Mike Coley has the perfect job.
Make that jobs.The southeast Guilford County resident has what he considers the best of two worlds because his work doesn't interfere with his fishing. Coley, you see, guides striper fishing parties on Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke, Va., three or four days a week about nine months of the year. Other times, his taxidermy business keeps him busy.
His hours aren't so hot, and the pay isn't so good as in some businesses in the private sector. Also, Coley sometimes must fight hard rains, rough waters and cold temperatures when fishing with parties on Smith Mountain lake. But he's his own boss, sets his own schedule and stays happy while making his businesses pleasurable. To him, that's important.
Though he often guides during the winter, he draws a line at taking parties out during the hottest weather of July, August and September. He usually guides 60 days to 70 days per year, but may increase that to around 90. He doesn't want to guide more than that because it could take too much time away from the taxidermy business he operates from a shop behind his Monnett Road home.
``I really don't want to expose people to the really hot weather,' he said. ``I can take it, but a lot of people can't and I don't want anyone to have a bad fishing trip with me. Let me tell you something, though. The biggest stripers caught in Smith Mountain Lake are usually brought in during the hot summer months.'
To back up that claim, Coley will show you a picture of the biggest striper he has caught from that lake. It weighed 30 pounds, 8 ounces and was caught on live shad July 17, 1988.
``The biggest striper caught by one of my fishermen weighed 34 pounds, 6 ounces,' Coley said. ``Doug Kivette from Greensboro caught that one last July 2. It was a really nice fish.'
Coley most often fishes with live bait - gizzard shad measuring 6 inches to 10 inches in length. He catches the shad by throwing a cast net, then keeps the delicate bait fish alive in an aerated bait well.
Most of his success comes with the live bait, but Coley keeps a couple of rods loaded with artificial baits to cast when he spots stripers schooling on the surface. These baits are quarter-ounce, white bucktails and Cordell's silver bottom, blue back broken-back Redfin.
``They have quit making the broken-back lure I like best,' he said. ``Now they don't have a screw eye between the two sections and I can't put the screw ring in it that gave it the action I liked best. The wire eyelets they use now are molded in the plastic and I can't get the sections apart. I have had to retire just about all those plugs I had and I can't find more.'
Coley knows many anglers fish Smith Mountain Lake without using guides, and he doesn't mind sharing fishing tips with these fishermen. He said guides on the lake often share information in order to help each other provide good fishing for their parties.
He advises novices to use medium action, light tip 7-foot rods with a heavy freshwater-light saltwater revolving spool reel filled with 20-pound test monofilament line. His personal rods are the 7-foot Shakespeare Ugly Stik, Garcia Ambassadeur 6500 reel and Trilene Big Game line.
By knowing the lake and the striper and by sharing information with other guides, Coley has enjoyed a good year with his parties. He had only one party that did not catch a striper in a day of fishing.
``I really worked hard, but it was just one of those days that we couldn't get a fish in the boat,' he said. ``I give my parties 10 or 12 hours a day, whatever we need. We usually get a limit for each angler and then release some other stripers if fishing is really good.'
The limit on stripers for Smith Mountain Lake is two fish per day. Minimum size for keepers is 20 inches.
Coley sometimes fishes Lake Townsend and other Guilford County waters for fun. His biggest largemouth bass weighed in at 11 pounds, 4 ounces, a farm pond catch. He caught a 10-pound, 12-ounce Bodie bass from Townsend.
``I have fished just about all my life,' he said. ``I fished farm ponds and I used to fish Lake Mattamuskeet for bass a lot with my father and mother. We all waded that really shallow water at Mattamuskeet. We caught a lot of bass over there, but not many over four pounds. Maybe a five pounder once in a while but never a six pounder like you catch in farm ponds around here.'
His parents are R.M. and Avon Coley, also of southeast Guilford County. Most of their fishing now is done along the North Carolina coast.
Coley is a self-taught taxidermist. He started as a hobbyist at age 14 with fish and small game. Most of his work is with bass and deer, but he also does other animals - ducks, geese, quail and other birds.
What was his rarest work?
``Well, I haven't completed it yet,' he said. ``It is this piebald buck I'm working on now. This buck is more rare than an albino. It is brown with white spots, really unusual.'
An albino deer is one that is white in color.
Coley at one time hunted deer with bow and arrow, but gave that up several years ago to concentrate on the fishing guide service and his taxidermy business. Even though the hours are sometimes long and pay is short, he wouldn't trade jobs with anyone he knows.