Hot For Hybrids
That's a good description of this pair of North Texas hybrid striper fisheries. If you don't believe it, just fish them and see for yourself!
By Luke Clayton
Since the introduction of hybrid stripers into Texas waters several decades ago, we diehard white bass fishermen have not been the same. A freshwater fish that tastes even better than the white bass and pulls harder than a striper is about all we devout fishers of open-water schooling species could ask for!
Yes, the waters in many Texas lakes are teeming with these genetically mixed brutes. And in the past 25 years or so, we have learned enough about their habits and patterns that allow us catch them on a year-round basis. I am fortunate to know and fish regularly with two of the top hybrid chasers in the state: Johnny Procell, who plies the fertile waters of Ray Hubbard just east of Dallas, and Steve McVay, who hits Lake Proctor when the May flowers are in bloom.
Although there certainly are other topnotch hybrid fisheries in Texas, my assignment for this feature was to pick the hottest of the hot - and, folks, when it comes to places where you can consistently catching hybrids this month, Ray Hubbard and Proctor definitely get a thumbs-up from this longtime hybrid addict!
When it comes to catching hybrids, and really big ones at that, Lake Ray Hubbard, only 30 minutes east of downtown Dallas, has to rank at the top of the list. Guide Johnny Procell has been fishing there since back in the 1960s before the lake officially opened. In fact, his client John Haney pulled the 19.66-pound state-record hybrid striper from the lower end of the lake back in the summer of 1984. Today, Ray Hubbard continues to produce a larger number of hybrids weighing over 10 pounds than any lake in the state.
When it comes to catching lots of hybrids in the 4- to 8-pound range, Lake Proctor rates at the top of my list. This little lake located near Dublin isn't only a "numbers" lake when it comes to hybrid stripers. It turns out big ones, too. In 1985, Arthur Queisner landed a monster hybrid that tipped the scales at 16.31 pounds. Guide Steve McVay says double-digit fish are still common, but it's the fast-paced action on fish under 10 pounds that lures anglers to Proctor.
So settle back and let's visit with these pros to glean a few hybrid-catching tips that might just help you on your next hybrid striper adventure!
Johnny Procell may be the most knowledgeable hybrid guide working on Ray Hubbard. He's been catching hybrids on the lake since they were first stocked! Photo by Luke Clayton
RAY HUBBARD Late April signals the official start of hybrid striper fishing on Ray Hubbard, but Procell says during springs with ample rainfall, hybrids often join their white bass cousins running up the East Fork of the Trinity River above the lake to spawn. Heavy rains or no, by May hybrids can be depended upon to chase shad around well-known hotspots such as the submerged levees that run east out from Robertson Park, and in the shallows near the end of the jetties out from the power plant.
These two areas are annually chock-full of huge schools of white bass, tons of threadfin shad and roving schools of hybrids that move in to gorge themselves on shad. Procell says that depending upon which biologist you listen to, hybrids might or might not be able to reproduce, but they do go through the spawning ritual as witnessed by heavy egg sacs carried by the females.
May is Procell's favorite time for enjoying multiple hookups with big hybrids. "Most of the hybrids you catch this month in the main lake will be weigh at least 8 pounds, and most will still be full of eggs. All the smaller fish will still be in the channel in the upper end of the lake."
The guide's favorite bait for catching hybrids this month is a live perch, 2 to 3 inches long, rigged on a live-bait or Carolina rig. Shad will also produce fish, but the majority of the shad you catch this time of year are juveniles, and it takes larger baits to interest the bigger hybrids. Perch are much more hardy than are shad, and they will remain feisty on the hook much longer. Procell likes to set up his drift a good 100 yards above any fish he has marked on sonar.
Seventeen-pound line works fine for even the biggest hybrids out in open water, but it's important to keep your drag set loosely, especially when drift-fishing. When a big hybrid picks up your perch, the jolt will be telegraphed through the line and into your rod. Keep the reel in free-spool and allow the hybrid to for run about 10 seconds before engaging the reel. Then rear back and set the hook - and I mean hard!
Artificials such as Sassy Shads or 1 1/2-ounce slabs will also produce hybrids this month. However, for the most consistent action, get a bucket full of feisty perch. When fishing artificials, it's best to mark the fish holding on structure, toss out a marker and then get upwind to make long casts to the fish.
Toward the end of the month and throughout the summer, hybrid stripers will begin feeding on schools of small yellow bass. On a sunny day, it's often possible to see the yellow hue of the big schools of "yellowbellies" driven to the surface by voraciously feeding hybrids.
Procell offers this tip: When you see the surface turning yellow with the splashes of yellow bass, it's time to get a fast-sinking bait into the melee. Sassy Shads on a 1-ounce jighead or 2-ounce slabs are your best bets under these conditions. The key is to get a big bait down below the scores of baby yellow bass and into the strike zone of the aggressively feeding hybrids below them.
PROCTOR Tucked away off the beaten path near the sleepy little town of Dublin (the Dr. Pepper capital of the world), Lake Proctor has long been a hybrid striper hotspot. Ten years ago, it was brought into the limelight when a few guides learned that their clients would gladly travel from the D/FW Metroplex to enjoy a day of catching the big, hard-pulling hybrids that were greedily nailing every live shad that hit the water. Floodwaters several years ago caused Proctor to lose many of its big hybrids, but thanks to heavy stockings by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the lake is once again one of the premier hybrid striper destinations in the state.
Guide Steve McVay, who has been taking his clients to Proctor for the past few years, says the fishing is about as good as it gets, anywhere. "Proctor is one lake that I can take my clients to on a daily basis and expect to catch limits of hybrids in the 4- to 9-pound range with an occasional double-digit fish up to 14 pounds," he says.
Steve says fishing with live shad is the ticket to some excellent action this month. The baitfish are relatively easy to catch on the upper end of the lake along the creek channel above the bridge.
"Later in the summer, we will begin drift-fishing," said McVay, "but in May most of the hybrids will be in tight schools and hugging bottom during the first three or four hours of daylight. We first locate them on sonar, toss out a marker, and then anchor the boat right over the school."
Most of the fish will show up on sonar within 5 feet of bottom during the morning hours. You're looking for a small school of fish holding on structure during the morning hours. Once you mark a small school and then get several frisky shad into their midst, fish from nearby will join the school to grab the easy breakfast.
McVay says the long point down by the north end of the dam is prime water for this type of fishing in May. The water falls from around 23 feet down into the Leon River channel and hybrids love to gang up there in the morning hours.
Another top spot this month is the Sowell Creek channel, from the bridge back toward the dam about 400 yards. In the afternoon, hybrids begin prowling the lake's lower end in bigger schools, but they seldom break the water's surface. That makes them a bit tougher to pattern. Steve says to expect mixed bags of hybrids and white bass, especially when fishing with smaller baits.
Visitors to Proctor can expect some "bonus" fish to go along with the hybrids they catch. A couple of years ago, the TPWD inadvertently stocked the lake with thousands of white bass along with the hybrids, and fishermen have been reaping the benefits in the form of good eating whites in the 12- to 13-inch range.
* * * Ray Hubbard and Proctor get my nod as the most consistent hybrid holes in the state, but there are plenty of other hybrid hotspots that turn out periods of red-hot action. I have enjoyed many line-sizzling outings for hybrids at Cedar Creek, Tawakoni and Lake Arlington as well.
It's been said that for everything there is a season - and right now, folks, it's hybrid striper season!
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