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Stripers From Hook To Plate

By: Bob Epstein

There are few things more satisfying and exciting for an angler than the take of a strong hard running and fighting fish with shoulders. The striped bass is one of the few inshore fish that fits that description.

The 63,000 acre, 1255 miles of shoreline of Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, offers some of the finest freshwater striper fishing, anywhere. All around the country state game and fish commissions have introduced these 7-black lines to the sides fish as a predator control fish to control the gizzard shad and for recreational fishing purposes. The fish are found in saltwater along the Atlantic coastline from the St. Laurence River into the Gulf of Mexico to around Louisiana. These bass spawn in freshwater and are anadramous and migrate between salt and freshwater.

In 2007, President Bush in an Executive Order named the Striped Bass as a protected game fish. This order has made this fish off-limits to commercial sale in Federal waters and it encourage states to designate the Striped Bass as a protected game fish within state waters. This past couple of years there was terrific drought across the southeastern USA, however there was plenty of water, no problem for boaters and fishers at Lake Cumberland whose depths measure in the hundreds of feet. That drought of 2007 into the first part of 2008 was finally mitigated by Fay the Tropical storm and then a series of Gulf Storm hurricanes, mainly Ike and fronts that made their way across the area, balancing out once again the water table depths.

At Griders Marina located at Indian Resort Lodge-every room had a fine lake view and was very comfy. We settled in for the evening of our arrival, but not before enjoying a delightful sunset view of the lake.

We had been told that the striped bass fishing could get very good in the fall. Fish were fattening up for their winter deep-water holdover. Our guide, Greg Cary a veteran guide with 13-years of experience, offered us the opportunity to drop live lake shad baits 32-feet down in the clear cool waters. There were 18 stripers (10 of them total keepers all in 10-20-pound plus range) that struck with a furiousity that was as surprising as they were large once boated and viewed. There were five of us and the limit is two fish per person with an encouragement by our guide Cary to keep the bigger, legal size fish, as they do not fare well when released, especially in the fall of the year.

Striped bass attack and inhale their prey, they are a fish that suck in a hold a baitfish, eel, crab, shiner, shad, alewives, squid, sandworms, bloodworms, clams, bunker and mackerel plus innumerable other foods that make up a stripers diet. Unlike long-toothed fish that attack, cut and slice their prey such as pickerel, pike that have dagger-like teeth, striped bass like their freshwater counterparts largemouth, smallmouth, spotted bass to name but a few, suck and swallow head-first after holding the fish with abrasive small teeth and innumerable rough and sharp abrasive denticles that line their mouths. Jigs with white and red in their coloration are a favorite of guides as are Rattle Traps, Count-Down Rappala's that are lip-tuned to track nicely behind downriggers or trolled near the surface at optimal spring and fall seasons.

Cary said his biggest striper so far was a 45-pound, 10-ounce stripe-sider (world record according to International Game Fish Association is 78-1/2 pounds in New Jersey waters in 1980. but a 125-pounder was recorded caught commercially and stripers are alleged to live for up to 40-years). These striped bass fish were stocked from the saltwater realm, taken originally from Maryland and Virginia stocks. Striped bass, rockfish, line-sides as they are also called, are well acclimated to freshwater environments of deep cold lakes. Many stocks have been hybridized as well. The hybrids do not breed, and are raised to fight, and be harvested. Our group of writers visiting the area included editors and journalists from Canada, Spokane, Washington, a Chicago magazine publisher and several other journalists and writers from all around the USA- a total of 14 folks in all. We all ate very fresh striped bass fried filets & fixing's of home cooked beans and slaw, that night, prepared by Laura Ann Tallent.

Tallent as her name might imply, is Griders long-time cook and supporter. Between the peanut butter pie, hot blackberry cobbler and chocolate meringue, several of us including Stone almost didn't make it back to our room.

Striped bass, have fine white meat, however, care in cleaning and removing the blood-red part of the meat is important for the taste not to be gamey or taste of lactic acid that fishy odor and taste we have all experienced when fish any fish is not properly cleaned and handled. Seems that powerful and constantly swimming fish need plenty of blood circulation along their muscular flanks to help in propelling them continuously as they forage and feed. Fish such as ambush fish like the striped bass that constantly swim in a current or on the move always chasing down prey have more of this blood rich meat along their sides to feed those constantly flexed and worked musculature. With a bit of care in cleaning this red part of the meat, the fish will taste far better to excellent than cooking it with the blood left in and on the fish.

Three things you don't want to do when planning on eating fish you catch: 1-Don't fight them to their limits of exhaustion, it builds up lactic acid and enzymes in their muscle meat causing gamey tasting fish flavors. Fight them to the boat or shore quickly if you can.

2-Don't put them in just water or an empty ice chest to expire. Once brought aboard, immediately dunk them into a cooler with ice and water mix (slush) they will expire immediately and later when filleted or steaked will make for far tastier fare.

3-Don't leave red-blooded flesh or the blood line on filets. Cut it out and place filets or steaks in a pan of kosher saltwater mix. This salt is a great astringent and will further tease out and remove most capillary blood from the fish flesh. This will result in fish tasting non-gamey and good. You are what you eat and so are fish. Stripers eat live prey, fish, squids, eels, sea worms, crustaceans. Thus the meat is white and clean.

