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PICKWICK'S TAILRACE IS STRIPER HEAVEN
(ROCKFISH THRIVE IN TURBULENT WATERS)
by Steve McCadams

  www.stevemccadams.com

 Dave Harbin pushed the throttle of his 200 horse Johnson outboard just enough to keep the deck boat steady again a raging current. Two light tackle spinning reels with miniature hair jigs tied at intervals above a light egg sinker were issued and we tossed the artificial buffet toward a wing wall.

 "Lots of shad here today and the fish have really been feasting on them," said Harbin in a loud voice so all on board could hear above the sound of swift flowing water and a running outboard engine. "We'll catch a few skip-jack, toss them in the live well and make a few drifts. Chances are we'll catch one or two on every pass this afternoon."

 It was Pickwick Dam tailrace where cool and clear waters raced below our boat, courtesy of the discharge of huge turbines. TVA was generation hydropower and the byproduct was water releases where rich dissolved oxygen attracted tons of baitfish and their predators, namely white bass, catfish and stripers.

 "The last few days have been fantastic," said Harbin, who was squeezing in some fishing trip in-between golf and his job working for The Commercial Appeal. "When these shad are like this you can bet the big fish are here too,"

 He was right. Hefty stripers were busting the baitfish up against the wing wall and hitting on the surface. Like wolves with blood on their noses, the stripers cornered the shad and had a feeding frenzy among the eddies.

 Every few minutes we paused to catch 8 to 10 skip-jack, which served as our bait on a three-ounce tear drop sinker to which a three-way swivel some two feet above sported a drop loop and hefty, curved hook by Tru-Turn.

 The skip-jack were 4 to 6 inches long and very fragile. Keeping them alive is important but it's a tough challenge on a hot day. We rapidly tossed them in the live well with aerators going in hopes of keeping them fresh and lively.

 On the first drift it was only a matter of seconds before the 6- foot rods bent double with success. It was a drop to the bottom and raise up slightly technique. Once you'd made contact with the bottom in the fast flowing current you had to quickly raise up or you encountered a snag on the rocky bottom, a feat that meant breaking off and lost time while under attack from the aggressive stripers.

 Manning the rods and reels like a saltwater excursion for sailfish were Randy Huffstettler and Tommy Akin of Greenfield. Both had hold of a big fish in swift water, a recipe for a tug of war Pickwick style. Stripers are known to give a good fight in any water but especially so when they have a partner in swift currents.

 Here is where you test the drag system on a reel as both anglers gained ground and lost some in the battle. Stripping line off the reel meant the fight was on and it's important to have it set just right. Otherwise, the fish makes a hard run and either breaks the 12-pound monofilament or the hook tears out of its mouth.

 Minutes later two fat and sassy rockfish in the 9-pound range were sharing quarters in the big ice chests. Two fish this size really fills up a net too.

 Moments later we were joined by newspaper and magazine publisher Carlton Viers  and Mid-South Hunting and Fishing News and Bill Dance Fishing Magazine editor Taylor Wilson. Both had made the trip from Brownsville to test the waters of the tailrace and have their line stretched by the stripers.

 Striper mania on the Tennessee River has been going on for several years and most anglers feel the fish have successfully completed natural spawning runs. Known to migrate long distances, the history of the species has it traveling from the salt waters off South Carolina into brackish water there and adapting over the years. Via the Santee Cooper tributaries is where the fish began its journey inland and became a sought after gamefish in fresh water.

 Anglers in the tailrace of Pickwick and further north around Kentucky Dam and Barkley Dam have seen increased activity of stripers over the years. While stocking was once a part of fisheries management, that was long ago and present day numbers are thought to be the result of spawning and migration upstream into the Tennessee River from the Ohio River drainage.

 A rod bender suddenly had Carlton and Taylor in a defensive posture as the boat danced on the boils of a sudden surge and discharge. Having been there many times, Dave maneuvered the boat with a calm hand and kept the nose toward the current so as to control the lines and avoid having them tangle in the prop.

 Fishing the tailrace is pretty much a two-man job. Boat position and control is imperative. Safety is always a factor but this isn't a place for rookies. Rapid discharges send a gush that will toss your boat here and there at the blink of an eye.

 Wearing a live jacket is the law here. Hefty fines await those who challenge the regulation and rightfully so. This is no place to gamble.

 Stripers often hit with an attitude but the initial strike is second to the strength and fight displayed once hooked. The long and slender profile often sports a bulging belly where the extra weight lends support to the muscles of the back and tail.

 Dark lines extending into the tail distinguish the striper from the smaller white bass and hybrids, both which display broken lines that face before entering the tail fin.

 Some anglers make the mistake of adopting the idea that stripers are not good eating. Dave squelched that rumor by filleting our catch and slicing the red streak out of the meat. He then cut the huge fillets into chunks where hot grease transformed them into golden brown delights courtesy of Bill Bellis Botel Restaurant.

 Make no mistake about it; striper fillets will tip your taste buds. Surround them with a little slaw, hush puppies, southern style potatoes and tarter sauce to really balance a plate. It's a feast fit for a king.

 Meanwhile, striper fishing is going strong at Pickwick and the next few weeks are prime time. While there's several times during the year when striper fishing is consistent, the summer months are worthy of pursuit.

 Most of the local anglers pay close attention to discharge schedules as it's the lifeblood of the fishery. Once water is release it stimulates baitfish activity and ultimately the big fish follow suit.

 Generally speaking, the late afternoon periods offer excellent  fishing. In hot weather the power demand is high so anglers are pretty sure of getting daily discharges.

 Tennessee fishing regulations require a 15-inch minimum length on stripers but that's not a problem here, as you'll frequently land lunkers in the 8 to 10 pound class. Occasionally you hook a tackle tester in the 20-pound plus range too.

 Daily creel limit is two-fish but don't let that deter you. Take along two or three anglers and you'll quickly have a box full with enough fillets to feed a scout troop.

 For additional fishing information and lodging contact Hardin County Convention and Visitors Bureau by calling 800-552-3866. You can access their Website at www.tourhardincnty.org
or at:
http://www.tourhardincnty.org
 

Steve McCadams
  is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area and host of The Outdoor Channel's television series  IN-PURSUIT. 

 

 

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