Stripe run means fast action

Larry Woody • Mar 1, 2017 at 8:30 AM

Tennessee's annual stripe run means fishing fun.

Stripe -- technically white bass -- spawn in late winter and early spring, congregating below dams, in creek mouths and slow-moving eddies along the banks of rivers.

The Cumberland River has some of the best stripe fishing in the state. An example of the numbers of stripe in the river: three years ago four fishermen caught (and kept) 420 stripe in one day below Cheatham Dam.

That was considerably over the 15 fish-per-person limit. They were nabbed by the game warden they were slapped with a hefty fine.

It was one of the most egregious fish-poaching incidents in recent history and the violators got what they deserved. But it is an example of how fast the action can be when the stripe are running. (After a fisherman has put his limit on ice he can keep fishing; he just has to release any additional stripe that he catches.)

At the start of the late-winter run, most of the stripe caught are smaller males, averaging around a pound. As the run progresses, bigger females move in, weighing twice as much. (The state record stripe weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces.)

No fish fights harder than a stripe on light tackle. Last spring I fished a stretch of the Cumberland near Carthage with Lebanon's Jim Duckworth and his grandson Logan Sandlin. We found a school of big stripe in a calm eddy in 3-5 feet of water, and caught them until our wrists ached.

One of my favorite stripe spots is below Cheatham Dam from the fast tailwaters immediately below the dam to a couple of miles down-river. The further down you go, the slower the current becomes, and the easier the fishing.

Fishing buddy Bob Sherborne and I like to find a creek mouth off the main channel, pull in and anchor, and cast out into the current. We have sat in one spot and caught stripe by the dozens, releasing them after filling the cooler with two limits. The challenge, during the peak period, is to find an unoccupied creek mouth.

Bank fishing is also productive, especially below dams. On down-river there are usually some accessible spots, such as boat ramps.

In lakes like Percy Priest, stripe often school in coves where they chase baitfish. They can be located by looking for minnows skipping on the surface amid the splats and splashes of feeding stripe. Sometimes flocks of diving birds also serve as a signal.

What's a good stripe lure? Anything that flashes or flutters, wobbles or wiggles. When stripe are running they'll hit anything that moves. My favorite lure is a Road Runner spinner decorated with a plastic fail. The flashing blade and fluttering tail are irresistible.

I prefer a lure with a single hook. When a stripe hits, it hits hard, and you don't need sets of treble hooks to hook it. Treble hooks are a pain -- literally -- to remove from the tough jaw of a thrashing, flopping bristling with sharp-pointed dorsal and pectoral fins.

Contrary to popular opinion, stripe are delicious to eat. The key is to slice away the reddish-brown membrane from each fillet, and soak overnight in salt water. (Duckworth uses buttermilk.) That removes the oily, strong "fishy taste."

Another great thing about stripe: you don't feel guilty about keeping a limit. There's plenty more where those came from.

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