Weiss Winter Stripers Hit Anything Moving

No need for live bait—when the Lake Weiss striped bass are feeding, they'll hit anything moving.

Joe DiPietro | January 11, 2011

Getting out on the lake at 3 a.m. to catch bait for the morning striped-bass bite can be a daunting proposition when it’s warm out. In January, when frigid temperatures can freeze a cast net solid to the deck of the boat, netting bait is downright unpleasant.

The good news for striper anglers on Lake Weiss is you can leave the live bait and all of the cold, wet hassle that goes along with it at home or where ever you normally store it.

“You don’t need it,” said Lake Weiss guide Richard Green, of Cedar Bluff, Ala. “From the second week in December all the way until the end of June, you can troll different lures for stripers on this lake and do just as well as you can dragging bait. You can get away with just fishing with a 1/4-oz. Sassy Shad or crankbaits out behind your boat. This time of year, you don’t need live bait.”

The main forage for stripers on Weiss is shad, and this time of year the stripers will be targeting giant balls of 3-inch threadfins. So anything Richard trolls with will be a shad imitation. He likes to pull different crankbaits, 3-inch Sassy Shad swimbaits on 1/4-oz. jig heads and other various shad imitations.

“Try to troll between 1.7 and 1.8 miles per hour,” Richard said. “You just got to move fast enough to make that tail wiggle… If you see fish on the surface, you can run right through them and have all six rods go off. It’s a  nightmare, but a fun one, though. As far as numbers go, this is probably the premier striper lake in the South.”

Often stripers will push those balls of bait up to the surface, and explosive schooling activity ensues.

“If they come up and start hitting on top, you stop and cast at them with that Sassy Shad as long as they stay up,” said Richard. “And then, when they go back down, throw that Sassy Shad out over them as far as you can, and let it sink all the way to the bottom. Then you just work it like a rubber worm, bouncing it off the bottom.”

Richard’s theory is that once they finish busting bait on top, the stripers stay in the same area, but they follow the wounded and dying shad down to the bottom where they pick them up. He said he catches a lot of fish following up after the surface schooling dies down.

For gear, Richard uses medium-heavy spinning and baitcasting tackle and 12-lb. line.

“I’m out here in the middle of the lake, and there’s nothing for them to get hung on except the boat,” said Richard, explaining his light line choice. “It makes it a lot more fun.”

Just because you can use light line doesn’t mean Lake Weiss stripers are for sissies, Richard said.

“They’re really aggressive when they’re feeding,” he said. “They fight as hard as anything I’ve ever caught. A 3-lb. striper fights about like a 5-lb. bass.”

The average fish in Lake Weiss runs from 6 to 8 pounds, and Richard said he boats several fish every year that break the 20-lb. mark. The biggest fish Richard said he has ever caught on Lake Weiss went 29 pounds.

Richard said that pound-for-pound a striper pulls a lot harder than other species, but still he fishes with 12-lb. test to make the fight more fun.

One very important thing to remember when trolling is to set your drags loosely in anticipation of a big fish.

“They can absolutely tear off with a lure when they’re out in the open,” Richard said. “So, of course, all of the drags are set loosely.”

Productive lures for trolling up Weiss stripers in January are (clockwise from top right) crankbaits like Bomber’s Fat Free Fingerling, Model A or Fat Free Shad, white bucktail jigs tipped with white finesse worms, Rat-L-Traps and various colors and sizes of Sassy Shads threaded on 1/4-oz. jig heads.

You’ll  know its time to hit Lake Weiss with your swimbaits and a box of plugs when the water temperatures get down into the 40s and the shad start to suspend out in the water column in 8 to 10 feet of water.

“When I start to see the fish on the depthfinder between 8 and 10 feet is when I really start catching fish,” Richard said. “Last year, it was during the second week in December.”

Richard said the fish are pretty trusty in their habits, too.

“I really love the consistency of these fish,” Richard said. “They’re pretty consistent as to what they do. So, some days you can catch 30 fish a day.”

Stripers are not a structure-oriented fish. They follow the food. Richard said a good place to start looking for them with electronics is on the Coosa River channel.

“You want to follow the shad,” Richard said. “The ledges and currents are what really drives them around.”

Typically Richard will look for bait and fish by cruising at idle speed or a little faster up and down the river channels. He said when they’re ready to eat, the fish will be suspended at 10 feet or less over 30 or 40 feet of water with the shad.

It takes good electronics to find fish this way, but good electronics are not absolutely necessary. During the winter on Weiss, all you have to do is watch and read the birds.

“Watch the gulls,” he said. “It’ll look like a white tornado when the fish are pushing bait up and the gulls are feeding. The gulls sound like they’re hollering at each other, ‘They’re over here!’”

Richard also warned against the gulls sounding a false alarm. Often gulls will congregate around feeding cormorants to pick up the fish these birds dive for and then regurgitate on the surface. When gulls are targeting cormorants, they will not be as tightly packed as when they are circling feeding stripers. 

On the day Richard and I fished it was a calm, overcast winter morning with a slight drizzle from time to time. We started fishing around the mouth of Yellow Creek and gradually worked out from there.

We pulled a variety of crankbaits, small shad-imitating swimbaits and bucktail jigs behind Richard’s boat. After nothing took for a while, Richard motored up and took us to the area where Highway 9 crosses the lake.

“I always mark all kinds of fish around here this time of year,” Richard said.

We saw lots of action on the depthfinder, but still no fish would come out to play. Finally, we started to see fish move out of the bait and look at our lures, but none would take what we were dragging.

“It’s important not to always troll back over yourself in these situations,” Richard said. “Sometimes if you just move to the left or right a little bit it makes all the difference in the world in catching and not catching fish.”

We missed one good solid hit by the bridge. The fish had to have come up and looked at the lure, and then run sideways with it. If one of us had only been a few seconds faster to the rod, we probably would’ve hooked-up. But this one got away.

After a while more around the southern side of the bridge, Richard rang the bell to drag in lines, and we moved on back up the lake. We stopped around a main-lake point in the upper end of the lake, dropped all six lures again and started trolling. A line went slack and then went taught again and started to jerk violently.

“There’s a fish,” Richard hollered.

I grabbed a small spinning rod and set the hook. I could feel the fish fighting its way back down toward the bottom of Lake Weiss.

“Keep up with him,” Richard said. “Don’t let him get away with you.”

After a good tussle, I pulled a small striper of a few pounds to the boat. Admittedly, it fought a lot harder than it really was. We both laughed a  little bit, released the fish and got right back to it.

“The lake’s release schedule can make a bunch of difference when you’re out here fishing for stripers, too,” Richard said. “When they pull a lot of water there’s a lot more current, and the fish tend to be a whole lot more active than they are right now.”

We kept trolling in and around the upper end of the lake, and the fishing was pretty slow.

“In another few weeks it should be absolutely crazy on this lake,” Richard assured me with the time-honored maxim of fishing guides everywhere.

“They’ll turn on soon enough, but it just hasn’t happened yet this year,” Richard said.

Weiss guide Richard Green holds a Weiss striper that weighed almost 30 pounds. Although the big draw at the lake is fast action from smaller stripers in the 6- to 8-lb. range, Richard boats lots of fish in the teens and several 20-pounders every year.

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