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.
GREERS FERRY LAKE
Another of Arkansas' biggest reservoirs, Greers Ferry Lake is a Corps of Engineers creation formed by the Greers Ferry Dam. The lake is located about 60 miles north of Little Rock. This reservoir actually consists of two lakes that are connected by a water-filled gorge known as The Narrows. The two lakes combined contain 40,500 acres of prime fishing water.
One thing is for sure with Greers Ferry Lake — it contains some monster fish! The lake still holds the world records for two species of fish, namely walleyes and hybrid stripers. The walleye record is a hefty 22 pounds, 11 ounces, a fish taken by angler Al Nelson back in 1982. As far as hybrid stripers go, another equally hefty record fish, a 27-pound, 5-ouncer, was caught by Jerry Shaum of Shirley back in 1997. Shaum knew he had a big fish on, but he held out and battled the trophy hybrid for some 25 minutes before bringing it onboard. Both fish records are incredible, and it's no surprise that both fish are still world records!
Guide Lance Lamb fishes Greers Ferry Lake on just about a daily basis, which gives him a heads-up on where the lake's hybrid stripers are feeding. He says that generally, Greers Ferry Lake hybrids will mostly be found over the big-water areas of the lake, such as Point 6, Salt Creek, Cove Creek and Big Goat Island — anywhere toward Heber Springs.
"You'll catch them on anything that resembles a shad," Lamb says. "So match your lures to whatever size shad happen to be in the schools of fish you locate. They're not the smartest fish in the world, but watch out for their dorsal fin spines when you do catch one; they'll try to stick you!"
The topwater action for hybrid stripers can be fast and furious right now, according to Lamb. That's especially true if you're on the lake when the hybrids have the shad pinned on the surface. The summer bite typically consists of lots of 5- to 6-pound hybrids, though the lake also offers up plenty of 8- to 12-pound fish, too, according to this veteran guide.
One of his favorite lures to cast to hybrids is a locally made spinnerbait made by Checkmate. He'll cast whatever size spinnerbait most matches the size of the shad that are present that day. Guide Lamb can be reached at (501) 250-3134.
Another topnotch Greers Ferry Lake guide is Thomas Cauley. He says you'll likely find hybrid stripers anywhere close to deep water in the summer. He recommends 1/2-ounce hair jigs in white/chartreuse colors, along with spoons and Worden's Rooster Tails. Guide Cauley can be reached by calling (501) 940-1318.
Greers Ferry Lake has six marinas and many of the lake's guides fish out of whatever marina is closest to the hottest fishing action. For more information on the lake and its many amenities, go to www.greersferrylake.com.
Located in the northwestern corner of the state near Rogers (made famous by Daisy BB guns), Beaver Lake provides 28,370 acres of clear water near the border with Missouri. The lake was completed in 1966 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and it was the first impoundment created in Arkansas and Missouri along the lengthy White River system. Nestled high in the Ozark Mountains, Beaver Lake truly is a fisherman's paradise for all types of species from bream to striped bass. For this article, we'll stick to detailing the lake's fine striper action.
Like Ouachita Lake, Beaver Lake is also known for producing some hefty linesiders. Over the years, this lake has given up its share of 40-pound-plus stripers. During the spring, the fish are scattered throughout the lake, but by the time July and August roll around, you can bet on finding these big game fish in the deeper areas of this deep lake.
Mike Bailey of Bailey's Beaver Lake Guide Service says anglers are likely to find stripers in the deeper end of the lake, such as at Lost Bridge, Starkey Hollow and Indiana Creek. Also, anywhere near the dam is a good bet for you to intercept a striper or two come July and then on through August. He says they'll be in water up to 150 feet deep, sometimes under the thermocline and other times above it, depending upon where high oxygen content water is located.
To catch these fish, Guide Bailey prefers live gizzard shad in the 12- to 14-inch sizes, ideal for targeting the bigger stripers. He'll fish down lines with 3- to 5-ounce egg sinkers placed above quality swivels. He'll have a treble hook in the shad's nose and another stinger hook in its tail to avoid short strikes.
Those type of rigs allow the live shad to swim freely while still getting them down into the feeding zone of stripers, which will be marked on the fishfinder. Bailey will use an 18- to 24-inch 50-pound-test fluorocarbon leader, which is tied to the swivel and then 65-pound Berkley Power Pro braid as the main line to the reel.
When the stripers are real active, he'll use his downriggers to put Rapala Husky Jerks (No. 13) down into the feeding zone.
"It's my favorite time of the year, as it's pretty much deepwater fishing. There's lots of bigger fish now," says guide Mike Bailey. "The average fish in the summer will be 20-pounds-plus, while in the spring it's about 12 to 14 pounds. I'll fish the night bite between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m."
He usually fishes out of Rocky Branch Marina or Starkey Marina. Anglers interested in fishing with guide Bailey can reach him by calling (479) 366-8664. For more information on the lake's marinas and other amenities, go to the Web site www.beaverlake.com.
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As you surely can tell by now, the Natural State offers up plenty of opportunities when it comes to doing battle with line-sizzling stripers and world-class hybrids. So make your plans to get out there during the hot summer bite, because it doesn't get much better than this when it comes to exciting fishing in Arkansas. Check out one of these three lakes soon. You'll be glad you did!