Apalachicola River Striped bass action heating up
Originally published March 29, 2007
By Jerry Gerardi
Striped bass action heating up
It's not too late to get in on striped bass action on the Apalachicola River. The fish are still around the lower reaches of the river, but many of the bigger (10-pound plus) fish have already started their annual spawning run upstream.
Striped bass are not new to this area. Originally, there were just three strains of stripers in the Eastern part of the United States: the Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay and Apalachicola strains. No doubt the first settlers in this area, the native Americans, caught striped bass from the Apalachicola.
Typically, the fish migrate to the lower reaches of the Apalachicola River during the cold winter months, which they did again this year. Then as the weather moderates and the river water warms, stripers migrate upstream towards the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers to spawn.
This is the result of a genetic imprint that causes the spawning swim, but there is a problem. The Jim Woodruff Dam, which was built in 1957 to form Lake Seminole and provide power, is in the way.
But not to worry, there are still plenty of original-strain fish below the dam, and even more above it in the lake. Plus, the state stocks hatchery-raised striped bass and hybrid sunshine bass (a cross between a striped bass and a white bass), so there is little danger of the prehistoric striper stock being lost.
Captains Chris Robinson and David Heinke are guides who've taken the time to study and figure out the feeding patterns of the Apalachicola River striped bass. They know when, where and on what the fish will be caught.
Heinke often moonlights with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists when they do fish-stock sampling and shocking in the river. He's seen some mighty big stripers shocked up over the years.
“The biggest striped bass that I know of taken from the river was 42 pounds,” said Heinke. “My own biggest fish (on the Apalachicola) weighed 17 pounds.”
The Jim Woodruff Dam, like all dams, is a concrete and steel monstrosity with no natural beauty or sense of oneness with nature. But downriver on the “Apalach” it's a far different story. The undeveloped, pristine and even primitive landscape is breathtaking. You feel like a visitor in a forgotten land.
Stripers bite best when the water is cold. “Striped bass can't tolerate water temperatures higher than 80 degrees, so the colder the water the better,” Heinke said. “And that 80 degree barrier is what keeps the stripers in the river.
"In late summer you won't find many stripers over two pounds in the lower and middle river. The bigger fish move up to the dam and spring-fed tributaries where the water is colder.”
Heinke and Robinson recently took me striper fishing on the Apalachicola. Robinson said the first thing to do was locate structures like trees, pilings, rocks, deep holes and channels. They all would hold fish.
It wasn't long before the action started. On his first cast with a Gulp! 3-inch shrimp in New Penny on a red jighead, Robinson caught a striped bass. His second cast resulted in a hybrid sunshine bass.
A couple of casts later he caught another striped bass. Heinke was scoring too. (I was taking pictures ... work, work, work.)
Both guides caught striped and sunshine bass. It was friendly competition, especially when Robinson spotted some likely structure and called his shot.
“See that piling over there,” he said to nobody in particular. “There's a striper next to it and I'm going to catch him.” He cast once, caught the striper, and chuckled. Heinke rolled his eyes.
Both Heinke and Robinson are avid fly anglers and recommend any fly pattern that imitates the bait on hand and use of heavy sinking lines.
One last thing: Striped bass tend to tap lures like jigs and swimming plugs. Braided lines make it easier to feel that tap and set the hook. Hybrids hit hard and often hook themselves.
Launch ramps to get to the stripers are in the city of Apalachicola, underneath the Highway 98 bridge. If you want to fish the headwaters of the Apalachicola River in the pool below the dam, ramps are in Chattahoochee.
On the Apalachicola River you may keep three striped bass longer than 18 inches, and they must be included in a total daily aggregate of 20 striped, sunshine and white bass. Striped bass are considered freshwater fish, so you must have a valid Florida freshwater fishing license.