Cooking fish correctly is a practiced affair. Frying is the easy way out with fish and not really preferred or as healthy as baking or broiling. However, if your cooking on a house boat it's often best frying up some fish which is easier and quicker than the former way where you would want a full kitchen facility with broiler and oven.


  • When you get your fresh fillets home, you need to rinse them with fresh cool water and bag them into whatever sized portions you choose.

  • One of the best ways that we have found to freeze striper fillets is to put them into zip-lock freezer bags or plastic containers, cover them with water, and add a few drops of lemon juice for freshness. When this freezes, the ice will protect the fillets against freezer-burn for up to several months.

  • Before cooking your striper fillets, be sure to remove most of the "red meat", (the red stripe down the center of each fillet). This is easily done using a large sharp knife and making a long angled slice down the length of the fillet. Fillets that have been well chilled or frozen and thawed are the easiest to work with. Usually this will split the fillet down the middle into nice sized serving pieces.

  • Striper is tasty prepared in just about any way you want. Baked, fried, broiled, grilled (ask your guide to leave the skin on one side of the fillet to make this easier), it's all good! Our favorite recipe is cerviche.

                                              Fried Striper

    Season moist fillets to taste and place in a zip-lock bag with cornmeal. Zip up and shake to coat. Fry in hot oil until golden brown & fish is white and flaky inside.

    One variation we really like is to season the fillets, then coat them in a bowl with mustard (usually yellow, but Dijon is good too), add a couple of drops of Louisiana hot sauce, then coat and fry as described above.

  • You may want to add a little extra salt when seasoning, as frying seems to remove some of it.

  • We use peanut oil for frying fish. It holds up well and is reusable. Just try to keep it from overheating (when it smokes), and you can clean it by frying French fries last, then strain it when cool to remove the cornmeal and crumbs, put it back in original container and keep in freezer until next time.

  •                                           Baked Striper

    Season fillets with your favorite herbs, spices, etc. Place in lightly oiled shallow pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes until it flakes easily and is opaque in the center. Serve with tartar sauce or red cocktail sauce.
    Season fillets to taste, coat with Progresso Italian flavored bread-crumbs and bake until golden brown.

    Dip fillets in BBQ sauce and roll in crushed potato chips and bake until done.


    Season fillets with garlic, cilantro, and a dash of cumin. Add some of your favorite picante sauce or salsa during baking.

                                                Blackened Striper

    Heat up your favorite cast-iron skillet and season your fillets. We like cajun seasoning or Cavender's Greek seasoning, or lemon pepper, but use what you like. Melt a couple tbsp butter (optional) in skillet and add enough cooking oil to cover bottom of the pan. When the skillet begins to smoke a little, add the fillets and pester them while they sizzle so they won't stick. As they reach whatever degree of blackness or brownness you like, flip 'em over and do the same on the other side. Some folks like to add picante sauce to the final stages of this for something different.

    Be Warned!! This will probably smoke up your kitchen something awful! Do it outside if possible. Or you can opt for lower heat and add some garlic, or Italian salad dressing for another flavor altogether.

    Cut fillets into cubes (1/4 to 1/2 inch). Place in deep bowl and cover completely with fresh squeezed lime juice. Add diced onion, bell pepper, hot peppers if desired, garlic (coarse powdered or fresh), chopped fresh cilantro, and whatever other seasoning you like. Cover and let stand in refrigerator several hours or until fish is tender and white. Add diced tomatoes and avocado (optional). Add Italian dressing to cover other ingredients. Can be enjoyed immediately with your favorite crackers or tortilla chips or left to sit a little longer for even more flavor. Verrrrrrrrry nice!!!!

  • 1 ripe mango, diced (or substitute canned peaches or pineapple)
  • 1-1/2 cup picante sauce
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup green onion, finely chopped
  • Fresh garlic if desired

  •                                  This is excellent with grilled striper!

                                        ....Easy Sauces....

    -Red Sauce-

    Start out with a small bowl of ketchup. Add worchestershire sauce, lemon juice, and prepared horseradish (comes in a jar) to suit your taste. You can make it as tangy or mild as you like. Just add a little and taste, add a little and taste, til you get it just right.

    -Tartar Sauce-

    Start out with a small bowl of mayonnaise. Add finely chopped onion, dill relish, and a dash of lemon juice. For a sweeter sauce, use Miracle Whip instead of mayonnaise and sweet relish instead of dill.

    Between the leisurely houseboat cruises along the shores of Lake Cumberland, visits to museums of Civil War Memorabilia, fields and valleys of Mill Springs Civil War Battlefield and National Cemetery (Mills Spring is also home to the largest working waterwheel) where once Americans fought each other to the death for issues today that part of the history of the American evolutionary fabric, and fine restaurants serving up the best Southern cuisine, Barb and I thoroughly enjoyed or visit to this great S. Eastern Kentucky part of the South. For additional information:

    Lake Cumberland Tourism