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Breaking Out of the Summer Doldrums

The last few weeks of summer brought little rain to the Carolina mountains. Streams withered and water warmed. Trout hunkered down in deep pools and only anglers without a conscience were bothering them.

I passed some time tying flies, sorting fly boxes, and looking ahead to fall fishing. Then I got the chance to change scenery and fish for bigger fish in warmer waters at our annual SCOPE conference.

The South Carolina Outdoor Press Association (SCOPE) is an outdoor media group that holds conferences each year around the state. These conferences combine craft improvement with time in the field to develop content. That time in the field means fishing, so on my first two outings, I chose fly fishing for stripers on the rivers around Columbia.

I was paired up to fish with the Rivers and Feathers crew, one on each trip. I figured having someone along who knew what they were doing would at least make the guide feel better.

Our guides both days were skittish about us revealing where they fished, which is why I don’t get more specific about the waters we fished. But they both went to the same stretch of water, so I suspect the secret will get out.

Mike stripping streamers to entice a bite.

On the first day, Mike Watts and I fished with Justin McGrady from his jet boat. This was a new experience for me, particularly boating upstream in fast water. It’s the rock and roll version of striper fishing. Once we stopped, Justin used the electric motor to navigate and anchor us in casting position while we tossed flies from fore and aft decks.

You should always take a guide’s advice about palming a reel.

Prior to my casting the 8-weight rod, Justin did offer a word of caution.

“I hope you know how to palm a reel, because when a striper takes off, that reel handle will bang your knuckles.”

I swore that I did know how to palm a reel and began casting. Not too much later, I strip-set a hook into a striper and watched it take off.

Justin suggested I keep the fish out of some timber on the bank and when I reached for the reel, he heard a distinct “thunk.”

“That sounded like knuckles,” laughed Justin.

And I didn’t much care. The fish turned.

First fish of the morning.

First fish of the morning.

We continued to fish on through the day, casting, enjoying being on the water, and by quitting time, I was ready to quit. A day of casting heavy flies takes a toll on an old guy more used to flipping hoppers under outstretched hemlock limbs.

The next morning, we were at it again. This time, Larry Chesney and I were fishing with Jake Howard, who guides out of a raft much like you would see out west. If the jet boat the previous day was the rock and roll version of striper fishing, the raft might well have been the bluegrass version. Luckily, I like both.

We launched the raft upstream and drifted down through some of the same water we fished the day before. Traveling through fast water on the raft, we bobbed up and down like a strike indicator that lost its flies.

Throwing a fly from a raft proved a different exercise and I admit I spent considerable effort trying not to hook anyone in the boat. But I also realized it was a stealthy way to approach fish and I probably didn’t need long casts, even though they might have helped and certainly would have looked better.

My casting muscles grumbled a little and when Jake offered light spinning tackle baited with herring, I didn’t hesitate. Though I’m a fly fisherman first and spinning fisherman second, I have to admit that catching stripers on light spinning tackle is more fun than not catching stripers on a heavy fly rod. Particularly when your casting has deteriorated from the previous day’s activities and you doubt there will be enough Advil at the hotel to fix what ails you.

Larry enjoying one of his stripers just before the release.

So, while Larry continued to fling flies from the front of the raft, I free-lined herring in the back. In the shallow water, I sometimes got to watch my herring trying to escape from a striper and do so by jumping at the surface. When that happened and the fish followed, the bite reminded me of taking fish on topwater lures and I had to harness my nerves long enough to let the fish eat.

Both guides agreed that we were late in the striper season in October, suggesting we would do better from late spring through the summer, particularly on flies. Still, for breaking out of the summer doldrums on warm trout streams, catching stripers might be just the remedy. In any event, it makes my 4-weight feel like a fairy wand now when I pick it up.

Catching fish on light spinning tackle can be more fun than not catching fish on a fly rod.

If you want to pursue stripers in the unnamed rivers around Columbia, SC, give these guides a call:

Justin McGrady, The SC River Guide, 803-569-9473.

Jake Howard, Saluda Valley Guides, 803-312-2435.

Jim Mize sometimes wonders whether casting heavy flies causes carpal tunnel or if that only comes from catching carp. You can purchase Jim’s new book, The Jon Boat Years, at www.riversandfeathers.com/books, https://uscpress.com/The-Jon-Boat-Years or buy autographed copies at www.acreektricklesthroughit.com.

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