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PICKWICK'S TAILRACE IS STRIPER HEAVEN
(ROCKFISH THRIVE IN TURBULENT WATERS)
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
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
On the first drift it was only a matter of seconds before the 6-½ 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
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
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
is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing
area and host of The Outdoor Channel's television series IN-PURSUIT.