Some friends of mine recently tried their luck at catching striped bass at Pickwick Dam. On Friday, July 8th - Jason Edmonds, Bob Holmes, Robbie Holmes and J.R. Brock loaded up their boat and headed to Hardin County to fish Beautiful Pickwick Lake. They began fishing at 3:00 pm in the afternoon and continued until 10:00 pm at night, at which time the dam’s turbines quit generating electricity. During the dog days of summer, fishing usually gets better towards dark due to the fish feeding more actively in the cooler temperatures of the night. They boated fourteen fish between 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm and twenty stripes between the hours of 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm.
The striped bass action is "HOT" at Pickwick Dam. In this photo, Bob Holmes is fighting a big rockfish in the background, while Jason Edmonds holds up a fifteen pounder.
Here is how they went about it.
The landing they used was located at the historic Botel, owned and operated by Darrell Hickman. It is located one mile below the dam. There is also a public ramp located at the dam, but when the fishing is hot – the parking area becomes full and the ramp – very busy.
When fishing at night you must have your running lights on. A headlamp is also a necessity, since you will be retying your line often and putting your bait on in the dark. Navigation lights are also important, due to the strong current generated by the turbines; so other boats will be able to see you better.
Setting the Table
The baits of choice for striper fishing at Pickwick include skipjack, gizzard shad and yellowtail shad, but the boys mainly used skipjack in the four to six-inch range. Most people use casting nets to trap their bait, but they used a Piscator bait rig that consisted of a six-hook rig with very small, size #12 hooks, which have a small plastic feather attached. At the end of the series of hooks is a one-half oz. sinker. When you find the baitfish schooling you cast the rig into the school and usually come back with every hook full. It is best to catch fifteen or twenty and then go and make your runs so your bait stays fresh. Bait must be caught on location as these baitfish are not available at the local bait stores, due to the fact that these shad will not live long in captivity.
The West Tennessee crew was fishing out of a War Eagle, eighteen-foot boat with a 90 hp Johnson motor. A boat of this size or bigger is nice, since fishing below the dam can be dangerous, due to the strong current. It also gives you a more stable fishing platform. Life preservers are required by law, and are essential safety items below the dam. They were using 15-pound test line on medium-heavy to heavy, seven and one-half foot poles with baitcasting reels. This size line works better than heavier line since it causes less resistance in the current and allows you to bump the bottom with a three oz. weight. The live bait rigs that Bob Holmes had produced utilized a three way swivel. Coming off one side of the rig was three feet of line with a 3 oz. weight. On the side of the swivel was one and a half feet of line attached to a 1.0 Kahle hook. This hook is a curved, more open style hook and seems to work better when fishing with live baitfish and catching these aggressive feeding stripes. A good landing net is preferred and fishing gloves are a necessity when handling these rough mouthed fish.
Presentation and Location hold the Key
Finding seams between the boils in the discharge of the turbine-generated waters is the key to catching rockfish. Run your boat into the boils at the base of the dam and then drop you baits to the bottom, reeling your line up about one foot to keep from hanging up on the rocky bottom. Try to maintain this level as you drift with the current away from the dam. Use a high rod position to adjust to the different depths you encounter during the drift. Most fish will be caught within 300 yards of the dam. So when you reach this point, pull up your lines and do another drift.
Most of the fish my friends caught were in the seven-pound range with several weighing in at over ten lbs. The biggest fish of the night was caught on the final float-run, just as they turned the last turbine off. It weighed in at exactly twenty lbs.
The weather that day was sunny and hot. With the temperatures in the low 90’s, on this particular day, they were only generating two turbines. They tend to generate more electricity during the week, which is the key to good striper fishing as the sound of the turbines is like a dinner bell sounding to the fish.
The creel limit is two rockfish or hybrid stripes. There is an eighteen-inch minimum length restriction. An electric fillet knife is the best tool for dressing the fish.
Fillet the fish as you would normally, and cut out the rib cage. There will be a pone of red meat on the outside of the fillet. Fillet this section of red meat off as if it was a second skin. Be careful to remove as much red meat as you can. Also, cut away the lateral red lines in the fillet that runs down the center. The thick part of the fillet behind the head is generally better to grill and the thinner part of the meat, towards the tail, is better to fry. Slice the fillets into two-inch pieces. Place them in a dish with original Wishbone Italian salad dressing. Add a few drops of Dale’s Seasoning - a little goes a long way. Grill over a medium fire for approximately ten minutes. Do not turn the fillets and do not overcook them. Fillets will be done when they turn white.
You can beat the heat of the “summertime blues” and get some exciting fishing action in at Pickwick Dam by chasing these large, hybrid stripes. Fish in the thirty-pound class are not uncommon. Just remember to be safe and make sure your outboard is in good running condition to traverse the rapid current. My thanks to Bob “Old-School” Holmes and his crew for allowing us to get in on one of our region’s best kept secrets – striper fishing at Pickwick Dam. For more information on fishing Pickwick Lake, go to www.tourhardincounty.org .
As always, remember that our kids truly are our most precious natural resource. They are our future.