The bait-clicker on one of Mark Collins’ rods began to click in a slow steady rythym — “click, click, click” as something in the lake took the bait. But as the line began to spin off the baitcaster, the clicks merged into a ripping whir. I grabbed my camera as Mark pulled the rod from the rod holder, dropped the rod tip nearly to the water and waited for the line to tighten up. When the line came taut, Mark set the hook hard, bringing the rod over his head, putting a deep bend in the rod. As the sun rose above the Lake Weiss horizon, Mark played in a 4-lb. striped bass, our first fish of the morning.
We had been fishing all of three minutes and this was just the front end of what was about to be some frantic fishing. Mark smokes, but for the next hour or so, he would be so busy with striped bass that he wouldn’t even have a chance to think about lighting up.
Mark and I were fishing Weiss on Thursday, May 17 at a location that is likely the No. 1 summertime striped-bass location on the lake: Cave Hole. Cave Hole is a deep hole gouged out of the bottom of Little River nearly as far up the river as you can go in a bass boat. From June through August, striped bass move up from Weiss to hang out in this deep hole where the water is often cooler and better oxygenated. These silver and black linesides are caught by the thousands. With the liberal creel limit on Weiss, Cave Hole is an excellent place to load the boat with stripers.
To reach Cave Hole, go up Little River past Big Oak campground. As you make a right-hand turn and the river necks down, the water depth will drop from 10- to 12-feet deep to 18- to 20-feet deep. The river channel swings to the right, directly under a series of rock bluffs that hang over the hole. A rock outcropping just above the surface marks the center of the hole and the deepest water. A couple of hundred yards farther upstream, the hole ends where Wolf Creek enters on the right. The left side of the river channel is bordered by a wide flat about four feet deep.
Just before sunup, Mark and I pulled into the lower end of the hole and baited up. In a 35-gallon live-bait tank he had several dozen shad that he had caught in a cast net from under lights near J.R.’s Marina. The tank also contained a couple dozen small bream that he had caught on crickets the evening before. If you don’t have a bait tank, bream will usually survive well in an aerated live-well.
Mark put out two 4- or 5-inch-long bream on two downlines and a 4-inch threadfin on another downline. A fourth shad trailed the boat on an unweighted free-line.
“As a general rule I don’t use baits under 4-inches long,” said Mark. “I like to use the bigger shad and bigger bream — the bigger the bait the bigger the fish.”
Mark uses a 4/0 live-bait hook at the end of 20-lb. Big Game line. The baits are hooked through the lip and out the nose so they can swim freely. For his downlines he twists on a 1/2-oz. rubber-core sinker. The rubber-core sinker doesn’t crimp the line, he says, and it is easily removed if he decides to use the line as a free-line.
Mark, 37, lives on Lake Weiss and he has been fishing the lake since he was six. During the late winter and spring he guides crappie fishermen from all over the Southeast on Weiss. During the summer he guides for striped bass, making 30 or 40 trips for linesides last year.
“The stripers are big, hard-fighting fish and they are fun to catch,” he said. “And there’s really not that much to catching them. If you can get up here with live bait, you can catch these fish.”
With our baits in the water, Mark had just begun to move the boat forward when the first fish hit. As he dropped the first fish back in the lake another bait clicker ripped. Again, Mark dropped the rod tip, waited for the line to tighten up and he set the hook again. “This is a little better fish,” he said and the line sliced sideways behind the boat. The fish surged several times stripping line before the fish came up and wallowed on the surface. In a few moments, Mark pulled a fat 10-lb. plus striped bass into the boat. “The usual size range you’ll see is fish from two to about 10 pounds,” said Mark. An average half-day trip will see 10 to 20 fish in the boat. On his best trip of the summer last year Mark and his client boated 39 stripers during a 4-hour trip. His heaviest striper of the season weighed 16 pounds.
For the conclusion of this article, see the June, 2001 issue of GON magazine.