Seasonal Patterns

Smith Mountain Lake Striper Seasons

Stripers migrate and change behavior as the seasons change through-out the year. This is an overview of the migration and different habits of stripers during the course of the year.

January and February

This is the coldest water temperatures of the year. The smaller fish become less active as their metabolism slows and they do not eat. The larger stripers seem to be less affected by the cold water. We will be free lining big shad and alewives on Planer boards when the birds are not diving. Striper usually slow down as water temperature goes below 46 and 48 degrees. They may become more active after the water temperatures stabilizes or warms up. When this happens, the larger stripers can move very shallow and slow roll on tiny shad. Sometimes this happens way back in the creeks. Quiet approach and very small offerings work best. This is my favorite time to use the fly rod.

Techniques for January and February

Small and Slow”  Alewives out-fish shad this time of year. Another choice is small thread-fin shad on small hooks. I prefer to use small soft plastics. I go to a 1/4 or 3/8 oz jig-head rigged with flukes and paddle tails work well in off white or pearl colors. The zoom super fluke in white ice or albino works good, as do Berkley gulp soft plastics. When conditions are right, a small realistic fly, mimicking a thread fin shad is the best imitation you can use.

March and April

This is my favorite time of the year. After a long winter of cold water, the warm-up starts. As the water warms, it warms faster in shallower water. All the fish from bait, bass and stripers move to that warmer water. The creeks in general warm faster than the main open lake. The afternoons warm the water and fish appear on the shallow banks as the afternoon progresses. This is time to fish till dark as that is the best fishing. A cold snap can pull the fish back out deep, but that is less chance as the month of March progresses. The wind is also helpful as the fish move to the windy banks. My worst days in March are calm days. My best days have a good breeze and I fish windy points, pockets and shallow banks. I fish big gizzards in March but it can be fast action on small artificial’s. As we go into April, Planer Board action heats up and the bite get’s good in the morning and afternoons as the fish come shallow early and late or all day on cloudy days.

Techniques for March and April

March is my favorite month. Planer Board Time! The action starts heating up by pulling big bait on Planers for action throughout the day, but striper will eat small jigs and lures well. If the weather is not too cold and the water is warming, fish move shallow on the windblown banks in the afternoons. This action starts in the backs of the main creeks and moves farther out as the month progresses. By the first of April the main lake turns on and the fish start eating live bait well. The shallow points and shoals can be good early.

May and June

This is the prime season. Actions become better in the mornings than afternoon by June. May is when fish normally get active all over the lake and top water plug become a favorite. The top water plug replaces subsurface lures when I see the fish slash water up in the air instead of a subsurface “boil”. A free-lined bait will be eaten if a striper can see it.

Techniques for May and June

This is prime-time with the best days of the year for numbers of fish and consistency. May is top water time most every morning. My favorite lure is a Lucky craft Sammy in ghost color. The fish smash bait on the surface and if it is bait they are chasing, the top water plug works great. Sometimes they are after small bait and eat a jig and fluke better. The surface activity is usually early morning and late afternoon in May. By June it is mostly early morning and not afternoon. The fish move in shallow coves and pockets early and by mid-morning move out to deeper water. Casting and free-lines (no sinker) work early and then down lines (Carolina rig) 20 to 40 feet deep work after mid-morning.

July and August

This is summer time fishing when fish are not moving much and a variety of techniques can be used this time of the year with a mixture of live-baiting and light tackle jigging. Lots of fish have moved toward the lower lake. Fishing is easy if you can locate the fish in deep water. A good graph is important here, as is the new under water to topography maps with GPS to find the fish. Alewives need to be fished on down-lines (Carolina rig) at the same depth as the fish. Jigging spoons also work by jigging on the bottom or thru schools suspended.

Techniques for July and August

Summertime sends the fish to deep cool water. The fish are still in the main rivers early July, heading down lake as the thermo cline sets up. I look for fish in the river channels about 30 to 40 feet deep over the thermo cline. By late July, I look from mid lake to the dam in 60 to 100 feet deep water. I have caught them as deep as 120 feet deep. Artificials like jigging spoons and big bucktails reeled fast though schools can catch them, but I mainly use Alewives dropped to where I mark fish on my graph. A good graph with a navionics map of the bottom topography is most important this time of year. I spend time looking in deep water to find the fish. I then put the bait at the depth that I mark fish. The fish don’t move far or fast and they are usually in the same areas for longer periods. Time of day is not as important because they are not moving much. Trolling works good in the summer for suspended fish either with lead core line or with down riggers.

September and October

September is still summer but as the month progresses and the water starts to cool, surface activity is a real possibility, especially in low light conditions. Fishing remains good in deep water on the lower half of the lake till about mid October when the water starts to turn over. When the lake is turning, (a gradual process of deep water rising and surface water sinking) fishing can be tough. Turning water has dark brownish tint with foam on top. It is very low in oxygen and fish move away from turning water. Sometimes you run to where green water meets brown and the fish will be on the edge in the greenish water. The creeks are the first to turn as the upper lake turns first and it works to the main lake turning as it cools. Cold snaps start the process and it usually is complete by late November. The fish move around to find good water conditions up the lake where the water has completed the turnover.

Techniques for September and October

September is a continuation of summer till about mid September when there is a chance to see surface action with the cooling water temperatures. By mid October the fish usually make a run up river. During October we’ll be chasin’ bustin’ stripers and pullin’ big baits on planers. Possibly the most exciting time of the year to fish Smith Mountain Lake. Fishing may be tricky as the fish look for bait and good water further up the lake. This can last through most of November when fish spread out throughout the lake.

November and December

Sometimes schooling fish feed for hours with limited boat traffic. Look for gulls as they are your eyes in the sky. By late November the lake turns a pretty green and the fish move shallow. They may be shallow or deep or up a creek. They will eat bait or artificial. They are shallow in low light and calm days. December is the one of best month for artificial other than March and April.

Techniques for November and December

November is an awesome time to be on the water.  Usually with hunting season and football, the lake is deserted. Some years, fish school for hours with no one else on the lake. By the end of November, turnover is complete. Fish may be in creeks or on the main lake. Look for gulls and loons, as they are a good indicator to where the fish are. Fish move shallow during low light and eat small jigs and free lined bait. Mid day they drop down to 35 to 45 feet depth and eat down-lines and jigging spoons close to the bottom. Top water is over till late spring, as you see fish “boil” and not “splash”. Fish will stay active till the water temperature drops below 48 degrees. This usually happens soon after the end of December.