Nowadays, state-of-the-art fishfinders all but give you the fish's first name; they'll certainly indicate individual fish and the depth at which they're suspending or traveling -- and water temperature, too. These devices allow the fisherman to cover a great deal of lake in a relatively short period of time.
On my last trip to Buchanan, I fished with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide named Jackie Headrick, who operates Empty Pockets Guide Service both at Buchanan and at tiny Inks Lake just below. In the summer, he likes to look for a water temperature in the mid to upper 60s for the most likely action. When the water warms up past that, he works on transition zones, such as an open area between, say, two submerged groves of trees. The fish tend to stage just above the cover of the trees and then move back and forth across the open area to look for passing baitfish.
Stripers fight harder in the summertime. They like cold water, but if it's too cold, they get sluggish and don't put up much of a fight. I fished Buchanan last February, when the water temperature was in the mid-50s, and caught five decent schoolies in the 3- to 5-pound range, not a one of which actually fought hard enough to strip line off my reel. In the summer, they'll stay deep and frisky in the cool mid-60s water, and when they see baitfish above them, they'll come up out of the cool water to strike. When they hit your bait, they take off like a locomotive!
Are you one of those guys who want to catch a really big fish? Well, Buchanan is where most of the stripers start out -- but it's not necessarily where they stay when they grow up. The biggest striper on record coming out of little Inks Lake, at 37 pounds, is almost 10 pounds larger than Buchanan's 27-pound-plus record fish, and farther downstream in Lake LBJ, the record fish, at 38 pounds plus, was over a pound heavier than the Inks Lake fish. Even as far downstream as Lake Marble Falls, the record is more than 4 pounds heavier than Buchanan's biggest striper. Lake Travis's record fish is 2 1/2 pounds bigger than Buchanan's.
Having originally been saltwater fish, and still instinctively hunting as if they were in the trackless ocean, stripers like open water.
One lesson, it seems clear to me, can be derived from such trivia: There are so many fishermen working Lake Buchanan that the bulk of the fish caught there are teenaged schoolies that haven't found an open floodgate yet. Put it another way: You might catch a great big fish downstream, but you're going to catch more fish if you stay at Buchanan. And who wants to catch a really big striper anyhow? OK, everybody does -- but what I mean is: Do you really want to keep a coarse, rough old booger like that when you're ready for a mess of striper filets? No. You want those sweet schoolies that weigh in the 3- to 8-pound range. Trust me: When you're eating what you're catching, you want those teenagers.
Still, if you really must go after a truly big striper, then the record books would suggest that you ought to head even farther downstream to the tailraces below Mansfield Dam, where a 43-plus-pounder was caught in the headwaters of Lake Austin, or below Tom Miller Dam, where Town Lake yielded a 45-plus-pound fish.
I remember the newspaper article and picture of the Lake Austin fish. I think it was caught back in 1986, and, if memory serves, on a big live perch. Many of the giant ones do strike medium-to-large perch. Truth to tell, some very large stripers have also been caught below Longhorn Dam, which impounds Austin's Town Lake; fishermen there stand on the rocks and cast live perch or big silver spoons into the tailrace.