My grandson Luke Zimmerman, Jeff Rice and myself arrived at our cabin at Mill Creek Resort on Lake Texoma an hour or so before dark last week on the eve of a long anticipated topwater striper fishing trip with my friends at Striper Express.
Bill Carey had been telling me all about the awesome topwater action for the past couple weeks and we were chompin’ at the bit to get after them. There is something very addictive about watching a big striper attack a topwater plug.
Radar indicated a brief but strong front line with lightning was coming through the area sometime during the night and we were hoping it would all be over by first light.
We woke up early to thunder booming and lightning flashing and knew our planned 5:30 departure would be delayed a bit. Lightning sometimes temporarily slows a topwater bite; we remained optimistic that the current early morning pattern would hold. Luckily the front pushed through quickly and by a little after 6, we climbed in guide Chris Carey’s roomy guide boat. Radar indicated the leading edge of the storm was skirting around the lake. Bait casting and spinning rods, all carrying the Six Gill Fishing brand logo were rigged with Berkley’s new Choppo topwater plugs. I had never fished with these new baits and was anxious to give them a try. Our destination was a distant shoreline where the stripers the previous morning were churning the surface, feeding upon the big schools of spawning shad.
Chris eased the throttle back on the 300 HP engine and stopped a long cast from the bank. We were using 7-foot medium action Six Gill rods and the Deluge bait casting reels. The longer rods made casting the big baits easy and the drill was to throw as close to the shoreline as possible and “rip” the topwater Choppos back across the surface.
Technique and bait presentation are always key to catching fish and Chris instructed us to make long casts and retrieve the big baits with a sweeping motion of the rod, making sure to crank the reel fast to avoid slack in the line because many strikes occur the instant the lure pauses. The reel’s fast retrieve was a big help in this type fishing and the smooth drag system proved its worth.
On Luke’s second cast, I heard a splash as a topwater feeding striper inhaled the surface plug and then an adrenaline charged “I got him” from my grandson. Luke was using a Banshee series spinning reel and the rod was heavily arched. It was obvious he had hooked a big fish, the reel’s smooth drag and steady resistance of the rod soon slowed the striper’s long runs and our “picture fish” for the day was in the boat. This was Luke’s biggest striper ever and it was not necessary to coax a smile out of him for the photos!
This relatively new bait by Berkley combines the best of a couple styles of surface plugs. It has the basic design of a standard topwater such as a Pencil Popper or Zara but a little spinner is situated near the tail of the bait. As the bait is ripped along the surface the little “rudder” shaped spinner moves a lot of water which the stripers had absolutely no problem keying upon, even in the choppy waters.
We all boated several stripers from this first stop and then boats began to pull in and a couple of them got too close to suit our guide. Chris fired up the big engine and headed to another spot that had been producing well. We performed the same drill here, making long casts with the topwaters with the same results. Stripers were packed into this spot as well, attracted by the spawning shad.
Knowing current patterns is always key to catching fish, thus the reason many touring pro anglers hire a guide prior to tournament day. A good guide stays on top of the action by fishing every day. We would sometimes drive several miles to fish a particular stretch of shoreline, the reason being that Chris had caught fish there the previous day and knew they were high percentage hotspots.
With a top notch guide service such as Striper Express, there are often several guides fishing on a daily basis; they share information and keep their clients in the fish. If for some reason, a pattern that has been as steady as the Polar Star changed overnight, chances are very good the fish will be active in another part of the lake.
After a couple hours of the type of topwater action that keeps anglers awake at night dreaming of, the surface action slowed. It didn’t completely stop because there was still a cloud cover but strikes were coming less frequently. We changed the topwater plugs for lead head jigs with Sassy Shad bodies, chartreuse color.
A 10-minute boat ride put us in a big shallow bay, the water was only two to three feet deep. Thanks to a high cliff on the windward side, the surface was much calmer. Again, we were schooled in the preferred technique, the bait presentation that had been working best.
“Make long casts, allow the jigs to make contact with bottom and pump the rod up, which will suspend the bait.” says Carey. “Crank fast as your baits begin to fall to keep slack out of your line. This will enable you to feel the strike which often occurs the instant the jig pauses.”
Stripers, especially the hefty ones we were catching, usually hit a lure at mock speed. The fishes’ intent is to stun and kill the baitfish. We missed a couple of fish because of a little slack in the line as the lure began to fall, a common mistake. But we soon mastered the technique and enjoyed some fast-paced catching on a totally different pattern that the way we were fishing during early morning.
If you’re feeling the need for some fresh air in your face and hard-pulling, good-eating stripers on the line, contact the folks at Striper Express. Their website is www.striperexpress.com.
Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via www.catfishradio.org.