I’ve made several trips to Percy Priest Lake in recent years trying to catch some of the hard-fighting hybrids –technically, Cherokee bass – that live there, with no luck.
I’d talk with fishermen who claimed to have loaded boat with schooling hybrids, but it was always, “You should have been here yesterday.”
Finally, yesterday arrived.
While fishing with Chuck Campbell the other day, we finally found them. Actually, Chuck and some of his buddies had been hauling in hybrids on several trips, but never when I was along.
The jinx came to a jolting halt after about a half-hour on the water when I cast a weighted spoon toward a school of bait fish skipping on the surface and a chunky hybrid tried to snatch the rod from my hand.
The fish peeled off line, reel screeching, as it made a dive into the 35-foot depths. I fought it alongside the boat, thrashing and splashing, but before Chuck could slip the net under it the line popped.
I re-tied and resumed casting, and minutes later had another hard strike. This time the line and my luck both held, and I managed to get the fish in the boat. It weighed just under four ponds.
For the rest of the morning we caught fish. Chuck landed the biggest, a seven-pound 11-ouncer. Most of the others were between three and four pounds.
That’s far from the Percy Priest Lake record hybrid (20 pounds, 10 ounces) caught by David Lawrence in 2016, or the state record, a 23-pound, 3-ouncer caught in the Stones River below Percy Priest dam in 1998 by Ray Pelfrey. But a hybrid that pushes four pounds will give you a fight to remember. When you start catching them in numbers, they will also give you arm and wrist cramps. Pound-for-pound, there’s not a harder-fighting fish.
Percy Priest’s hybrids are another in a long line of success stories for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Biologist Todd St. John says the Agency began stocking hybrids in Percy Priest Lake in 1981, and since then the Agency has stocked approximately 100,000 a year.
Hybrids are a cross between a striped bass (rockfish) and a white bass. They do not naturally reproduce; all are hatchery-raised. Along with Percy Priest, Times Ford Lake is the other Middle Tennessee lake that receives an annual hybrid stocking, along with some East Tennessee waters.
The hybrids are 2-3 inches long when released in June each year, and in three years the fingerlings grow to about 20 inches. That makes them legal on Priest, which has a 15-inch minimum for hybrid keepers. After that their growth slows, length-wise, but the fish continue to grow broader and ticker.
The life span of a hybrid is believed to be around 10 years. St. John says that lack of longevity could be due to the fact hybrids are voracious feeders and can be readily caught by knowledgeable anglers. In other words, most hybrids succumb to a hook in the jaw before reaching old age.
The majority of hybrid fishermen practice catch-and-release, but St. John says the population on Priest is stable and can withstand harvesting a two-fish daily limit.
Hybrids, like rockfish and white bass, are an excellent table fish if prepared properly. That includes removing the reddish-brown membrane found between the skin and flesh. Once rinsed and soaked in salt water, the fillets are delicious when baked in a sauce pan swimming in a pool of melted butter with dash of lemon juice. That’s where mine ended up.
Crystal Brown benefit upcoming at Gun Club
The Cedar City Gun Club will hold a benefit trap shoot Friday and Saturday for Lebanon’s Crystal Brown who is battling cancer.
All proceeds will go to the Brown family.
Additional donations can be made through the Gun Club. For information call Bill Denny at 615-405-3790.
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at [email protected]