Strange Days: stripers and hybrids still in the river near Rogersville

George Thwaites • Jul 7, 2013 at 11:27 PM

Fishing patterns this summer have been kind of unusual. And they’ve remained unusual.

A strong rockfish and hybrid bite in the Holston River downstream of the John Sevier Steam Plant in Rogersville has Randall Collier at The Tackle Shack in Surgoinsville scratching his head.

We are, after all, transitioning into July.

“The stripers and hybrids are wide open in the river right now. And this is a really odd time of the year for me to be seeing that,” said Collier, who said shad have been really concentrated below the Melinda Ferry Bridge, attracting schools of the bigger predators.

Bucktail jigs and shad-colored crankbaits have been his weapons of choice.

Normally, big rockfish and hybrids move into the river to spawn in the spring, the John Sevier Dam marking the terminus of their upstream migration out of Cherokee Lake.

It's not unusual for stripers and hybrids on Boone Lake to sneak up out of the lake into the colder Watauga and South Holston tailwaters when hot weather sets in. But that isn't the case on Cherokee Lake. Usually by this time of the year most of the stripers in that part of the Holston have returned to the lake.

Collier speculates that the high oxygen content of the river — which gets aerated spilling over the dam — is one contributing factor. A unusually steady supply of cool water coming from upstream at Ft. Patrick Henry Dam keeps the water temperature in the stripers’ comfort zone. Thirdly, there is no longer any warm water discharge from the old steam plant to heat it up.

“I’m thinking that’s it. I got into a bunch of (stripers) the other day and was so surprised to see them that far up the river. But they’re definitely up there and I’ve had plenty of people tell me they’ve been into them, too,” Collier said.

There has also been a solid smallmouth bite in the river. A productive tactic has been throwing a Strike King KVD 1.5 crankbait and letting it carom off the rocks.

The bass fishing on Cherokee Lake proper — which was averaging 89 degree surface temperatures on Collier’s most recent night outing — seems to be transitioning just a little.

Last week he caught a lot of nice fish in the bushes up in the shallows. This week he only encountered a few smaller fish in the bushes, but caught a lot of fish on medium diving crankbaits.

The bass seem to be backing off a bit, but they haven’t gone really deep just yet. The fish aren’t stacked. They’re still spread out.

“Normally this time of the year you’re sitting on main channel points throwing the really deep-running crankbaits. But that bite hasn’t come on just yet,” he said.

His big concern for the holiday week isn’t fishing, but boating safety. He expects unusually high boat traffic at night as well as during the day. Fishermen need to have their priorities straight.

“I know that people love to put their hats over their running lights when they’re fishing to keep the bugs away, but that’s dangerous. People need to be able to see you,” he said. “Plus, there are also some logs and things floating around out there that you have to watch out for.”

Rex Pendergrass at Watson’s Marine in Bluff City reported that he had a customer earlier this week who hit a submerged object on Boone Lake and took off a lower unit. Debris comes with high rains.

Pendergrass noted that Justin Mayle and Matthew Hobbs won the recent Watsons’ Marine night tournament with five fish — smallmouth and largemouth combined — at 15.61 pounds.

“We had 73 boats participate. We didn’t have a lot of great big fish weighed in, but we had a lot of good catches,” he said.

A lot of fish were caught on topwater before and after dark. Zara Spooks and Pop-Rs were both in play. Pendergrass caught his biggest fish on a buzzbait at around 1:30 a.m. There was a decent flippin’ bite on Boone. Plenty of fish were caught after dark on jigs and spinnerbaits.

There have been reports of a night-time walleye bite lingering on Watauga. Not fantastic, but fair.

On the fly fishing beat, Clint Lensgraf at Mahoney’s Sportsmans Paradise doesn’t expect the fly fishing conditions to improve until some time next week, at the earliest. There is too much rain, too much water and too much mud.

“I’d say the rain from (Wednesday) pretty much sealed the deal. The tailwaters are muddy and in all liklihood the dams will be generating,” Lensgraf said. “If you go high enough into the mountain streams, you might be able to get away from the mud a little bit.”

Ben Walters at Eastern Fly Outfitters in Johnson City doesn’t think the water conditions will keep everyone from fishing. Some people will try to make the best of it.

“When it gets muddy it can hurt the dry fly and the nymph bite. But it can help the streamer bite,” Walters said. “If you have a boat or a guide to take you out, you can do as well with streamers as you could with bugs.”

George Thwaites is a Sports and Outdoors Writer for the Kingsport Times-News. Follow him on Twitter: @KTNSptsThwaites. Want to show off a recent catch? Email trophy fish photos to: gthwaites@timesnews.net

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