In the middle of last summer, Zachary Young and his pal Brad Chappell found themselves situated between steps two and three while fishing the lower portion of Ross Barnett Reservoir.
Young, who hails from Brandon, was intently gazing at the screen on his Humminbird sonar unit, toggling the views from side image to down view, and then laying all three of the views out before he made his assessment.
"It's a big school of shad right on the edge of the channel," Young said, "and there's fish right under them; looks like they're ready to eat."
With that, the two anglers began rolling out their lines, preparing a trolling run of crankbaits and bucktail jigs to entice the fish below.
The first rod bowed over with the weight of a hefty fish before they could even get all their lines out. On the other end of the line, the unseen fish pulled drag, never for a moment giving the rod any semblance of peace.
Young grabbed the rod from the holder and fought the fish to the surface. This was no slab crappie, no mid-summer largemouth, not even a southern Mississippi catfish.
The quarry holding the 1 1/2-ounce bucktail jig clenched tightly between its lips was a fish not of this world - a cross between a sea-run striped bass and its first cousin, the white bass.
Young expertly guided it to the side of the boat and hoisted it over the side of the boat.
Displaying classic silver markings contrasted by thick horizontal black lines, only its overly thick body and blurred striping at the gill plate gave away its test-tubed ancestry.
Call them hybrids, call them stripes or even stripers, Young stowed the fish and prepared for more battle.
The Pearl River has been home to sea-run striped bass since a time pre-dating modern fisheries management. During the post World War II era - when flowing rivers were impounded in the name of power generation, flood control and water resources - much of the natural range of striped bass across the country was curtailed in the name of progress.
It was also about this time that biologists discovered these fish could survive completely in fresh water, although they had a difficult time reproducing in the shortened runs. This discovery led to the revelation that striped bass could be reproduced in hatcheries and survive quite well as a put, grow and take fishery.
Since 1978, striped bass have been reared at Turcotte Fish Hatchery, located on the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area adjacent to Ross Barnett Reservoir, and is the only producer of the species in the state.
Curt Summerlin is the hatchery supervisor and has seen countless broods of striped bass come and go through the hatchery.
Both pure-strain striped bass and hybrid striped bass are stocked in Ross Barnett.
"Barnett is 33,000 acres; our target stocking rate is about 150,000 (fish) per year, so that equates to say about five fish per acre," Summerlin said. "Those numbers are not set in stone. Some years we'll have more emphasis on hybrids, and some years more emphasis on stripers.
"Of course, when you're dealing with animals they're not always cooperative, so you've got to take what you can get."
Much emphasis is placed on preserving the genetic strain of striped bass that are home to the area. Of the two species, however, the hybrid striped bass tend to be the more adaptable to reservoir life.
"We crank up hybrid production usually the first week in March, and we'll run those until we get enough fry to stock our ponds," Summerlin said. "Once we complete hybrid production, then, if we have time we'll start collecting striped bass females and try to spawn some stripers."
Though striped bass can be caught throughout the reservoir at various times of the year, Zachary Young claims it's much easier to concentrate fishing efforts in the lower part of the lake during the summer months when striped bass and hybrids seek out cooler water.
"This time of year, you can find them all the way from the spillway north to the S curves in the mid-lake area," Young said. "The fish seem to prefer being relatively close to the river channel, especially around the 15-foot humps that run close to the river channel where there's 30 feet of water close by.
"Sometimes you'll see them run in a big school right on the bottom or on the edge of the ledge, and they'll be holding in 13 foot of water down to about 20 feet."
Though many anglers chance upon Barnett's striped bass in pursuit of other species, Young said his was a conscious decision to find them.
"I had witnessed other people catching them, and I had read about them," he said. "I guess I just wanted to chase a fish that really pulls hard and is just different from what you expect to see in Barnett."
While he has narrowed the lake down to a specific area for his search, Young took a systematic approach to locating specific schools of fish.
"I started studying lake maps and running some of these ledges on the river channels, looking for different humps and things like that until I finally found what was described in the articles," he said. "They've got a couple of hideouts; it took me awhile to find them, but I relied a lot on Hummingbird side-imaging."
The new technology allowed Young and some of his fishing buddies, who also spend a lot of time crappie fishing Barnett, to make the jump to striper fishing.
"I'm pretty much just trolling for them," Young said. "We mainly use the standard 200 or 300 series crankbaits that guys around here use to troll for crappie, pulling five to six rods at a time."
Once he was on the fish, Young began doing some experimenting with his techniques and baits, gaining a lot of insight from a striped bass fishing guide he befriended from out of state.
"We also started pulling some bucktail jigs that a striper guide out of North Carolina makes," he said. "I've talked to him a good bit about how they fish up there, and it works pretty good here, as well."
Since he was rigged with proper crankbait trolling accessories - meaning rod holders and electric trolling motor - Young used that as a basis for his striper fishing, and then speeded things up
"I've seen some boats use their big motor, but I troll using a Minn Kota electric trolling motor with the iPilot speed and steering controls on it," he said. "I'll go at least 2 mph - you really can't go too fast for these fish. I'll stay from 2 mph all the way up to 2.4 mph."
Trolling isn't the only tool in Young's arsenal, although he does stick strictly to artificial baits for his striped bass fishing.
He has found that, on occasion, big fish will push their way to the surface, typically early and late in the day and can be caught by casting to them.
"We've caught them with spoons and Little Georges and other baits like that when they come up schooling," Young said. "I've also seen people catch them using plastic swimbaits, but the fish have to be up in the water.
"It's just too hard to get those swimbaits to the depth you want them to be when you're trolling because you've got to add so much weight to them."
How To Get There
There are a number of boat launch facilities and day-use amenities around the lake, including the Pelahatchie Shore Park at the south end of the dam just before crossing the Northshore Parkway Bridge. This provides easy access to the main lake area where striped bass often congregate during the summer months.
Once striped bass are located, it's easier to list what they won't hit than what they will. Any trolled, cast or jigged bait - including live bait - closely approximating the size and shape of the forage they feed upon is likely to elicit strikes.
Zachary Young prefers to troll medium diving crankbaits and bucktail jigs at speeds ranging from 2 to 2.5 mph. Once a school is pinpointed, anglers can also find success by casting swimbaits, spoons or bucktail jigs into schooling fish.
Turcotte Fish Hatchery, 506 Hwy 43 South, Canton, MS 39046 (601) 859-9782
Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, 115 Madison Landing Cir., Ridgeland, MS 601-856-6574. http://www.therez.ms/Maps
Navionics Electronic Charts, 6 Thatcher Lane, Wareham, MA 02571
Delorme Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105 www.delorme.com
Fishing Hot Spots, 800-ALLMAPS, www.fishinghotspots.com