For those who love striped bass fishing, autumn is a season of unparalleled promise. Cooling weather and water temperatures create a burgeoning hunger in these big “linesides,” and in freshwater reservoirs where stripers have been stocked, these predators gorge on shad, herring and other baitfish, making fall an ideal time for on-the-water action.
The question is, which lakes offer the best odds for catching a striper weighing 20 pounds or more this season? Here are two that definitely fit that mold.
Lake Mohave, Arizona and Nevada
Several big Western reservoirs have been popular striper-fishing destinations for decades, including lakes Havasu, Mead and Powell on the Colorado River. For a chance at some of the region’s biggest striped bass, though, many anglers are fishing 64-mile-long Lake Mohave, a Colorado River impoundment on the southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona border.
Thanks to the cool water outflows from Hoover Dam, the upstream portion of the lake stays between 56 and 60 degrees year-round, allowing the stocking of rainbow trout. Chowing down on these trout fuels the growth of Mohave’s giant stripers.
Some true monsters have been caught there, including one weighing 63 pounds and another tipping the scales at 67.1. So far, the stripers’ growth rate hasn’t become depressed due to too many fish as has happened in some other Western impoundments. As a result, 20- to 40-pounders are regularly caught, plus a few fish up to 50 and more.
As summer’s heat wanes, water temperatures begin cooling, and as surface layers reach more comfortable levels, threadfin shad, the main food of Mojave striped bass, leave their deep, cold-water haunts and make brief forays to the surface. Stripers follow.
Anglers should plan to be on the water during the first light of day to get in on the best action, then stay and fish again near dusk when a secondary activity period occurs. These are the times of day when the shad rise and stripers go on a water-churning feeding frenzy that can be seen hundreds of yards away.
Watch for the surface disturbances or flocks of gulls (a good pair of binoculars can be helpful), then move in fairly close and start casting. Any lure that even vaguely resembles a shad will be smashed by striped bass during these crazy, action-packed melees, including topwater plugs, crankbaits, spoons and jigs.
One word of warning, though: be sure your lures have stout hooks. A trophy striper will often straighten inferior hardware or yank it plumb out of the lure.
As fall progresses, shad start spending more time in deep winter domiciles, and different fishing tactics may be needed to catch the stripers. Local anglers often anchor in 100-150 feet of water and fish with anchovies or sardines, which the stripers seem to relish. Working big bucktail jigs in the deep water and trolling big wake baits or umbrella rigs in depths of 50-100 feet are other methods that can be very productive.
Lake Mohave lies within Lake Mead National Recreation Area just a short drive from Las Vegas. Three marinas with launch ramps are available in Arizona (Willow Beach and Katherine’s Landing) and Nevada (Cottonwood Cove). There is also a launch ramp at Princess Cove near Katherine’s Landing. Developed camping is available at Cottonwood Cove and Katherine’s Landing. The National Park Service website provides more information.
Lake Ouachita, Arkansas
Surrounded by 1.8-million-acre Ouachita National Forest, Lake Ouachita west of Hot Springs, Arkansas, has remained sheltered from runoff that adversely affects water quality in many large North American impoundments. As a result, this 40,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment has long been described as “America’s Cleanest Lake.”
That alone would be reason enough to visit this beautiful vacation spot in west-central Arkansas. But there’s more—much more—especially if you enjoy fishing.
Lake Ouachita isn’t just “America’s Cleanest Lake.” For decades, it’s also been known as “The Striper Capital of the World.” This isn’t just chamber-of-commerce hype. Striped bass stocked by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission gorge on the lake’s massive shad schools and grow to massive sizes. Twenty- to 30-pounders are common, and 50-pounders always possible.
When my friend Ian Sulocki of Rio de Janeiro visited Arkansas, I asked the Brazilian fishing expert what he most wanted to catch. “Striped bass,” he answered. “That’s the number one fish on my list.” Lake Ouachita striper guide David Cochran of Royal agreed to help Sulocki with his quest.
Tactics change seasonally, but Cochran typically looks for Ouachita stripers feeding around river channels and humps. He took Ian and me to such a spot, pinpointed a big shad school on sonar, then showed us big boomerangs indicating stripers below.
“There are many ways you can catch them,” he said, “but the best way is fishing with live shad, their favorite food.” Cochran impaled a 5-inch shad on Ian’s hook and instructed him to lower the bait 15 feet.
“You’ll know when one hits,” he said. “It’s like a freight train ran over you.”
Ian smiled at the comment, but his expression changed to surprise when, seconds later, the first striper of the day grabbed the baitfish. Ian set the hook and struggled to hold on. Several minutes passed before the 25-pound striper was near enough to net.
Ian was ecstatic. “This is a very beautiful fish,” he said as we admired the silvery giant. “He fights as hard as any fish I’ve caught. I am impressed.”
Ian had been in Arkansas just hours and already he’d achieved his goal of catching a trophy striper. And this was just the first of dozens we caught. Ouachita striper fans rarely go home disappointed.
Lake Ouachita is in west-central Arkansas’ Garland and Montgomery counties between Hot Springs and Mount Ida. Access is from U.S. Highway 270 west of Hot Springs (south side) or Arkansas 298 between Blue Springs and Story (north side).
Contributing to make the lake one of Arkansas’ most popular outdoor destinations are Lake Ouachita State Park (with cabins), commercial marinas and resorts, and more than 400 Corps of Engineers’ campsites. Information on all these is available at lakeouachita.org, where you’ll also find fishing facts, local attractions and a lake map.
The good folks at Mountain Harbor Resort near Joplin have been catering to Ouachita anglers for more than half a century. They can help you with everything you need, including guided fishing, overnight accommodations, great food, boat rentals and an up-to-date fishing report. David Cochran can be contacted at davidcochranfishing.com