Summer River Stripers

By: Patrick O’Rouke, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist

When striped bass go deep in Georgia reservoirs during the summer, it doesn’t mean that shallow water striper fishing is over.  Many of the rivers feeding Georgia’s reservoirs provide excellent striper fishing throughout the heat of the summer.  As an added bonus, stripers can put up a tougher fight in the current than they do in still water.  And unlike some of the big reservoirs, fishing for river stripers doesn’t require a large boat.  Small jon boats, canoes, or kayaks can be perfect for the rivers where stripers run, and wading is an option where there is walk-in access.

Striped bass that weigh only a few pounds can be a blast when caught in a flowing river.
Striped bass that weigh only a few pounds can be a blast when caught in a flowing river.

Striped bass are stocked in 16 reservoirs across the state by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.  In most of these waters, the fish still try to spawn even though they cannot produce viable offspring, and this sends the first wave of fish up the rivers in mid-to-late spring.  As the weather heats up in the summer, the lake surface begins to warm up too much (stripers prefer temperatures less than 77°F), and stripers will either move into the thermocline or run upstream into flowing water in search of cooler, oxygenated water.  They will often stay throughout the summer until surface temperatures in the lake downstream drop back down to acceptable levels.

It can be surprising where stripers will show up on their summer “vacations.”
It can be surprising where stripers will show up on their summer “vacations.”

To locate striped bass in your river look for deeper (>4 feet) water near structure.  This might be a rock wall, a downed tree, or a boulder field.  Pools above and below major shoals are often good places to find summer stripers and the deep, outer curve of a river bend is another.  As long as there are no dams or major waterfalls blocking their path, stripers can travel dozens of miles upstream in search of suitable habitat, so don’t limit your search to the first few river miles above a reservoir.  In fact, in drought years with low, warmer flows, you can often find them concentrated at the first dam or waterfall that stops their progress.  In cooler, wetter years, striped bass may be more spread out.  Keep in mind that stripers move constantly, so even if you find fish in a particular spot, they may not be there in a week as they are always in search of the next meal.

Deep pools below big shoals can be a great place to find stripers holding.
Deep pools below big shoals can be a great place to find stripers holding.

Striped bass can easily reach sizes greater than 40 pounds in Georgia, so make sure you bring tackle that is capable of bringing in a trophy.  For bait fishing, live or cut gizzard shad and rainbow trout are popular picks.  These can be suspended below large bobbers, planer boards, or even inflated balloons.  Drift your bait behind you into the area where you think the fish will be.  For artificials, use big crankbaits, swimbaits, bucktail jigs, or streamers that mimic shad, trout, or bluegills.  Cast and retrieve these through the suspected striper habitat.  If you don’t find anything after a little bit of effort, move on to the next spot.

There are some important regulations to follow when fishing for river stripers this summer! If you’re fishing in a designated trout stream, the use of live bait-fish is illegal.  The Flint River and its tributaries from the Georgia Power Dams at Albany to the U.S. Hwy 84 bridge; the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries from the Columbia Lock and Dam to the GA Hwy 91 bridge; and Spring Creek and its tributaries downstream to GA Hwy 253 are CLOSED to striped bass fishing from May 1 – October 31 each year.  Also be sure to consult the current Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations for size and daily limit restrictions, as they vary throughout the state.

Big fish usually want big baits, so leave the lightweight rods and lures at home.
Big fish usually want big baits, so leave the lightweight rods and lures at home.

To see which reservoirs have DNR stocked striped bass, check out this map.  For detailed information on rivers feeding stocked reservoirs and potential access points near you, please use the tools available through the online Georgia Outdoor Map.  Or call your nearest Fisheries Section Regional Office and ask about opportunities in your area.

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