The Tennessee River, which forms Pickwick Lake, runs through Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.

At this intersection, it becomes one of the most-phenomenal fishing resources, not only in Mississippi, but in the country.

Only 45 miles from Corinth, and 175 miles from Jackson, Pickwick fishermen catch giant smallmouth and largemouth bass, plenty of big crappie and monster-sized catfish. But Pickwick also has another unique fishery - saltwater stripers and hybrids.

If you fish below Pickwick Dam, you're in Tennessee, but most Mississippi anglers bite the bullet, buy Tennessee fishing licenses and step across the line to enjoy this outstanding striper fishery.

"Saltwater striped bass breed, spawn and reproduce in the tailrace at Pickwick Dam," said Dave Harbin of Counce, Tenn., a tailrace striper guide. "I fish with as many Mississippians and fishermen from Alabama as I do folks from Tennessee and all over the nation."

You only can keep two stripers per day, but Harbin said that, "On a good day, you can catch and release stripers all day long in the Pickwick Dam Tailrace."

Where they came from

"About 20 or 30 years ago, saltwater stripers were stocked in the tailrace at Pickwick, and we've documented that these fish are reproducing," Harbin said. "We're catching stripers from 10 to 20 inches long. There haven't been any stockings since the initial stocking ... many years ago."

According to Harbin, the striper's eggs have to stay suspended in the water column for about 72 hours to reproduce. Because of the flow released at Pickwick Dam when the stripers spawn, there's enough current to keep them off the bottom until the young stripers hatch.

"Each year during the spring, we actually can see the stripers spawn in the boils at Pickwick," Harbin said. "One female will get on top of the water, and four males will crowd around her. They'll look like carp thrashing in the water. When we first saw this phenomena, we thought the stripers were just feeding on top. But we've learned that the females lay their eggs on top of the water, the males fertilize the eggs, and then the fertilized eggs float downstream.

"Because we have so much flow coming out of the dam, the stripers' eggs can stay suspended long enough to allow the little stripers to hatch. We not only have stripers here, but we also have some hybrids. Even though hybrids aren't supposed to reproduce in fresh water, any place where you can locate water flowing long enough to keep the eggs suspended, the hybrids can and will reproduce."

When biologists first introduced saltwater stripers into many freshwater lakes, they didn't reproduce, but they can move around. During high-water events, especially during the spring, their eggs often will wash downstream, go over spillways and create a reproducing population in a tailrace area.

Also, when biologists stock stripers below a dam like Pickwick that has a long, straight, narrow stretch of unobstructed river so the eggs can stay suspended, a spawning population may result - exactly what has happened in Pickwick's tailrace. Striper fishing usually starts about March and continues strong until about November at Pickwick.

Fishing technique

"When we first start fishing for stripers in March, we generally have to fish for them with artificial lures or small bream, because the shad haven't had a hatch by that time, and we can't catch any shad minnows," said Harbin, whose favorite springtime bait is a Sassy Shad and the a deep-diving crankbait with a 1-1/4-ounce leadhead in the boils.

"When we're trolling crankbaits, we often fish the Strike King Series 5 on 20-pound test line," Harbin said. "We start about 300 yards downstream from the dam and start trolling the baits all the way up to the boil, using a medium to a heavy baitcasting rod with 12- to 14-pound test line. You need crankbaits that will dive to about 15 feet."

In April and May, Harbin uses a cast net to catch shad minnows, commonly known as yellowtails. Although the stripers will take any type of shad minnow, they prefer the yellowtails.

"During April, May and June, you can catch the stripers on a wide variety of baits, but the yellowtail shad minnow is the best," he said.

Once July rolls around, the hickory shad, commonly known as skipjacks, have finished their spawn. You can use a small bait-catcher type of rig to catch the young hickory shad, generally 5 to 8 inches long.

"We fish the skipjack minnow until November," Harbin said. All year-long, fishermen catch stripers by casting and retrieving the Sassy Shad and trolling the deep-diving crankbaits. However, Harbin believes that when you can get live bait, the live bait will produce better than the artificial lures do.

Rigging up

Harbin prefers to fish live bait, when he can catch it. "I've learned that live bait not only produces more stripers, but also bigger stripers," he said. "We use two techniques of live-bait fishing to catch these fish."

When Harbin's bottom-bumping the rig, he's fishing with a medium to a heavy spinning rod with either 17- or 20-pound test main line. At the end of the main line, he ties on a three-way swivel. On the bottom eye of the three-way swivel, he'll attach 12 to 14 inches of 20-pound leader and a 3-ounce weight. On the middle eye, he'll tie 30 to 36 inches of 20-pound test line.

"The bait determines the size hook we tie onto the end of the line," Harbin said. "We'll use a No. 1 to a No. 3 size hook."

Harbin hooks his live bait from inside their mouths out of their nostrils. "If you hook the bait this way, they not only live better, but they stay more active," he said.

Harbin motors up to the edge of the boils. "I'll put my boat in neutral, and as the current pushes the boat downstream, I'll begin to release my line to let the lead take the bait toward the bottom," he said. "Be sure not to release the line until the boat starts drifting backward, or else your line will wash under your boat and will probably get caught in the props of your motor."

Harbin prefers fishing with spinning tackle for two reasons. The line comes off the spinning reel faster and gets the bait to the bottom more quickly than a baitcasting reel will. Also, because he's catching these big stripers in open water, anglers will have much more fun on light tackle with spinning reels than with heavier tackle and baitcasting rods.

"Once you feel the weight touch the bottom, engage the reel and keep the line tight," Harbin said. "Then use your rod tip to raise the weight up off the bottom. You want to keep your bait about one foot off the bottom to get the most strikes."

