Beaver Lake

Striper class 101

Posted by Scott Bice on November 26th, 2011
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Striper class 101

Introduction

I started targeting striped bass in 1989 right out of high school on Lakes Pyramid, Silverwood, Skinner, Colorado River and the Aqueduct system of California. My early years were full of failure more than success and the success was by accident.

I became determined to learn as much as I could about the fish that gave me fits trying to figure out, doing so I used the same methodical approach I did and still do to this day for hunting. The first step was throwing away all the how to books and books more written to catch the fisherman’s money than anything else.

First thing you have to understand about stripers is they are an Oceanic Fish by nature and like with most ocean fish they travel a lot. So throw out everything about freshwater fishing and think SALT WATER. For me this was simple as I grew up fishing the Ocean from the long range fleet of San Diego to the ½ day boats of the Los Angeles ports. Under the tutorage of some of the finest sport boat captains around. Stripers have voracious appetites and to quench that appetite they will travel long distances. In fact there was a Striper tagged on the Lower Illinois River below Ten Killer Lake Oklahoma, and recovered a few days later in Louisiana. So be ready to move and even follow a school.

Tackle is something I heard all the dang time that made me mad as I was a single father at the time and money was limited; I honestly could not afford the 200 dollar reel and 150 dollar rods. So I went back to my roots of Saltwater fishing, a simple Penn jigmaster 500 and a Saber rod designed for 20 lbs test is what I had. I figured if I could beat up large Yellow Tail and Seabass on it I should be able to beat up on stripers with it. Later in life I found the joy of going light line. A friend convinced me that It was possible to catch 40 and 50 lbs carp on 4lbs test line. I called him a low down dirty dog liar for even getting me to listen to the story. Well let’s just say ketchup on a hat with a side dish of crow isn’t half bad!

That lesson he taught me got me to thinking about something. Stripers on super light line? Stripers typically when hooked like to take the fight to just below the surface for some strange reason! So I said let’s give it a try and since then I’ve been hooked. 12lbs is about the heaviest I use unless deep dropping live bait to a specific depth.

So I learned you just need a good rod and reel and you do not need to go heavy on line so striper fishing just got a lot cheaper on a single dads budget and a whole lot of fun. Then came figuring out the dang fish. Putting my Saltwater mentality to them it quickly became evident I was trying to treat them like a Largemouth or Catfish looking for them in cover and even to shallow. I went on the Seabass mentality of Flats! So I started looking for main lake points with large flats as part of them and all of the sudden I was catching fish and this time on purpose. But I wasn’t happy there I wanted the big ones, so I took a trip out to Martha’s Vineyard and the Home of striper fishing the Chesapeake Bay and talked to the captains out there and listened to them. Humps, stripers like humps! Yellowtail like humps dam I know how to catch yellowtail on humps. So I again was back to the Salt Roots and targeting stripers on Main Lake humps and catching them often and large.

Then it was over like someone flipped a switch. Where di all the stripers go? I was confused until I remembered a very important fact about stripers. They are Anadromous just like Salmon and what do stripers do to breed? They go up river dumbass talk about kicking myself in the butt for not having though about that sooner. So I went up river as far as I could there they were on my old flasher graph in the eddies and any currant breaks.

So Striper Fishing for Dummies and I Was Chief Dummy.
1. Striper rods do not have to be expensive or flashy; they do however have to be able to have line capacity.
2. Good Graphs are extremely helpful versus the flasher units I started with.
3. Live bait beats a full house of lures
4. Don’t think freshwater think saltwater
5. Don’t be afraid to admit they moved. And move with them.
6. Early isn’t always better stripers like to eat when they are hungry which is all the time.

So How should someone who has never fished for them start off?

Fishing is suppose to be fun and catching your own live bait can sometimes be funner than catching your targeted species. Stripers Love Shad, Think of Shad as a Snicker Bar and they can’t pass it up. Next is a trick a friend of mine taught me on Cumberland, “SUCKERS” No I’m not calling you suckers but Sucker Punching as he puts it! Big 8 to 12 inch suckers are like putting down a Ice cream in front of them and BIG STRIPERS at that. I have personally caught 40lbs fish frequently on them and unlike shad they do not take a lot of effort to keep alive. Third is Shiners, Shiners and Shad 4 to 6 inch are perfect size for lots of stripers but for the monsters go with Suckers or Gizzard Shad.

