When you go after the big, hard-fighting hybrids that lurk in Percy Priest Lake and other state waters, are you hunting or fishing?
Both, says Mt. Juliet’s Chuck Campbell, noted for his knack for finding the heavyweight sluggers.
“The key to catching hybrids is to locate them,” he says. “There are certain spots on the lake where they tend to congregate, so you start out there. But there’s still a lot of water to cover. And even when you find them, that doesn’t mean you’ll catch them.”
Hybrids are technically hybrid striped bass, also known as Cherokee bass, a cross between a striped bass and a white bass (stripe). Hybrids don’t reproduce in the wild; they are hatchery-raised and stocked by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Hybrids grow fast. The state record is 23 pounds, three ounces, caught in Stones River in 1998 by Ray Pelfrey. Ten-to-15 pounders are frequently caught in Priest.
Like its white bass cousin, hybrids are one of the hardest-fighting fish in the lake. They hit hard, make long, line-screeching runs, and continue to lunge and thrash all the way into the net.
In deep, open water like Priest, landing them is no problem if you take your time. Keep the drag set loose and let them wear themselves out.
But first you have to hook them.
On one recent trip, Chuck, my son Brian, and I launched at daybreak, and two hours later we hadn’t had a hit. Chuck finally caught a five-pounder, then added two smaller ones. Brian got a four-pounder and a catfish, and I landed two small ones -- six hybrids between the three of us in six hard, hot hours of casting.
“On some trips you might catch 30,” Chuck says. “Other times you may catch just a few -- and sometimes you don’t catch any.”
Chuck starts his hybrid hunts by searching for bait fish on his electronics. Once a pod of bait is found, often suspended 20-30 feet down, lures or baits are lowered down below the school of bait where hybrids tend to lurk.
Sometimes hybrids can be seen on the screen, but because you can see them doesn’t mean you can catch them. They often ignore lures such as weighted jigging spoons and even wriggling minnows.
“Sometimes there can be too much bait,” Chuck says. “The hybrids have too much to pick from.”
Hybrids occasionally feed on topwater, generally at dawn and dusk, and catching them on surface lures is a blast – literally.
The daily limit is two, with a 15-inch minimum length. Chuck practices catch-and-release; I practice cat-and-eat. I bake the fillets in melted butter with a dash of lemon pepper. They are also delicious grilled.
Hybrids are well worth the hunt.