As the boat drifts downstream, Harbin suggests that anglers lower their rod tips and continue to tag the bottom from time to time, just to make they've got sure their baits in the strike zone of the stripers.

"If you'll be catching stripers using this technique, you'll have to continually touch the bottom, keep your line right beside the boat and be certain your baits in the right place to get a bite."

The heavier the current being generated through the dam, the heavier weight Harbin uses.

"There are usually six generators producing current at the dam," Harbin said. "On days when TVA's only running three generators, instead of using a bottom-bumping tactic, we'll fish the split-shot tactic."

Fishing split-shot rig

When only three generators run, Harbin ties a No. 1 hook on the end of 10-pound test line. About 18 to 20 inches up the line, he'll crimp a large split shot to the line.

"We're using smaller baits when we're split-shotting," Harbin said. "This is the reason we use the No. 1 hook."

Once his anglers have their hooks baited, Harbin pulls up to the boils, allows the boat to start drifting back and then instructs his anglers to cast toward the boils.

"As the boat begins to drift back, you want to feed out line so that the bait will begin to slowly sink in the current," said Harbin, who tells his anglers to let their baits sink for about a 10 count, which will put them about 15 to 20 feet deep. Then they engage their reels, and as they feel their leads touch the bottom, they raise their rod tips to about the 11:00 position.

"You just want the lead to barely kick the bottom as we drift downstream about 300 yards from the boils," Harbin said.

"Split shotting pays off for stripers more than bottom bumping does when the tailrace has less current. You'll notice that you'll usually hook up with the stripers further downstream than you will on the days with more current running."

Another technique for split shotting that's effective requires that at least four or five generators run at the same time. Harbin said, "When there are four or five generators running, I'll motor the boat to the edge of the boil and then use the same split-shot tactics. I ask my fishermen to cast to the backsides of the boils. As the live bait hits the water, I tell my anglers to start reeling. I want them to swim that live bait across the surface of the water like they're fishing a top-water lure. I want them to skip the bait right across the top of the water, and as the bait skips on the surface, the stripers will blow up and inhale the bait. Now, this is when striper fishing really gets to be fun."

If you have a 10-pound striper on one side of a boil, and you're on the other side of the boil, the boat driver and the fishermen have to work together to get the striper to come out to the front side of the mushrooming water.

"If you keep your line tight and let the striper run, the fish will eventually come out from behind the boil," he said. "But you'll have an awful lot of fun playing with the fish until it breaks through that mushrooming water, comes to the front of the boil and starts to swim downstream so you can land it."

Harbin also casts his split-shot rig behind the boils, and instead of skipping the bait on the surface, he lets the bait sink behind the boil. As the water erupts and creates the boil on the surface, a downcurrent will force your minnow to the bottom where the big stripers wait. When you get a big fish to bite using this tactic, you have an exciting fight to get the striper to come from behind the boil, out to the front side of erupting water and to head downstream so that you can land it.

"One of the big mistakes many striper fishermen make is trying to overpower the fish and force the stripers to come from behind the boil before they're ready to make that move," Harbin said. "If you'll be patient and not get too excited as the striper strips off line, it will eventually turn and head downstream. If you horse the fish and put too much pressure on it, you'll often break your line or tear a hole in the fish's mouth, enabling it to get free."

A good day's work

On most days, the stripers you catch at Pickwick Lake will weigh 6 to 10 pounds each. Occasionally, you'll catch bigger stripers, but primarily, your fish will average from 6 to 10 pounds each. According to Harbin, "In the spring of the year, before the stripers spawn, there's an occasional 30-pound striper caught in the tailrace. Although the Tennessee state record is 60 pounds, I've never seen a striper larger than 33 pounds taken from the Pickwick tailrace."

Harbin believes that anglers don't catch more big stripers in the Pickwick tailrace because no deep, cold-water sanctuaries for the fish to hole up in during the summer months exist there, and heat stress during the summer has a negative effect on big stripers.

"The big stripers' metabolism doesn't allow them to survive the Pickwick tailrace," Harbin said. "But in some of the deep, cold-water lakes where the stripers can get down to that cold water, they can survive. This is the reason deep lakes usually produce more big stripers than our tailrace here at Pickwick."

Regulations allow to keep two stripers, per day15 inches or longer, but there's no limit on the number you can catch and release. Harbin has fished for Pickwick tailrace stripers since 1985, and he's seen the interest in striper fishing continue to grow over the years.

Although numbers of anglers from Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi fish for tailrace stripers during the spring, the summer and the fall, you'll never find the tailrace congested. But you can become frustrated fishing for stripers. Unless you know how to fish for them and how to handle your boat in that swift water, you'll spend more time hung up in the bottom and breaking off hooks and leaders than catching stripers.

"The best and easiest way to learn how to fish for these fish is to at least hire a guide the first time you go to Pickwick," Harbin said. "A guide can teach you how to fish in this tailrace and how to maneuver your boat. Then you can get your bait down to where you need it to be and not stay hung-up all day."

Most guides charge $325 to take two people striper fishing for 8 hours. However, consider striper fishing for a half-day and either catch catfish or smallmouth the other half of the day to get a better buy for your money.

"Normally, two people and a guide will be able to keep six stripers that will usually weigh a total of about 50 pounds," Harbin said. "Most fishermen will catch and release 15 to 20 stripers in a half-day of fishing on a slow day. On a good day, if you fish all day, you easily can catch and release 100 stripers."

To learn more about fishing for stripers at Pickwick contact Harbin at www.pickwickoutdoors.com, or you can call him at 800-783-0112 or 731-689-8000.