Flat line trolling of artificial baits is a very effective, often overlooked method of striped bass fishing. It’s a great search tool on Barnett Reservoir where locating the line-sided brutes is more than half the battle.
Crappie guide Brad Chappell of Madison figured that out while trolling crankbaits for the much-more-popular crappie, who started offering the much-more-exciting stripers to his clients.
Most of those trips aren’t planned; he ends up taking his clients crappie fishing and then runs across a big school of stripers and hybrids on his graph and asks them if they want to see how far a crappie pole will bend.
“(In the summer), you can find stripers all the way from the spillway north to the S curves in the mid-lake area,” said Chappell. “The fish seem to prefer being relatively close to the river channel especially around the 15-feet humps that run close to the channel where there’s 40 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 feet of water down to about 20 feet.”
Though striped bass can be caught throughout the reservoir at various times of the year, Chappell said it’s much easier to concentrate fishing efforts in the lower part of the lake during the summer months when striped bass and the few remaining and no-longer-stocked hybrid stripers seek out deeper water.
The fish will relate to the thermocline that has set up pretty solidly by this time of year and will feed around structure or bottom contours that intersect with the thermocline.
“A good area to concentrate on deep water ledges and the river ledge itself is from Fannin Landing all the way to Roses Bluff,” said Chappell. “I can also always mark a school of stripers and hybrids mixed together on the graph in most of the old oxbows in the lake itself from Blue Lake to Goose Lake to Rice Lake.”
Chappell trolls for striped bass in very similar fashion to when he stumbled upon them years ago while trolling crankbaits for summer crappie.
“I’m pretty much just trolling for them,” said Chappell. “I mainly use Bandit 200 or 300 series crank baits that guys around here use to troll for crappie, and put out five or six rods at a time.”
Chappell said the fish are not hard to find in the lake by someone who is proficient with a graph. He also said once you locate a school, the fish are not that picky on what they’ll bite. He found that the biggest difference between trolling for crappie and trolling for stripers was boat speed. You really need to speed things up.
“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 two miles an hour — you really can’t go too fast for these fish. I’ll stay from two miles per hour all the way up to 2.5 mph. They really like the crankbait moving. If you’re on a school and bang the crankbait off a piece of wood, that one is going to get bit.”
Losing crankbaits and breaking poles becomes an occupational hazard when using crappie tackle to target striped bass. Chappell said he has since beefed up his tackle that includes using braided line. The braid helps him retrieve expensive crankbaits that find an old submerged tree limb as well as keep his trolling lines visually clear.
“I’ve always used braided line like Power Pro 15 pound test high viz yellow,” he said. “I like the high viz when striper fishing because I’m trolling with multiple poles and it keeps down on the tangles when you get hooked up because you’re not going to get just one hook up. You’re typically going to get three or four hook ups at one time when you’re trolling through a school.”
One of the keys to successful fishing with crankbaits is to vary the depth, action, and speed of the bait. Dropping the gear shift into neutral or hitting the stop button on the trolling motor for several seconds will allow the baits to pause and either rise up, sink or suspend in the water column (depending on design).
Lowering and raising the rod tip can produce the same erratic movement, making that an effective tactic when pulling lures through a school of fish.
Turning while trolling also provides variation that will often trigger strikes, as a striper that’s instinctively following the bait sees its falter as a sign of weakness or injury. During a sweeping turn of a productive area, make note of strikes that occur at one side or the other and make adjustments to your depth to match that level during subsequent straight through or parallel runs.