On hot summer nights put out a light for some cool fishing
The hissing Coleman lantern cast a yellow glow around the boat as the wriggling tuffy minnow disappeared into the dark depths, weighed down by a 1/16th-ounce split shot.
At about 30 feet down I snapped the reel bail closed and began to work the bait back up toward the surface with short jigs and jerks.
On the third or fourth twitch, something hammered the minnow and lunged deep. The tip of my lightweight rod plunged into the water and the drag screeched.
“Feels like a good one,” I said, glancing back at my partner, Bob Sherborne in the other end of the boat, but he was paying no attention; he was occupied with a similarly-bowed rod and shrieking reel.
It was a mid-summer night on Percy Priest Lake, the moon was a silver sliver high above, and down below the stripe were running.
Fishing for stripe – white bass by their technical name – is a blast anytime because of their prolific numbers and fierce fighting ability. Catching them at night under the lights, especially in the summer months, is a special treat.
“It’s a great way to escape the sweltering daytime heat and humidity,” says guide Jim Duckworth, a stripe-fishing expert and producer of an instructional video, “How to Catch White Bass.”
“Even during the Dog Days of August the nights are relatively cool and refreshing. Night fishing is a very relaxing – and very effective — way to catch stripes.”
After-dark fishing avoids not only the scorching daytime heat but also the armada of pleasure boaters and water skiers that churn the water to a noisy froth from sunup to sundown. On congested urban-area lakes such as Priest, located minutes from downtown Nashville, daytime fishing can be an exercise in futility and frustration during the peak summer months.
And, as Duckworth noted, night fishing for stripes is especially effective. Fish that were reclusive by day come out to feed and frolic after-hours, and they are drawn to a light.
The beam of light in dark water attracts aquatic insects and small minnows, which in turn attract larger minnows. Once there’s a school of minnows circulating underneath the lights, the stripes generally aren’t far behind.
Some theorize that the light itself is an attractor; that for whatever reason, stripes are drawn to the glow.
“Personally I think it’s the fact that the light attracts forage fish which then brings in the predators,” said Todd St. John, a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fisheries biologist. “But regardless of what brings the fish in, fishing under a light is very effective because the beam keeps the fish concentrated in a relatively small area. Once a school of fish moves in, it tends to remain around the lighted area for sometime.
Night-time stripe fishing is like any other sort of fishing – the way to get good at it is through experience. It starts with finding the fish, and underneath bridges and around piers are good places to start. St. John notes that such areas usually have a modicum of current, which stripes like, and also provide attractive structure in otherwise open water.
Other prospective spots are creek mouths and the edges of river channels. Bait-shop owners often can offer advice on good stripe-fishing locations.
Once a productive spot is found it will continue to produce stripes year after year, same time, same place. Sherborne and I have fished beneath a certain bridge on Percy Priest Lake for several years and it has never failed to yield summertime stripes.
A bright light is a must, and they come in a wide variety. In the early days we simply hung a gas lantern over the side of the boat. Eventually we graduated to a less cumbersome electric floating light that operates off the boat battery. There are also night-fishing lights that can be lowered down into the water to various depths.
Bottom line: whatever casts a glow on/in the water will attract stripes.
In addition to the floating light on the water, Sherborne and I use a gas lantern to provide on-board illumination for baiting hooks and extracting fish.
The lantern light also helps with identifying fish. Lakes such as Priest have an abundant population of white bass (stripes) striped bass (rockfish) and Cherokee bass (striped bass/white bass hybrids). Because of different size- and creel-limits, anglers have to be able to distinguish between the species. The TWRA’s Tennessee Fishing Guide contains an excellent identification guide – including a chart of distinguishing tooth patches – but checking the tooth patch on a flopping fish on a dark night is not easy. A good in-boat light is vital.
When a school of stripes moves in, they’re voracious feeders. They’ll usually (but not always) hit anything that imitates the flash or wiggle of a darting minnow. Jigs, spoons and spinners are effective.
But nothing resembles a minnow more than a minnow, which makes it the ultimate bait. I’ve caught stripes on live minnows when nothing else worked.
Stripes don’t follow an exact time schedule. Some nights we’ve started fishing at sundown and caught fish as soon as we dropped a bait down. On other nights we’ve sat for hours before getting the first hit – one night it was after midnight when a school finally moved in, and for the next hour we caught one big stripe after another.
When they eventually arrive, the wait is worth it.
The record Tennessee stripe weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces, but most run in the one- to two-pound range. Anything over two pounds is a real bruiser; hook one and you’re in for a wrist-numbing battle, especially on light tackle.
Catching them at night under the lights is a dark secret worth sharing.
STRIPES ON A PLATTER
How many times have we heard it: stripes (white bass) are fun to catch but not particularly good to eat.
Not true, insists guide Jim Duckworth, who says it’s all a matter of preparation.
Keep the fish on ice until time to clean them. After a stripe is filleted, take a moment to trim away the thin reddish-brown membrane on the side. That’s what accounts for the strong “fishy” flavor.
Next, says Duckworth, soak the fillets in a solution of salt water for several hours, then rinse thoroughly. They’re then ready for any of a variety of favorite fish recipes. Like most fish, stripes taste best when cooked fresh.
Stripes are an ideal “conscience fish” – they are abundant and prolific and it doesn’t hurt the population to take home a limit (15) for the table.
Catching stripes is a hoot; eating them is not bad, either.