Catching your own bait seems to be something a lot of people are scared of because they do not know where to get it. If you can’t get it in a lake get it from a creek. Those small creeks are perfect places to find bait that has little chance of escaping a good cast netter.

Now for Lures: If I had to only have 1 lure in my tackle box it would without be a Bucktail Jig hands down. I have caught everything from largemouth bass to Cobia to Tarpon to Sailfish the list could go on and on and on! ½ Ounce to 6 ounces tipped and un-tipped it is just deadly. You can of course spend hours on the umbrella or you can locate the stripers and send a bucktail down and jig it a few times.

The other lure I would have hands down is a Cotton Cordel Pencil Popper. When a striper is on a surface feed that is a deadly lure. It cast long distance and makes a lot of noise. On the subject of stripers on the surface: Those days when you see them boiling for the love of God do not run your boat full speed into the boils it will shut them down. Instead shut down 100 yard and preferably 150 yards from them and DRIFT into them do not run your trolling motor at them. Then cast in the boils and hang on. If the fish come past your boat then drop the trolling motor and follow them just far enough back you can still hit the center of the boils.

Now my favorite of all ways to catch stripers! Bob Slamal use to own a tackle shop in Riverside California and got me addicted to stripers on a fly in deep water reservoirs. Simple as simple gets. Trolling a white fly behind the boat with sinking line and a good leader, it doesn’t get easier than that. Troll your boat on slow speed and use short strips on the pole and hold on sooner or later a striper will latch on and you are in for a fight.

The basics of any striper fisherman is simple. Hooks, Weights, Swivels , Castnet and a decent rod and reel. Stay simple and with basic gear don’t get sold on all the newest this or that. Live bait first if live bait isn’t an option Bucktails or Surface Lures.

Bait Fishing

Part I
The Powerful Shad

Catching and using threadfin Shad for bait is sometimes a tricky prospect! You need to understand Shad just like you need to understand the game fish you are pursuing. Threadfin shad are more likely to be found in waters with a current and are usually in the upper five feet of water. They are temperature sensitive, with die-offs reported at temperatures below 45°F. Spawning begins in the spring when water temperatures reach approximately 70°F, and may continue into the summer. Shad are short lived only to about 2 to 3 years.<BR style=”mso-special-character: line-break”><BR style=”mso-special-character: line-break”>

Catching Shad has given more than one angler fits, Most people look for the schools on the surface of the water which can be productive at times, but by far the best method is getting them in backs of coves, over mud flats or best of all in small creek mouths where they have little running room to escape a cast net.

Open Water netting posses a major issue, Shad are fast and moving, I have seen many guys throw at the school with their net and then look puzzled when they come up with just a couple shad. Remember refraction which is to say you see a target under water at what looks like 2 feet when in reality it is 3 feet. Also they are moving. When you see schools follow them for a few seconds and see where they are going. Cast your net in front of the school at least 3 feet and a 2 feet beyond them. This normally will put you center of the school and a full net.

Backs of coves and mud flats are great areas to get them. You still have to use the same principles for casting a net as you do in open water but you have higher odds of catching them in these areas. Be careful though of underwater dangers to a net. Know your depth and only let the net sink to half the bottom depth will help keep nets out of danger.

Creeks and especially creek mouths. Just the simple fact most are narrow make catching shad very easy in these area. I seldom pay attention to sigh casting them in these area. I use the sight to know where they are but beyond that it’s irrelevant! Cast beyond where you see the shad and let the net sink. Normally you will be where the true school is and will be pulling in a heavy load of shad for fishing.

Keeping Shad alive is NOT easy!!! Shad do not do well in unclean water, low oxygenated water or takes that are square. The water in your bait tank may look clear but shad are like pigeons the poop everyplace and a lot as well as release a lot of ammonia from their urine. For the inventive angler a trash can be cut in half and used with bilge pump to fill it and a relief hole to allow water out. Or buy a circular or oval style bait tank. Some boats like mine have bait tanks that are oval or rounded corners. These will work fine for keeping shad from beating themselves up, but not from the water quality issues if the angler does not pay attention to it.

Many anglers do not understand how fragile this bait is. If you have a bait tank onboard that is suitable for shad you will want to have the drain running drain plug out and fill on constantly or at very least on timer. Do NOT forget to clean the screen on the filter frequently. You will want to do this for the first hour after catching the shad. After that keep your aerator on timer and once an hour repeat the full procedure.

