“We want to make sure there are plenty of fish now, and in the future,” says club vice-president Joe James of Mt. Juliet, whose club sponsored the recent Sportsman Swap Meet at Charlie Daniels Park.
The club donates its share of the proceeds from the annual tackle sale to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s striper hatchery program. Specifically, the money goes to provide high-protein, growth-enhancing food for fingerlings in the TWRA’s Springfield Hatchery.
The TWRA annually stocks thousands of stripers – commonly known as rockfish – in Percy Priest Lake and in the Cumberland River/Old Hickory Lake.
“We’ve been partnering with the TWRA for about 24 years,” James says. “Imagine how many fish have been stocked in that time.”
The club has approximately 50 members who pay annual dues of $20. The dues, along with the tackle sale receipts and most of the entry fees from the club’s nine annual tournaments, are invested in the hatchery-food project.
“The mission of the club is to promote hybrid and striper fishing and educate folks about how to catch them,” James says.
The club’s tournaments are held on Percy Priest, Old Hickory, Cordell Hull and Tims Ford lakes from March through September. Entries are not restricted to club members.
James is an authority on striper fishing. He operates Captain Joe’s Guide Service (615-804-5140) and has 43 years’ experience chasing trophy rockfish. The biggest he has boated weighed 40 pounds, and his top two-fish catch tipped the scales at 63 pounds.
James offers full-day and half-day trips, along with corporate outings, and provides tackle and bait. Most of his big fish are caught on live shad.
The club encourages catch-and-release, although if someone wants to keep a fish or two (the daily limit) for the table, it’s permissible. Smaller rockfish are delicious when property prepared, while bigger fish are less palatable.
Most of the club’s fishermen go after the bigger trophy-sized fish. Each catch is weighed, measured and video-taped to verify its size, then released. A replica mount can be made from the data.
Hiring a guide is worth the investment for the casual angler who wants to catch a big striper, says long-time club member Tommy LaCroix.
“You have to know how to go about it, from catching the bait to finding the fish,” he says. “You have to have the right type of gear. You’re not going to land many 40-pound stripers on bass tackle.”
In addition to chartering guided trips, James other club members share tips and information with those who prefer to forego a guide and fish on their own.
“There’s nothing as exciting as catching a big striper or hybrid,” James says. “We’d like for every fisherman to get a chance to experience the thrill.”