September 28, 2010
Toledo Bend has long been a hotspot for Louisiana stripers. Let's take an in-depth look at some specific spots where you can land a monster lineside. (May 2006)
The sploosh of the Chug Bug broke the silence of a very quiet morning on Toledo Bend reservoir.
As my wife, Lisa, worked the noisy topwater plug over a dropoff into the old Sabine River Channel, I noticed that we were drifting over a big school of shad.
Just as I was about to make my first cast, an explosion occurred under Lisa's plug. It looked and sounded as if someone had thrown a grenade into the water, but a quick flash of white with black stripes revealed we had picked the right spot this morning.
While she was battling her fish, I decided to make a few casts, and ended up with one of my own. Now, we had the interesting and arduous task of handling two stripers at once. It wasn't exactly easy work -- but no complaints here. Both fish were in the 10-pound class, and representative of the kind of tackle-busting action Toledo Bend's striped bass fishery can provide.
One of my favorite methods of seeking open-water fish like stripers is drifting, and the best areas to drift can be broken down into north and south on this 185,000-acre body of water. Let's start with the north end.
The area from Pontoon Bay on north to where the Sabine River enters the reservoir can be red-hot. The bottom here has numerous humps, ridges, roadbeds and old ponds.
Anglers should concentrate their efforts on shad found in relation to main-lake structure. Stripers will suspend around these shad at a variety of depths. When the shad are up near the surface, it's possible to catch them on surface lures as we did, but the steadiest action comes on tailspins and jigging spoons.
"Out in areas on the main lake like around Huxley Bay, and a spot locals call 'the well,' which is a little artesian spring you can see on calm days," responded longtime Toledo Bend angler Kevin Boudreaux, of Lake Charles, when asked for some hints on location. "I like to fish a Li'l George early in the month and then move on to a heavy slab to bounce down off the bottom and get their attention."
Boudreaux deems it important to mark the spots where you find fish. "Sometimes they'll be all over," he said, "but on those days when you find them in little pockets, it's good to have some marker buoys you can throw out to find your spot after you drift through them. We like to say they're 'on the spot,' because during those times, they have just a little area they are hitting in."
If the fish seem to have lockjaw everywhere but at such a spot, try positioning the boat there and using a trolling motor to stay in the bite window.
Another good method of taking these suspended stripers up north is by trolling with deep-diving crankbaits along the channels. This is a good strategy for locating fish, and can produce some of the larger specimens you might otherwise not contact.
Down on the south end, things are a bit different. Trolling is still a viable option, but live bait is a better choice. A live shad rigged on what I call a "breakaway rig" is a good alternative to downriggers and other expensive gear.
As I often recommend to coastal anglers, trolling these breakaway rigs requires using two rods and reels: one to fish with, the other to get your bait down to the depth at which you want to fish. Now, you can use this for trolling lures as well, but it's pretty much the easiest way for live bait.
Hook a live shad through the lips and a small, wide-gapped Kahle-style hook rigged on braided line; then take a rod rigged with a 1-ounce weight attached to a good swivel and attach it to your line with a thin rubber band tied to the swivel and to the braid. Let the baited line out first, and then attach the rubber band and weighted line once you have, say, 20 yards of line out behind the boat. This will allow you to troll your bait freely a good distance behind the boat, and to adjust the depth. Once you have a fish on, the pressure on the line will cut the rubber band and let you fight the fish freely.
Anglers should troll live baits slowly. You might want to start by using your trolling motor, but if that's not doing the trick, switch to the big motor to speed things up.
You'll be targeting the same kind of structure here, but often the largest concentrations will hold tight to the old river channel and the area right around the spillway, so locating them is not quite as laborious.
Anglers looking for surface schooling action, which can be hot this month, should get up early, as much of the best action is right at dawn. There is also good fishing late in the evenings, just before dusk. The area around Louisiana Island is a top area to find big stripers at those times.
I personally like chuggers for these hardcore fish, but some of the locals prefer big walking plugs like the Super Spook and Top Dog. Popular colors are bone and a white with red head combo locally called the "red-headed woodpecker" pattern.
When you work topwaters for stripers, don't let their intense blowups fool you. These fish can miss a plug, and anglers probably miss most of them by attempting to set the hook before the fish has its mouth on it. Big fish like stripers push up a lot of water when they hit something on the surface. It's best to get hit, count to two and then set the hook.
And if you miss the fish, it can pay to let the plug sit there, and then gently twitch it. On the trip that my wife and I took, I had a big fish blow up on a plug, but because I didn't follow my own advice, I attempted a hookset too early and missed it. After the goof-up, however, I just let the bait sit there for a second and made one chug -- and a 7-pounder inhaled the plug.
Which just reminded me of all the good reasons I have for liking to catch stripers, and of the many virtues that make Toledo Bend so renowned a destination.