John's Journal...

Dam Tailraces for Stripers with Tommy Akin

The Striper Fight

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Tommy Akin of Greenfield, Tennessee, has fished for saltwater stripers for 14 years. On any day, after office hours, you’ll find Akin in a tailrace at Pickwick Dam on the Tennessee/Mississippi/Alabama border, catching those drag-stripping, rod-bending, muscle-straining saltwater striped bass. Akin’s strategies will catch stripers in any tailrace.

Question: Tommy, what rod, reel and line set-up do you use?
Akin: I use a medium-heavy action rod and a 6:1 gear ratio reel with 14- to 17-pound-test line. When I fish with live bait, I use 17-pound-test line. With artificial lures, I fish 14-pound-test line. To consistently catch stripers, spool your entire reel with either 14- or 17-pound-test line. Bass fishermen often only will strip out 50 to 75 yards of line and then tie on their choice of pound-test line because they think they’ll only need additional line on the spool to make their reels cast further. But you can’t do that with stripers. When stripers Click to enlargetake your bait, they’ll take off. Not only will they swim hard downstream, they’ll cut across the current and have two to three times as much force to pull line off your reel. A nice-sized striper may run out more than 100 yards of line before you turn it. Then when you start trying to pull the fish back to the boat, you’re not only fighting the fish, you’re also fighting the force of the current pulling away from you.

To successfully catch stripers, set your drag really loose. If you start trying to horse-in stripers, you’ll break your line or tear the lure out of the striper’s mouth. A 10-pound striper will break 17-pound-test line, if you have a good current running beside your boat. I’ll set my drag at 50% of the breaking strength of the line, especially for the first two or three runs a striper makes after it takes the bait. This way, you can add or subtract weight to the line to turn a fish or control it better. When you get the fish worClick to enlargen-down, and you want to try to get it into the boat, then you can tighten-up your drag if needed. Look at the striper’s tail. It’s really wide and has a lot of power. So, make sure you’ve got the striper fairly worn-out before you tighten-up your drag. If I’m fishing 17-pound-test line, I’ll probably set my drag at 8 to 10 pounds. To save yourself heartache and a lot of pain, don’t put your thumb on the spool when a striper takes off running. Bass fishermen have a natural habit of putting their thumb on the spool. But if you put your thumb on the spool whenClick to enlarge that striper decides to take off, the spool will spin and gnaw the meat off your thumb. Therefore, get your thumb away from the spool when you’re striper fishing. Learn to lay your thumb on the side of the reel, instead of on the spool of the reel.

Question: How do you play the fish and get it back to the boat?
Akin: When a striper takes my bait, I’m only concerned about holding onto the rod. I let the striper do what it wants for at least the first 30 seconds to 1 minute. If I know I have a really-big striper on the line, I’ll turn my boat downstream and chase the striper to get the fish 75-to 100-yards away from the boils and the base of the dam. Then I can take my time and work the striper back to the boat. In most tailraces, there aren’t obstacles in the water, like trees, logs or sticks, where you can hang-up your line or fish. So, you can fight the fish in open water. Once I have the fish tired out, I keep a good arch in my rod and use a steady retrieve to pull the striper up to the boat. I don’t pump and wind. If you pump the rod and then drop the rod tip down to take up slack, you’re putting slack in the line. The striper can feel that slack and often will throw the bait.

For more information on Pickwick Lake, contact the Hardin County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at, or call 731-925-8181 or 800-552-3866, or visit

Tomorrow: Putting a Striper in the Boat

Check back each day this week for more about "Dam Tailraces for Stripers with Tommy Akin"

Day 1: Best Bet for Stripers
Day 2: Look for Grooves
Day 3: Baits for Stripers
Day 4: The Striper Fight
Day 5: Putting a Striper in the Boat


Entry 473, Day 4