty.

I stayed in the area until the action subsided and at this point I was tired, so I decided to lay down in the boat and rest my eyes for a while. I awoke to the sound of fish breaking and chasing bait on the surface. It was just at daylight and the stripers were breaking the surface all around my boat. I picked up my fishing rod and cast the redfin into the middle of the frenzy.

The stripers would blow up on the plug and knock it out of the water, but I could not get a hook in one. The fish went down and gave me a chance to change lures to a large popping plug I had. A few minutes later they surfaced again and I cast the popper in amongst them. On the second chug of the popper a 20 lb. fish engulfed the bait and I had another fight on my hands.

The fish went down before I boated and released this fish. It was over and they would not return. It had been a very good night and morning and I headed for the dock.

Whenever you are amongst fish and can not make them bite. Try different techniques and lures. Sometimes the small changes you make such as color or sound or even retrieve speed can be the difference between getting skunked and having a career trip.

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This article may be reprinted as long as all active links remain intact and active.

Michael King is a retired USCG liscensed striper guide and former professional striped bass angler. He currently resides in Virginia with his wife Leslie and children James and Lydia.

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