It’s early morning on your favorite reservoir and a large school of shad is busily feeding some 20 feet under the surface. All is calm at this moment, but the school is getting nervous and packing more tightly together. Suddenly, out of sight from the rest of the world above, all hell breaks loose as feeding stripers or hybrid stripers race through the tightly packed fish to engulf a hapless shad or two. Several other shad are hurt trying to avoid becoming a meal. But the hurt shad swim a little slower, and so it won’t be long before another striper finishes them off as well.
Such is the way of Mother Nature; only the strong survive. And the safety provided by schooling doesn’t always help every shad in the large group, though most will survive to see another day.
To Arkansas fishermen, this is one of the best times of the year to be fishing for stripers and hybrid stripers. Our sport doesn’t get much more heart-thumping than hooking onto a 30-, 40-, even 50-pound linesider while fishing on one of the state’s premier striper waters. Or feeling the hard pull of a 10-pound-plus hybrid striper. Savvy anglers will be there when the feed is on, which happens more often in the summer just above the thermocline in 25- to 30-foot depths, all the way up to the surface.
Summer anglers who put in the time undoubtedly will catch their share of trophy stripers or hybrids. So let’s take a look at three prime picks where you’ll find big feeding fish right now. To do so, let’s start out with the biggest water in the state for stripers, namely Ouachita Lake (pronounce Wah-shi-tah).
Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains region, just 10 miles west of Hot Springs, 40,100-acre Ouachita Lake is the largest single reservoir found completely in Arkansas. This beautiful, clear waterway was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood-control purposes way back in the 1940s. Today, the reservoir still provides flood protection, but it also serves as prime public water for outdoors folks of all interests.
The lake is a wonderful place for outdoorsmen, as its entire shoreline is surrounded by the acreage of the Ouachita National Forest. There aren’t any residential developments to spoil your view or to ruin your time spent in a mostly natural setting. What a great place for fishermen or anyone who loves the outdoors!
Ouachita Lake is also one of the cleanest freshwater lakes found in the entire United States, thus it contains a rare jellyfish species (non-stinging), along with freshwater sponges. The lake’s clear waters attract all types of fishermen, from scuba-diving spear fishermen to hook-and-line enthusiasts like you and me.
As far as striper fishing goes, Ouachita Lake is known for producing fabulous angling for linesiders, and big fish to boot. The lake’s nursery pond is no longer used for stocking stripers, as Arkansas’ Game and Fish Commission believes that more accurate stocking numbers can be achieved through direct hatchery truck releases for this species. However, that doesn’t mean the fishing is anything less than topnotch. In 2010, the recommended striper-stocking rate was two fingerlings per acre of water — or around 80,000 fingerlings per season for Ouachita Lake.
Veteran fishing guide Jerry Bean knows all about striper fishing on this great lake. He’s even put his clients into many stripers weighing more than 50 pounds, though most fish will range from 15 to 40-plus pounds. Now that’s not bad anywhere! In fact, on one trip, while his client was using a 3/4-ounce Cotton Cordell jigging spoon for summer walleyes, he actually hooked into and landed a 44-pound striper instead, all on 12-pound-test line!
According to Mr. Bean, one of the places on Ouachita where stripers are sure to be feeding is on the flats. These flats are found at 25- to 40-foot depths just off the main river channel, which is some 130 feet down during normal summer pool.
When the stripers are on the flats, it’s a jigging situation using either 3/4-ounce Cotton Cordell or Luhr-Jensen spoons in shad patterns (silver/white).
“Remember that stripers like cloudy weather — and the worse the weather, the better the bite,” says Bean.
Other places to find stripers right now include at the dam, over Brady’s Flat on the south side (lower end) of the lake, and on the upper end of the lake where three prominent tributaries come together.
Another way to seek stripers here is to use live bait, namely gizzard shad. After locating stripers on his fish finder, guide Jerry Bean will free-swim a live shad on a 4/0 Kahle live-bait hook or a 5/0 circle hook. He’ll keep the shad from going all the way into the thermocline by using a balloon float (tied to allow the line to move freely), and keeping the fish at 25- to 28-foot depths. When a striper hits, the line will tear through the granny-knot-tied balloon, and the angler will battle the striper without any weight. And, when using a circle hook, all you need to do is to wait until the line becomes taut and then start reeling.
“Ron Hamlin, a world-famous marlin fisherman, turned me on to circle hooks because of the survival factor of fish caught on them. They’re much better than J-style hooks for stripers,” says Bean.
The lake also has world-class facilities at the Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa; check online at www.mountainharborsresort.com, or call (870) 867-2191. Jerry Bean guides out of that marina. If you book a trip with him — and I highly recommend it — make sure to ask him about his hunting and fishing days spent all around the world. It’s amazing where he’s been! Guide Bean can be reached by calling (501) 282-6104.
For more information on the lake’s other marinas and amenities, you can go to www.ouachitalake.com.
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