MONETA, Va. (WFXR) — Smith Mountain Lake straddles the border between Franklin and Bedford counties. Extravagant lake homes, campgrounds, and marinas dot its shoreline. Beneath the waves there’s a gold mine of sorts; one that swims.
We’re talking about the striped bass, or stripers as they’re more commonly called.
Smith Mountain Lake is home to one of the top inland striped bass fisheries in the country. People travel from around the United States to target that hard-fighting game species. In the process, tourists spend hundreds of millions of dollars that help generate jobs, business, and taxes for the local economy.
Some of those jobs belong to the dozens of captains and guides whose clientele target stripers. One of those guides is Weston Hartman of Hartman Guide Services. Outdoors Bound went fishing with him recently.
“There’s a fish on right there,” Hartman exclaimed as the scream of a drag indicated a fish was on. “Hear that drag peeling?”
The fish put up a fight for several minutes before Hartman was able to swing it aboard. It measured 22 inches and weighed about five and a half pounds.
“That’s a typical of what I like to call a fun fish,” Hartman explained. “We can catch those all day, but they do run bigger.”
While there are trophy-sized stripers in Smith Mountain Lake, it’s better known these days for its quality numbers. There are plenty of fish to catch in the four to twelve pound range. In the spring Hartman targets them by trolling live blueback herring and alewives.
“I net these every morning,” said Hartman pointing to a large bait tank on his boat. “The lake is full of them and stripers love to eat them, so do smallmouth and largemouth.”
Those black bass species are a common by-catch while striper fishing, as we found out a few minutes later.
“Did you see that, that’s a smallmouth,” Hartman said while motioning to the place where a fish had jumped high out of the water. “That’s a nice one, too.”
A few minutes later a trophy-sized smallmouth bass was in the boat, and then quickly released.
“They are fun to catch”
Hartman says striper fishing is a year round affair. Techniques change with the season. In the spring and summer trolling is effective, and so is casting stickbaits near the shore after dark.
“Those fish go up into the riprap (rocky shoreline) to eat alewives,” Hartman explained. “The alewives spawn in the riprap at night and stripers will be in there.”
At other times of the year, especially in the hotter summer months, downlining is the way to go. Striped bass will go deep at that point. Schools of fish are located on electronics, and then baited lines are dropped down to them.
Hartman spends almost everyday on the water hunting stripers. He says there’s not a lot else he’d rather do, and that factored into his career choice.
“I took some time trying to figure out what I wanted do, and I spend everyday out here doing what I know best, striper fishing.”