October 05, 2010
Few fish can put up the fight of a hefty freshwater striper. Don't believe it? Well, April's a great month for fishing in Oklahoma -- so go out and test the theory at these prime spots!
By Mike Lambeth
My wife and I climbed aboard the guide's boat in the stillness of the foggy morning. The vision-obscuring shroud, reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, began to lift off the water as we idled through the shallows. The day had dawned warm and would get hotter.
Soon my wife and I compared the pair of rainbow trout that were now flip-flopping on the end of our fishing lines. Had we been trout fishing, I would have been well pleased with those speckled beauties. But these were our live bait offerings. You see, we were fishing the Lower Illinois River for monster stripers.
Our lines were cast behind the boat and the pound-sized trout allowed to swim freely. After a cursory lesson from our guide on hooking a striper, the vigil began.
We were fishing with Delmer Shoults a veteran guide who has boated innumerable monster stripers. Shoults' stories and anecdotes would help us pass the time, but soon the focus shifted to the heavy rods fished off the back of the boat.
In a flash, line peeled off my reel as a potentially huge striper mouthed my 10-inch bait. I picked up the rod and jerked as if I was trying to land the fish in one mighty heave, only to feel no resistance on the other end. My line was limp and I soon retrieved the baitless hook. With a dejected look, I asked Delmer what went wrong.
When Dennis Donalo caught this 32-pound striper in the Lower Illinois River, the Del City angler was fishing with guide Delmer Shoults, who specializes in catching big stripers on live trout there. (Photo courtesy of Delmer Shoults)
For the next 15 minutes, Shoults schooled me again in the proper techniques of catching a big striped bass on live trout. Shoults explained that I had tried to set the hook too soon, and in the process, had jerked the bait out of the striper's mouth before the fish had time to digest the lively trout.
My patience was tested as Donna and I endured the warm, sunny day, but we were rewarded with two chunky stripers and a new appetite for Lower Illinois River striper fishing.
Stripers can be caught in the Sooner State at several venues, and they reach weights upward to 50 pounds. Although stripers bite year 'round, the springtime is an excellent time to catch a wallhanger.
With the information included here, you'll have the "right stuff" to target and then catch the Oklahoma striper of your dreams.
SUPER BAITS FOR STRIPERS
Optimum striper baits will vary from lake to river, and range from several forms of live baits, to several forms of artificial lures. All will accomplish the task of enticing a hungry striper to bite when conditions are right. However, some lures produce more fish but smaller creels, while others are earmarked to catch only the super-sized variety.
Striper guide Delmer Shoults fishes almost exclusively with rainbow trout and achieves very impressive results. Shoults fishes a two- to three-mile stretch of the Lower Illinois River near Gore Landing and swears by the speckled baits.
Shoults is licensed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to maintain a submerged bait tank in the river, which he keeps well stocked with rainbows ranging in size from 7 inches to near 12.
Trout are expensive bait, according to Shoults, costing from 60 cents to $1.65 apiece. They are very fragile and must be kept in an aerated bait tank with cool water and a precise pH reading. Shoults fishes most of his trout on a weightless line, rigging them by running a sharp hook between the upper lip and nostril. Allowing the trout to swim freely in the green water of the river, this method of rigging has produced some huge stripers.
In Oklahoma, all anglers using trout, or fishing in designated trout streams, are required to have a trout stamp.
Most striper lakes in Oklahoma have huge shad bases and these fish become the staple food for schools of foraging stripers. Most guides prefer to fish with shad, which range from 4 inches to nearly 10 inches in length. Fresh shad can be easily caught by casting a net into likely habitat. Generally a few casts will fill an aerated bait tank with enough of the silver-sided baitfish to catch an ice chest full of striped bass.
Another live-bait option is herring, which can be caught in river systems near where two rivers intersect and form a mudline. Oklahoma City guide David Mitchell uses small jigs to catch the herring, which are a great bait to use when stripers become finicky. Though not the best choice, large shiner minnows will work when stripers are "stacked up" or congregated in large schools.
