Barnett Reservoir home to plenty of striped bass

The author's sister-in-law Susan Gulledge with two stripers.

Watching her fish was pure joy, and her unabated excitement and intensity made me wonder if I had married the wrong Gulledge girl.

My sister-in-law Susan Gulledge of Ocean Springs and I shared a fishing boat for the first time this weekend. I hope we do so many, many more times.

We struggled to find fish on a stingy, windy, rocking and rolling Barnett Reservoir. I was discouraged from the start, knowing how tough it was going to be. The conditions were brutal — nearly 100 degrees with winds that made it feel like a blast furnace — and my bass boat was not available. That meant fishing from the pontoon boat, and being limited in our options.

But I found inspiration in Susan’s determination and optimism, and I made a plan. I rigged up for striped bass. We could troll with Bandit 200s and, if we were lucky and found them schooling, I had spinning reels rigged for casting into feeding frenzies.

We started with the trolling, on a deep flat (9-11 feet deep) surrounded by deep water (16-30 feet) on all sides. I tossed out a couple of buoys to mark the high point of the 300-yard-long ridge to set our trolling line.

As I explained the drill, I noticed how intently Susan listened. If she missed a word or didn’t understand, she asked questions.

She was obviously knowledgeable about fishing, although her background is more in flycasting. She is an avid member of HOSSFLY, the Historic Ocean Springs Saltwater Fly Fishing Club, but is interested in branching out. She recently acquired some spinning gear for her coastal pursuits.

Making it more exciting for her was that she was back on Barnett Reservoir, where she hadn’t been in nearly 40 years, when she was introduced to fishing by her grandfather in the lake’s early years. She told me all about it, and I knew I was with a fisherman.

As soon as she mastered the art of thumbing a baitcasting reel to prevent backlashing as we put out our lures, we were fishing.

Within 10 minutes, Susan had her first striper, a keeper at 16 inches. Against her protest — she didn’t want to waste a minute — we took photos.

Then something weird happened. The next four fish, one keeper stripe, two throwbacks and a nice crappie, all came on my rod and all from the same area. We were using identical rods and reels, and both had 12-pound mono line. The only difference was in our lure color, mine a lime/black back and hers a chartreuse/silver back.

We switched, and things changed immediately. Susan started getting bites as quickly as we started trolling. On our next four passes down our marked path, she put fish in the boat and all but one qualified to make the ride home on ice.

“How big do these things get in Barnett?” she asked, and was amazed to hear that 10 and 11 pounders have been common in recent years. Even the average of 6 to 7 pounds had her wondering.

“As good as these little ones fight, I can’t imagine a big fish,” she said.

Problem was, I couldn’t find a big school, and the pile of little ones we were catching were constantly moving up and down the ridge and across the flat. We couldn’t stop and throw to work on the school. If we did, the wind would blow us 20 yards a minute.

Then it happened. Susan hung a fish and was hollering.

It was a big one.

Her rod was bent 90 degrees and the reel was yielding line quickly.

“Just let it run, don’t put any pressure on him, these trolling reels have plenty of line,” I said.

I took the boat out of gear and started working my lure back with an erratic retrieve and — WHAM! — I got hammered.

“A double, and these are big,” I said. Mine felt like about a 7-pounder.

We’ll never know how big either was because her fish went one way and mine the other, crossing behind the boat. Before we could figure out how to manage the rods around the boat’s canopy top, they crossed again. Disappointment was inevitable.

I felt my fish shake loose.

A few second’s later, Susan’s line also went slack, and never have I regretted hooking up so badly.

At that exact moment, my cell phone rang and the news was not good. We would have to head to the dock and go render assistance to my stranded wife. When we returned 90 minutes later, we couldn’t reconnect with the stripers.

I wanted to be disappointed, but that was impossible around Susan.

She was too excited. I could hear it in her voice as she told her sister about it in the car on the way back to the lake and later as she told friends about it on the phone.

And that made my whole weekend a success.

Bobby Cleveland
About Bobby Cleveland 1228 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.

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