On day two of the ICAST show out in the US last week, a couple stopped by on the Fiiish stand, and I could see the bloke's eyes go straight to a big 200mm blue-backed Black Minnow that was rigged up on the table. "Wow, this thing looks exactly like the blue-back herrings we use as livebait for our stripers" was roughly what the guy said.
To which I replied "so where in the north east (striped bass country in the US) do you guys come from?"
"We don't. We come from north Georgia".
"You what? I don't follow at all............"
Now if you know anything about the US, you will know that Georgia lies above Florida and is hardly known as striper central - move on up the east coast into colder water and now we're talking striped bass, but Georgia is the deep south. If anything Georgia is known for its largemouth bass fishing in freshwater of course, but it turns out there's a fishery in the north Georgia mountains that I had never even heard a single word about. If I remember rightly what this guy told me, he said that there was one large lake up there in particular with seventy full time professional fishing guides working on it - perhaps you can get a sense of how big sport fishing is in the US from that fact alone!!
I have heard a bit about landlocked, freshwater striped bass over in California, but like you I am sure, striped bass in my mind is a saltwater species that I am desperate to spend some proper time on. Well via this bloke Josh Garrison who came onto the Fiiish stand, I learnt that where he lives in north Georgia there is a massively prolific freshwater striped bass fishery - and these stunning creatures have been caught to over 50lbs!! Now don't get me wrong, saltwater fishing is where it's at for me, and I look forward to tangling with big stripers one day off say the Cape Cod shores, but we're talking about a world class freshwater fishery only two hours from Atlanta airport that I had never heard a single word about.
My understanding is that back in the 1930s, the powers that be needed to find a way to control the exploding herring population in some of the lakes around this part of the US, and somehow they found out that a certain strain of striped bass actually thrived in freshwater - Josh said that on most of the lakes these fish are heavily stocked and do not breed, but on some of the lakes with a large river system running into them, the stripers are in fact breeding successfully. And they grow big and fat and apparently scrap like crazy - just check out the photos here which I have taken from Josh's guiding website here.
They do a lot of fishing with livebaits in a strong current that runs out of a large dam (sounds much like a photo job I did for huge golden dorado out at La Zona in Argentina), but this is not half the story as stripers can be taken all over these lakes on various methods depending on the time of year - and it's a year round fishery as well. Yes, they do move into the shallows at times and can be smashed on lures. It was absolutely fascinating to talk with Josh and his wife about "their" freshwater stripers and how the blue-back Black Minnow might work for them, and by hook or by crook I am going to get myself out there sometime to see this awesome sounding fishery. Big freshwater fish in what looks to be an incredible part of the world, it's pretty easily accessible from the UK, and although they get all kinds of weather from steaming hot to freezing cold, you have to fancy your chances of not getting many days cancelled on a lake. And yes, I have spent too long since this conversation thinking about how cool it would be if we had stripers in both fresh and saltwater here in the UK!!
I love the wild parts of the world, and it's too easy for far too many people to think of the US as the tourist mess that is Disney World and other such rubbish. Get out of the towns and cities and huge parts of the US are wild, under populated areas where there is just so much fishing to explore that my mind is on meltdown with the endless possibilities. I love the buzz around fishing out there and it fascinates me how different the fishing is depending on where you go.
Best of luck to all the people fishing the Irish Bass Festival this coming weekend - I am gutted not to be over there, but I am off to Kerry for a couple of guiding trips pretty soon so I can't make this one. All credit to the lads at Absolute Fishing for running this festival and I hope it goes great guns for everyone involved.