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Texoma Summer Stripers
You can bet that striper fishing on Lake Texoma is going to be great every month of the year -- August included. Here's why.
By Luke Clayton
Just a few years ago, summer striper fishing at Lake Texoma meant quick limits of "box" fish weighing between 2 and 4 pounds. Limits of linesiders are still the rule rather than the exception at this time of year, but the big news is that anglers savvy in the ways of catching summer stripers can expect to do battle with more sure-enough line-breaker fish weighing up in the 15- to 20-pound range.
A trip that I enjoyed this time last year with veteran guide Rex Bridges is proof positive that the kind of fishing to be expected during the dog days of summer is something to remember. Having pulled out of the Harbor at Little Mineral Resort just before daybreak, we were on station to intercept our first school of roving stripers by the time we could see to cast our topwater lures. Bridges, like most pro guides at Texoma, likes to get his clients on the water at first light. Very often, he'll have them back dockside at the fish-cleaning station by midmorning.
Stripers are very easy fish to pattern this month. They make long runs that span several miles, chasing shad within 100 yards of the shoreline. As we eased out of the harbor a good 30 minutes before first light, Bridges informed me of his game plan.
"We have a 30-minute boat ride to get in position for the first schooling activity of the morning," he said. "Just at the break of day, there will be some major schools of stripers in the lower end of the lake by the dam. These fish will begin to herd even bigger schools of shad that have moved to the shallows along the shore during the night. They will begin running shad along the Texas shoreline, and as they travel farther uplake, more and more stripers will join in the chase. If we get there early enough, we should enjoy some excellent topwater action on stripers that have moved back into the pockets and coves off the main body of water."
As Bridges' big Silver Dollar striper boat eased to a stop in a little pocket off the main lake, it was instantly apparent that we were in some "nervous water": Shad were popping the surface trying to escape a school of voracious stripers, one of which would occasionally swirl on the surface, exposing its silver sides. Several of the swirls were made by big fish. When they broke the surface, it appeared as if the water had been slapped hard with a boat paddle.
Our rods were rigged with pearl-colored Zara Spooks. Bridges advised us to watch for the big swirls, cast past them, and then "walk the dog" with the big topwaters as if we were bass fishing. I watched the guide make his first cast and his rod bend heavily as he battled the first fish of the morning.
I hooked and landed two small stripers as what later turned out to be the big fish of the day stripped line from Bridges' reel. The medium-heavy reel's smooth drag soon tired the striper, which tipped the scales at just over 10 pounds. "Not bad for the first cast of the day," kidded Bridges.
We both continued casting just past the larger swirls in an effort to elicit strikes from the bigger stripers. Then, the frantic break-of-day action was over as quickly as it had begun; the "nervous" water in the cove calmed, and Bridges announced that it was time to switch to Plan B.
In a matter of 30 minutes, we had managed to land eight stripers, the largest being Bridges' first fish of the morning, with several others that weighed between 6 and 8 pounds apiece. I was thinking that if we didn't catch another fish the entire morning, this early-morning topwater action had already made some fishing memories that would last me a lifetime. Little did I know that the really intense action had yet to begin!
The early-morning topwater action is a bona fide bonus for those who know where to find isolated pockets of feeding stripers, but it's that long run of roving stripers that begins at the dam and continues all the way down the south shore past the railroad bridge that makes for truly dependable summer fishing.
Once this pattern establishes itself, usually around mid-July, it remains as constant as the North Star until, triggered cool fronts in mid-September cause the stripers to disperse to follow the big schools of shad into the deeper creek channels. Before our trip, Bridges had already outlined the route the stripers follow each day, and our fishing trip proved that his predictions were right on target.
"Once the fish school out from the dam, they will start herding shad along the Texas Bluffs, down from Eisenhower Park," Bridges said. "The schooling action will intensify as more and more stripers join in the feeding melee. The schools will work their way past Butter Fly Cove, and then head in an easterly direction, following the shoreline down past the Dallas Water Pump Station.
"By the time the school reaches this point, they number in the thousands, and every fish is hell-bent on stuffing itself on shad. As a general rule, by 8 o'clock in the morning, the action around Butter Fly Cove has reached a fevered pitch.
"The schooling action continues on to the mouth of Little Mineral, and then east along the south edge of Table Top, which is a big, deep mid-lake flat well marked on all good Texoma maps. The big flat is defined by a deep, submerged ledge 60 to 70 feet deep on its southern boundary, and it's along that ledge the stripers continue to herd baitfish.
"The underwater race between predator and prey continues along this ledge to the waters out in from of Colbert Boat Club, where the stripers and follow the Red River channel down to around the railroad bridge, where the schools usually break up and stripers head for the channel to recoup from their early-morning run and feeding binge."
After our early-morning bout of topwater action, Bridges and I motored down lake almost to Butter Fly Cove before stopping and baiting up with frisky live shad. My angling appetite whetted by that first round of fishing, I could only imagine the fun that would begin when we dropped the live baits into the thick of things.
As we traveled down the lake, it was obvious this was a long school of feeding stripers. Anglers in boats all along the way were catching fish, some using live shad, others "smoking" 2-ounce slabs vertically through the fish.
"The trick," Bridges explained, "is to get ahead of the main body of stripers so that we don't have to keep playing jumpfrog with the other boats to stay up with the fish."
We began by trying to bait three rods apiece. This, I soon found, was a losing proposition, as it seemed impossible to get the second and third rods baited and lowered down to the magic depth of 18 feet without losing the fish on the first rod.
As it happened, I was unable to fish the entire length of this very predictable morning run: We limited out at our first stop, which was about a quarter-mile down lake from Butter Fly Cove. The first fish of the day remained our largest, but back at the dock at Little Mineral, we saw fish up to 14 pounds.
For his clients, Bridges prefers to fish live bait rather than artificials, simply because the frisky shad are easy to fish; anyone from a kid to a veteran angler can use them successfully. When he has some experienced anglers in the boat, he loves to break out the slabs and topwaters.
Limits are regularly landed on the larger spoons and slabs. I'm always amazed at how a feeding striper can lock in on a quickly moving slab in murky water, but nail them they do. At this time of year, stripers will snub their noses at slow-moving baits, so when you're fishing schools of actively feeding stripers, it's important to put some "smoke" on the slabs.
Bridges advises allowing the slab or spoon to fall to bottom, rip it up about six or eight cranks and then allow it to fall. "Make sure and keep your thumb on the spoon and feel the slab as it falls," he said. "As soon as you feel the slightest resistance, engage the reel and rear back and set the hook."
Summer fishing at Texoma is often as hot as the weather. At this time of year, anglers working with experienced guides often land limits of stripers in three or four hours of fishing. After many summer striper trips on this great fishery, I've seen few fishermen complain about the stripers getting lockjaw around midmorning - especially when those anglers are back at the dock, sipping a cool drink and admiring their big box full of fish!
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