Henry Cowen holds striper caught in Lake Lanier

Henry Cowen with a Lanier striper

We bounced around from cove to cove, peering as quietly as possible into the flat water where the little creeks fed the great lake. The shad were there all right, flashing first left then right, sometimes breaking the surface veil as predators loomed underneath. Just what was it that forced the activity, bass or stripers? We hoped it was stripers.

On this day, Henry Cowan, a New York Yankee on our southern lakes, and I are searching the up-lake waters of Lake Lanier for striped bass. Interesting isn’t it that a striper is a true bass but a bass is a sunfish. Anyway, this flyfishing stuff is a bit new to me, however. This is my first attempt to catch one of these line-sided champions on a fly. I have often thought little of this fly-rod business; usually concluding that one could do better with conventional tackle and buck-tails, plastic jigs, and top-water baits. Today I am the student.

Henry, a thrice-weekly visitor to Lanier and an accomplished fisherman with a fly-rod on waters all along the East Coast from Maine to Florida, has rigged for me an eight weight rod spooled with intermediate line. A “Henry’s Easy-Cast,” a fly he ties himself, adorns the 10-pound tippet. A few minutes of false casting are required for me to even approach a decent presentation. Rudimentary success arrives with his hands-on instructions, and I am ready to threaten the sleek predators of the coves.

Henry relates that yearly in waters like Lanier, Clarks Hill, Hartwell, Carter’s, Allatoona and many others in the Southeast, when the late winter or early spring surface temperatures hit 53 to 60, striped bass will streak into the coves and gingerly pick off meals of threadfin shad. The trouble with conventional tackle during this special time is that with the shad being so small, usually not over two inches in length, the baits are necessarily too large and the stripers ignore them. A fly, however, is perfect.

Well, after a few hours of fanning the foggy air above the surface, I am a believer. By lunch, Henry and I have landed nine gamesters, with the largest just under 12 pounds. And what a treat, the largest took my fly in not more than 18 inches of water. I saw the hungry fish approach and strike. I am here to tell you that stripers will take a fly when larger baits will fail.

Good grief, what a task ahead, now I will have to buy more rods and reels. Maybe you should try it too? A visit to the tackle shop may be in your future.

Photo: by O’Neill Williams