John's Journal...

Dam Tailraces for Stripers with Tommy Akin

Putting a Striper in the Boat

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, yesterday you told us how to fight a striper. Now, stripers are big fish, possibly 10 to 20 pounds or bigger. How do you get them in the boat, after you’ve played them down, and they’ve come up beside the boat?
Akin: For a long time, I used a dip net. However, when I started fishing with artificial lures, I found that getting treble hooks out of a dip net takes almost as long as fighting the fish and getting it up alongside the boat. So, I’ve started using a Boga-Grip. With the Boga-Grip, just pull the handle back, and when you turn it loose, the Boga-Grip locks over the fish’s jaw, giving you a handle to pick up the fish. So, not only can you pick up the fish with the Boga-Grip, it also has a certified scale that allows you to accurately measure Click to enlargethe fish as soon as you pull it out of the water. With the Boga Grip, you can hold the fish, weigh the fish, take pictures of yourself and the fish and then release the fish without ever touching it. The Boga-Grip has a handle long enough so that you don’t have to worry about the treble hooks sticking you.

Too, after you take the hooks out of the fish (using needle-nose pliers), you can put the fish in your live well, if you want to keep it, or you can release it. The Boga-Grip is a much-safer way for both you and the fish when you’re trying to put a striper in the boat. With those extremely-sharp treble hooks, you’ll have problems trying to take the hooks out of the striper flopping in the net. The Boga-Grip has a loop in the handle. Always put your hand through that loop, so the fish doesn’t jerk it out of your hand. Too, always tie a large float onto the loop of the handle. Then if you forget to put your hand through that loop to land your striper, and the striper jerks the Boga-Grip out of your hand, the Boga-Grip will come to the surface with your fish. You can chase them both downstream and get back your Boga-Grip and your fish.

Question: Tommy, how do you fish live bait for stripers?
Akin: When we’re fishing with live shad minnows, we use the big engine on my War Eagle Boat to pull and hold our boat right up beside the boils. Then I let out line until my bait hits the bottom and reel up about two or three turns off the bottom. I keep the big engine running with the nose pointing into the current. When the bait hits the bottom, and I start reeling, I reduce the speed of the boat. The current pushes the boat backwards on a controlled drift with the nose of the boat pointing forward. I attempt to drift at the same Click to enlargespeed as the current, so the current carries my bait and the boat downstream at the same speed. This way, the live bait is presented naturally to the stripers.

Question: How do you rig when you’re live-bait fishing?
Akin: I use 17-pound-test main line and tie the end to a three-way swivel. On the second eye of the three-way swivel, I tie on about 12 to 14 inches of 8-pound-test line and attach the end of the line to a 3-inch sinker. If my sinker gets hung-up, I can break off the sinker and still have my entire rig. On the third eye of the three-way swivel, I attach 2 to 3 feet of 17-pound-test line and then tie on my hook, which is either a No. 3/0 to a No. 5/0 TTI red circle hook. If I’m not baiting with shad minnows, I’ll bait with bluegills.

Question: Why do you prefer circle hooks?
Akin: With the circle hook, the striper can set the hook itself. When I feel the fish on the line, I only have to take up slack and continue to reel slowly. The hook will set itself. Too, the circle hook is easy to remove. I’ve missed far fewer fish using the circle hook. The size of the bait determines the size of the hook I fish. For small baits, I like a No. 3/0 hook, and for big baits, I use a No. 5/0 hook. I hook my bait bringing the point of the hook from the Click to enlargebottom of the lip to the top of the lip of the baitfish. This way, the bait can swim naturally. When fishing in a tailrace with live and artificial bait, you’ll catch everything that swims in that tailrace, including largemouth, smallmouth, catfish and drum. There’s hardly any fish in a tailrace that won’t eat a shad minnow, or what they believe to be a shad minnow.

Question: What’s an average day of fishing at Pickwick Lake?
Akin: Depending on the time of year and the weather and the water conditions, we’ll generally catch from five or six to as many as 50 stripers. I fished Pickwick the last week in August and caught and released 50 stripers, keeping my limit.

Question: How do you cook your stripers?
Akin: I filet them and cut out the red strip in the middle of the filet (the lateral line). Then I either grill, fry or bake them. We generally soak the filets that we’ll fry in Italian dressing overnight. When we grill the filets, we add the Italian dressing as they’re grilling. Sometimes I’ll mix soy sauce with that Italian dressing for a different flavor. I put my marinade and the striper filets in an airtight container and then refrigerate them. Many times I’ll put the filets in salt water overnight, take them out of the salt water the next morning, wash them thoroughly, place them back in the refrigerator in that Italian dressing, let them soak all day and then cook them that night. Stripers are delicious to eat. I catch and release a lot of stripers, and I catch and eat quite a few, too. If you’ve never been striper fishing, and you’re looking for rod-bending, fun-fishing action, give striper fishing a try.

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

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 5