I have enjoyed success for many years using artificial lures. A few years ago, Chris Box and I caught a boat full of stripers in the 8- to 12-pound range using Hopkins spoons -- a silver slab-type bait with a white hair skirt. Other good choices are Prune Picker slabs, large Sassy Shads in a variety of colors, and big deep-diving shad-colored crankbaits.
When stripers are surfacing, long topwater lures like Pencil Poppers and other propeller-type noisy surface baits can provide interesting fishing.
SUPER STRIPER WATERS
Lake Texoma anglers are coming in with bigger stringers lately, and the resurgence of the once nationally recognized striper factory is making its presence known. The lake's guides once again are staying booked almost year 'round.
In years past, anglers were catching good numbers of stripers daily, but the fish only averaged 2 to 3 pounds.
Guides are now toting in stripers that approach 20 pounds, just as they used to daily in the 1980s. The lake's stripers are now becoming larger, on average, and when guides pull in to the docks curious onlookers are on hand to inspect their catch.
"April is a prime month on Texoma as the fish began to form definite patterns," says guide Shane Clutter. "The stripers are fat and ready to spawn and will likely move into favorable areas and stack, while consuming huge amounts of the shad population."
Clutter, who's been guiding on Texoma for five years, says that the bite gets intense before the spawn -- which usually occurs the first or second week of April -- when the fish move up the Red and Washita rivers. As water temperatures near 56 degrees, huge schools of fish move toward the mouths of the rivers to stage.
However, not all stripers spawn at the same time, so the lake always has hungry stripers available for anglers' hooks.
Clutter says that most of the time his bait of choice is live shad. He has learned the best areas for catching stripers by being on the lake nearly 200 days each year. Clutter's average catch is nearing 5 pounds, and he is boating more big stripers than in years past. In fact, last summer he had a client pull in a 22-pounder. He's heard reports of stripers caught that weighed 25 pounds.
So are the big stripers actually returning? According to Clutter, the ODWC did some electroshocking in some areas and sampled stripers weighing over 30 pounds.
Clutter says that some of the best fishing spots in April are the Table Top area, Two Rivers, and Platter Flats. He also encourages anglers with sonar equipment to look for ledges and humps, places where stripers love to congregate; the magic depth, he thinks, is 20 to 35 feet. He adds that because of the sometimes-crowded conditions on warm weekends, weekdays are the best times for fishing Texoma.
Clutter offered this final advice: "You have a good chance of catching a big fish in April. In fact, the guides are getting their lines broke more often now by big fish that can't be landed due to their size."
When you combine the return of the big stripers with the abundance of stripers already present, it's easy to see that Texoma is sure to be prominent again, and on into the future.
Located west of the Tulsa skyline is Lake Keystone -- one of Oklahoma's first lakes to receive striped bass in the 1960s. This striper fishery peaked in the late 1980s but, unlike Texoma, has never regained the prominence it once held. The lake still yields good stripers from time to time, though catching numbers of stripers is tough.
The lake's problem is that for several years now the oxygen level has not been sufficient in the hot summer months to foster growth in the big stripers. Couple that with mixed salinity levels in the feeder creeks and rivers, and the results have been less than what the ODWC hoped for.
Guide John Harless says catching a limit of stripers can be tough at times, and adds that the average catch will be 4 to 6 pounds. Harless believes fishing in the mornings will produce more fish, and that the area near the Highway 64 Bridge is a good spot to look for stripers.
According to veteran guide Clarence Boatman, the Salt Creek area has some of the clearest water in the lake and holds stripers year 'round.
TAILRACES FOR TROPHIES
Fishing the tailrace areas below several of Oklahoma's lakes can produce some huge stripers. River fishing differs from lake fishing where sometimes the action can be intense, but with the average fish small by striper standards.
Anglers will not normally catch large numbers of fish in the tailrace areas, but the average size of fish will be considerably larger than what most lakes offer. Anglers must be willing to contend with tangled lines and frequent hang-ups in the tailrace.