Hooking Shad, There are three good ways to hook shad! First is nose hooking, take the hook and run it through the upper jaw through the nose {be sure not to hook the bottom jaw} you want them to breath and swim naturally. This type of hooking allows the shad to do what it wants and swim naturally.

Next is Anus hooking them, You hook them just like it says directly above the butthole. This method will cause the shad to swim down and near the bottom. The problem is it puts a lot of stress on the shad and they are only good for about 5 minutes at most, so be ready to change them frequently. It is not a good option if you are limited in bait in the tank.

Lastly is tail hooking them! You actually do not hook them in the tail but between the dorsal fin and the tail. A good rule of thumb is hooking them where the threadfin stops and just below the back bone. This will cause them to run away from the boat, you will need to play out line to allow them to keep running. When the shad stops running keep your reel in free spool and let the shad swim. I have had them live fine for 15 minutes no problem but as soon as you start reeling them in you stress them bad, So if you reel them in change them out.

Hook size’s are where I see more anglers make mistakes then anyplace else. The smallest possible hook size the better, For shad under 3” the best hook size is a #4 and for shad from 3” to 6” a 1/0 hook is perfect for nose hooking and a 3/0 for Tail or Anus hooking. These give the shad the best movement and least amount of stress and are perfectly capable of handling a big fish. I have personally caught Tarpon over 150pnds on a 3/0 hook.
Line is another factor. If you want natural looking bait then use the lightest line possible, I prefer Fluorocarbon line myself, 12lbs is perfect for most freshwater fish for fly lining (hook only to line no weight) and 20lbs Fluorocarbon for Bait that has a weight above it.

In summer I suggest adding ice to the bait tank to keep the temperature down. This has a negative aspect to it as most bagged ice or made at home has additives in it that can harm shad, to counter this deadly problem simply purchase SHAD KEEPER at your local bait or sporting goods store, it removes these harmful additives and also controls ammonia from the shad.

Finally do not discard dead shad! Put them in a bucket and if the fish start surface feeding toss out the dead bait to them and keep them feeding ( know your local laws on chumming before doing this though) This can also be deadly productive on getting deep fish to turn on and come up.

Part II
Sucker Punching

Suckers or Chubs are a deadly bait on stripers and ones that hold up very well in any bait tank. I was first introduced to them fishing Lake Cumberland. When the guide who was a friend of mine told me we would be “Sucker Punching” Stripers, I had very nasty thoughts about him and what joke I was about to be on the bad end of.

But when we got out there and he pulled this 10” Sucker out of the bait tank and pinned it on a 3/0 circle hook and dropped it over the side of the boat, I felt a little more like we were fishing and I wasn’t about to be on the bad end of a joke. 10 minutes later I was on the bad end of a 45 pound Cumberland mad as hell Striper.

Suckers or Chubs can be found in many lakes and streams but more so in streams. They are easy to catch in a cast net or dip net and unlike shad do very well in holding tanks. I have personally caught them on a Friday afternoon and used them all through the weekend and even into the next week. Keeping the water clean is really the only issue. If I plan to use them the next day, all I do is fill up my ice chest and place them in it with two bubblers going. I then fill up a second ice chest with clean water from the creek.

Lets say you catch them at 3pm on a Friday but will not go fishing until the next morning. This with Shad would be a death sentence and waist of bait! But with Suckers it is no problem. Simply before bed around 10pm or so simply net out the shad of the ice chest and put them in the other one and they will be fine. As I said they live long in tanks.

Sizes of sucker or chubs to use should be no smaller than 5” and no larger than 16” yes that’s Sixteen inches, and if you use them that big expect 1 bite a day if you are lucky and that one bite will be big. Using that size bait has never caught me one below 40lbs it’s a pure big bite bait obviously. My preferred size is 7 to 9 inches. This size will catch anything from school size 12 pounders up to the biggest in the lake.

Hooking them is always through the nose and they will stay alive hours this way. Never troll them more than 1.5 mph and its best to simply drift fish them either below a weight or fly-lined. I liken them to Snicker Bars! They are the perfect snack food for stripers and if ones around they will come nail them, I have out-fished people around me who had the Magical Shad as bait many days Sucker Punching. Think about it. Then long shad or Thick long meaty Sucker what would you eat?

