If you were to go out looking for someone to sit down and talk with about striper fishing on Barnett Reservoir, you’d have a hard time. Most of those who catch them, typically by accident, hate them or at the least don’t care for them. Those who do fish for them regularly run when they see you coming.
Even Mississippi Sportsman’s own curmudgeon-at-large, Bobby Cleveland, will attest to this fact.
“I’m one of the few who chases stripes a lot,” Cleveland said. “There are others; but they are a closeted bunch, mostly.”
Brad Chappell of Madison, owner of Brad Chappell’s Guide Service, is one of the few guides on The Rez that will take you out to specifically fish for striped bass.
Most of the time 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.
“This time of year, 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.”
Striped bass and the one-time prevalent hybrid stripers — the last hybrid stocking was in 2012, and are nearing the end of their life spans — behave similarly in Barnett. Chappell said he doesn’t do anything different to target one over the other and his catch rates are pretty balanced. He also indicated the size fish were pretty consistent regardless of whether the fish was pure strain or hybrid.
“I always just catch a mix. One pole might have a hybrid, one pole might just have a regular striper on it. The average size fish that you’ll catch is probably 4 to 7 pounds,” Chappell said. “We have a mixture of both species in the lake here and I would guess most fisherman have a hard time telling them apart.”
Stocking fish in a reservoir the size of Barnett may sound easy, but does not exist without its challenges. Turcotte Fish Hatchery supervisor Curt Summerlin claims it’s much more complicated than just dumping fish in the lake.
“One of the main changes that occurred during my time is to discontinue stocking the Atlantic strain striped bass,” he said. “We’ve gone back to the Gulf strain striped bass, fish that are originally native to this area. The Gulf striped bass are native to the rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico, stretching from Florida to extreme East Texas. They are just a genetically different fish from the Atlantic strain, those striped bass from the Eastern Seaboard that migrate to the Atlantic.”
In order to sustain the fishery, Summerlin and the biologists at Turcotte use electro fishing to collect them when striped bass make their annual spawning runs up the Pearl River, when the fish are literally knocking at the door of the hatchery.
“We collect our brood fish, via electric fishing or electro shocking when they migrate during the spring,” he said. “Our main objective is to keep that population strong, striped bass-wise, since that’s our source of brood fish for producing both stripers and hybrids. We collect them right here, from down below Barnett’s dam.”