Winter days and shallow water

Stripers’ migration patterns closely follow those of baitfish, especially at Smith Mountain Lake. In the colder months, both tend to frequent shallow waters for the warmer temperatures. Surprisingly, cold doesn’t always mean deep for these fish; during late winter and early spring, the stripers feast in shallow waters to prepare for the upcoming spawn.

This transitional period offers anglers at Smith Mountain Lake the prime opportunity to land the largest striped bass, as the females feed intensively to fatten up before spawning. Despite challenging weather conditions, persistent anglers often have the best fishing spots to themselves.

Location Details

Cloudy weather and cold fronts can push both baitfish and stripers deeper, slowing their feeding. Key spots with shallow feeding areas and quick access to deeper water—like long points and vast flats near a major creek or river channel—are ideal. Cover and structure like flats or points are crucial to attract baitfish to shallow areas.

Some creek arms can sustain striper populations, and large fish might stay in the lower lake if baitfish are present. While many anglers follow the schools of stripers and shad to Smith Mountain’s upper end, others stick to the lake’s lower parts, where stripers chase bait near the bank. The upper ends of creeks are the focus during late winter into spring, except in April when shad spawn near the banks.

Strategies for Shallow Water

In shallow water, luring a striper—especially a trophy one—requires finesse and a specialized approach, further complicated by clear waters in top striper lakes. Unlike summer patterns, early-season stripers tend to frequent shallow waters and move more than deep-sea dwellers, making baitfish the essential “fish finders”. Anglers avoid scaring off stripers by keeping a quiet, hardware-free approach.

In Smith Mountain’s clear water, one effective method is to anchor boats on clay points near major channels and cast out large shad on weighted lines. Rock Creek planer boards are also used, pulling baits to the side when trolled to avoid getting too close to stripers. The approach and the depth of baits must adapt to stripers’ vertical movements caused by water color, weather conditions, and time of day.

Before a weather front, stripers become notably aggressive. However, after the front passes, they retreat to deeper waters and feed less voraciously. During this phase, they can rarely resist a cut bait placed right before them. Large baits tend to be preferred as the season progresses, as stripers aim to get more nutrition from a single strike.

Fishing Gear and Bait Handling

When stripers move to shallow waters, tactics switch to planer boards and redi-rigs, with a few lines running from the boat side and a couple behind the boat for fish near the surface over deeper water. Mostly Shimano reels on Shakespeare rods, 30lb power pro with 20-25lb leaders are used, allowing stripers to hook themselves.

Live bait and shad, essential for attracting stripers, must be caught fresh in Smith Mountain. Shad can be caught using a cast net, and they require a well-aerated, round tank for preservation. Locals might provide valuable advice about shad sizes stripers are eating and good cast netting sites. Bait-saving chemicals can help keep baitfish alive longer and free of red-nose.