Large concentrations of lunker stripers congregate in the cooler tailrace waters and get a reprieve from the warmer water in lakes. Tailrace stripers gorge themselves on the varieties of baitfish, both dead and alive, that are drawn to or forced through the huge turbines on the backsides of the dams.
The bite is affected by the water flow. All rivers have a current, but released water is swifter and cooler. That triggers frenzied stripers to gorge themselves on available food.
Most river depths are shallow, but do not let shallow water fool you. If there is enough water to cover a striper's back, then he is likely to be near when conditions are right.
Lower Illinois River
I read about Delmer Shoults in Oklahoma Game & Fish several years before I finally called and booked a trip with him. I considered myself savvy, having fished for stripers in several states -- but was I in for an education!
Shoults is a no-nonsense guide who knows river stripers intimately. He taught me that I really didn't know much about stripers, and I quickly became a pupil. I learned more in my eight-hour trip with him than I had ever learned in more than 20 years of personal experience.
Stripers occur naturally in the Arkansas and Canadian rivers, and are found beneath Webbers Falls and in Kerr Reservoir. In the spring and summer months, stripers -- which have a penchant for cool water -- actually swim up the Lower Illinois all the way to Tenkiller Dam when waters are high enough.
The ODWC has been stocking the river with rainbow and brown trout between the Highway 64 bridge and the area near Marvel Trout Camp for years. When you add these colorful game fish (which stripers feed on daily) to the equation, you have the makings for some of the best striper fishing in the state.
Keep in mind that river anglers will not generally boat large numbers of stripers, but knowing that there are good numbers of stripers in the 20- to 40-pound range makes river fishing a big draw for trophy striper enthusiasts.
Eufaula Dam Tailrace
The discharged water below Eufaula Dam runs south and meets both the Arkansas and Canadian rivers. This tailrace is home to good numbers of both stripers and hybrids. I have fished beneath the dam when the turbines were not running -- and fishing was supposed to be dismal -- and still caught good numbers of stripers and hybrids.
The area can be accessed by bank-fishing or by boat. There is a area marked off by buoys into which, for safety reasons, boat anglers are not permitted.
Baits of choice are going to be large shad or herring and artificial baits ranging from large spoons to large plastic baits in shad colors.
Keystone Dam Tailrace
Though Keystone Lake striper fishing is spotty at best, fishing beneath Keystone Dam can be a different story. The water from Keystone Dam flows into the Arkansas River, which is a favorite spawning area for stripers between Keystone and Kaw Dam. Bank-anglers fishing this area should be prepared to use heavy tackle and make long casts.
In April, large spoons and shad-colored plastic baits do the trick. For anglers using live bait, shad is unbeatable.
Other Tailrace Areas
Another area near Tulsa is the Zink Lake Dam. This low-water dam across the Arkansas River sometimes holds incredible numbers of stripers when conditions are right. The area is located near 31st Street and Riverside Drive, and much of the fishing is accessed from the shoreline.
Mike Thornberry of Tulsa regularly fishes this area and catches some big stripers and hybrids. He rates the area as a real sleeper.
Striped bass offer
a high-octane rush of adrenaline that's sure to challenge anglers of all ages, and Oklahoma is home to several great waters abounding with stripers; indeed, virtually any lake fed by the Arkansas, Canadian or Illinois rivers has the potential for holding stripers. And springtime is a great time to take a trip with a fishing guide in order to learn his secrets for striper fishing.
So when is the best time to fish for stripers? As Delmer Shoults says, "Any time you have a live trout on your line is a good time to striper-fish."
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For information on booking a striper trip on Lake Texoma, contact Shane Clutter at Shane's Guide Service 1-877-246-3759, or visit his Web site at www.shanesguideservice.com.
For information on fishing the Lower Illinois River, contact Delmer Shoults of Fish On Guide Service at (918) 773-5213.