Gary Hurley

Tidelines – July 7, 2016

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“Spin. Fly. Male. Female. Children. It’s the simplicity of catching fish,” answered Capt. Jeff Koen, of FishIBX Charters, as we reminisced about a hybrid striper trip he took me on earlier this year.

Susan’s Sweetwater Lake, a 34 acre body of water in Williamston, NC, stocked with hybrid stripers and largemouth bass was the simplicity, and on our day together, like just about every day on Susan’s Sweetwater Lake, the stripers and bass cooperated.

Though Jeff and his partner Capt. Mitchell Blake have had plenty of 150 fish days during a four hour trip, these fish are anything but predictable. “They bite differently every day,” explained Jeff. “Just like river system fish, you have to figure out each day what they want. It’s fishing. You’re not going to catch a fish on every cast.”

Capt. Jeff Koen, of FishIBX, with an early morning largemouth bass. The bass on Susan's Sweetwater Lake average 3-4 lbs. (but go as big as 8 lbs.), and the stripers average 3 lbs. (but go as big as 6 lbs.).

Capt. Jeff Koen, of FishIBX, with an early morning largemouth bass. The bass on Susan’s Sweetwater Lake average 3-4 lbs. (but go as big as 8 lbs.), and the stripers average 3 lbs. (but go as big as 6 lbs.).

And hybrid stripers, like river stripers, basically follow the food source.

“Right now they’re on a large hatch of shad about one inch long. Back in April they were probably feeding more on crappie, bluegill, and bass fry,” Jeff explained, as he also told me that now in the summer months they are finding more fish in the coolest water possible, which is mostly around and under structure, whereas back in spring the fish were spread throughout the lake.

Yes, the lake stripers are more active and bite a little better in the winter time when the water is cooler, but part of the simplicity is that these hybrid stripers bite all year long.

On our morning together, Jeff and I got on the water around 9:30 (Jeff guided me to my first turkey, a turkey off the roost at about 7:00 am, but that’s for another article). Since it’s a private lake, we were the only boat and the only two people fishing all 34 acres.

The wind was supposed to come up later that morning, so we started on the fly. Jeff had me stand in the front of the boat (with clumsy piles of fly line at my feet) while he stood in the back and used the trolling motor to work some shorelines and points along one side of the lake. It took some time getting the control of the fly cast to come back to me, and in the meantime Jeff on spinner landed a couple of largemouth bass and a few stripers hugging just a few feet from the bank.

By the second point of shoreline, a respectable and dependable casting distance had returned and I was dropping the fly mostly where I wanted it to go. Some structure about 20 yards off the point seemed like a logical place to hold a fish, and my first cast to that structure brought me fast to my first striper on the fly.

“The fight on our lake is a little different,” said Jeff as the striper peeled off the small pile of line at my feet. “In the river, the fish tend to dive to the bottom, but in this lake, since the deepest water is 7-8 feet, the fish can’t dive deep so they have a tendency to run. And hybrids have bigger shoulders, and that also lets them fight a little harder.”

An east wind came up sooner than expected, so we positioned the boat towards the west side of the lake and had the wind push us along, correcting our movements here and there with the trolling motor.

The bite was steady, but we had flurries of strikes and found pockets of fish at different locations, much like river fishing. By now we were both throwing spinners, and at times the Z-Man PaddlerZ and SwimmerZ were working best, and then at other times it was topwaters or Gulp soft plastics.

Publisher Gary Hurley with his first striper (hybrid) on the fly. He was fishing (after a morning turkey hunt) with Capt. Jeff Koen on a FishIBX guided trip on Susan's Sweetwater Lake in Williamston, NC.

Publisher Gary Hurley with his first striper (hybrid) on the fly. He was fishing (after a morning turkey hunt) with Capt. Jeff Koen on a FishIBX guided trip on Susan’s Sweetwater Lake in Williamston, NC.

We ended our day along the east bank, logically the hotspot that day as the wind had been pushing bait up against it all morning long. Again we would find 4-6 fish off one little point, and then the bite would slow before some other bit of structure would produce another quick 4-6 fish.

No matter what we threw, though, everything was rigged with a single barbless hook. “It adds a skill level,” said Jeff, “but we also want to employ a catch-and-release method to care for these fish since we’re hooking a lot on every trip.”

However, Susan’s Sweetwater Lake isn’t just a catch-and-release fishery. The half day trip, priced at $400, let’s you keep up to six fish. And since it’s private property, no license is required and you can keep stripers all year round.

Dennis Woodruff purchased the lake about four years ago with a plan to build an epic fishery for hybrids, and it looks like he’s achieved his goal. I kept two stripers on my trip, and Jeff was kind enough to clean them on the stainless steel fillet table set up by the main dock and an accompanying picnic area.

Dennis is building a cabin on the dock area to be used to escape the winter weather, as well as to offer some indoor plumbing to make the experience even more family friendly.

Jeff and Mitchell believe strongly in customer service, so in addition to putting anglers on memorable hybrid striper trips, they will also give you turn key service, arranging hotel accommodations where they pick you up in the morning and then drop you off when the trip is done.

FishIBX also now offers package deals where you can duck, deer, or turkey hunt in the morning before transitioning to striper (and largemouth bass) fishing. Or you can package the lake trip with one of their classic Roanoke River trips.

For more information on discovering the simplicity (and enjoyment) of Susan’s Sweetwater Lake, you can call FishIBX at (252) 495-1803, or go online to www.fishibx.com.