Part III
Golden Shiners

It’s no secret especially to Southern Bass Fishermen how deadly shiners are at taking big bass, many a day at stick marsh, blue cypress and Okeechobee I used suckers for some of the biggest bass of my life and the truth is Striper likes them just as much. They like suckers and chubs are a easy bait to keep alive in the bait tank. But for stripers bigger is better or you will find out why they are so good for bass. 8 to 12 inch shiners are much too large for all but the biggest bass in Beaver Lake and make them a perfect candidate for catching Stripers unmolested by other fish except perhaps a big Blue or Flathead catfish.

Catching them is simple in most the area streams with some foot work and the faithful cast net. As with the previous baits they are a deadly means of catching stripers and simple to use.

Part IV 
The Law.

I would be negligent if I didn’t post the current law for live bait use in Arkansas

Posted 11-of 2011 check regulations frequently for your area

Using Live Bait – Baitfish include bluntnose minnows, bullhead catfish, bullhead minnows, chubs, crayfish, dace, fatheads, common carp under six inches (Common carp may not be used as bait in certain waters.), goldfish, shiners, stonerollers, logperch (also called sand pike or zebra minnows), gizzard and threadfin shad, gar (other than alligator gar), drum, bowfin under 6 inches, skipjack herring, silversides (brook and inland), buffalo (bigmouth, smallmouth, and black), river carpsucker, sculpin (banded and Ozark) and bream under 4 inches long. Bream longer than 4 inches may be used as bait only if first taken by hook and line and are subject to daily limit restrictions.

With the exception of shad, baitfish may not be taken in the area within 100 yards below a dam.

During daylight hours, baitfish may be taken using:

  • seines no larger than 50 feet long and four feet wide with quarter-inch mesh;
  • square traps no larger than six feet by six feet by three feet with half-inch mesh and with a throat size of two inches and round traps no longer than three feet in diameter and six feet in length and with a throat size of 2 inches with up to half-inch wire or mesh;
  • lift traps used for commercial fishing must be no larger than six feet by six feet by three feet with half-inch mesh. Sport fishing lift traps must have one inch (or smaller) square bar mesh;
  • cast nets with one-inch (or smaller) mesh;
  • shad trawl nets with one-inch (or smaller) mesh;
  • glass, plastic or wire mesh minnow traps no larger than one gallon with a one-and-a-half inch (or smaller) throat;
  • hand-operated dip nets with one inch (or smaller) square bar mesh for use while sport fishing. This method may be used day or night. All other species of fish must be immediately released.

You may not use live wild-caught baitfish on Norfork Lake unless said bait was caught on Norfork Lake (includes the watershed above the lake) or was purchased from an Arkansas licensed dealer on Norfork Lake.

Dispose of leftover bait properly. Dump minnows and other live bait in their original water source or in a trash receptacle.

Part V
Line for stripers

I am not a particular fan of super lines and braided lines they are not as forgiving as Monofilament and not near as invisible as Fluorocarbon. Given my choice I will always go with Fluorocarbon line for its abrasion resistance and its ability to disappear in water as well as it is a forgiving line with stretch.

Name brands are many and numerous but Segar has proven itself to me on some of the worse fish around from sharks and tarpon to snook and flounder, around rocks and open water and even many a billfish’s bill it holds up. Im not normally one to give my approval to any specific manufacture because there are so many choices but this line proved itself so I use and recommend it.

Line test size is something I am firm set in, nothing over 20lb test is needed if you have good equipment to back it I.E. The rod and reel and the drag is set right. Something I see all too often is fishermen watching way to much bassmasters and thinking they can bully a striper and finding out all too often stripers may be calls Striped BASS but are in no way a Bass. You hammer the drag down on them and you will end up hearing the familiar pop. Fly-Fishermen I have found make the best striper fishermen, They are used to playing the give and take of line game that is needed for striper fishing.

When a striper hits let him run and play him and enjoy it they are hearty fish and can be released after a long fight with some care. If I’m not keeping them and they gave me a great long lived fight I just take a few minutes with the boat in gear and hold them in the water letting them get a good dose of oxygen and then release them. Go light with the line and enjoy a powerful heart felt battle with a worthy adversary.

Part VI
Rods

Though any rod will work and I have caught them on some of the cheapest out there, I do suggest for serious striper anglers to invest in a good quality rod. For free-lining live baiting I prefer 7ft to 8ft rods with a fast action line rated 12 to 25pnd range. For depth controlled fishing (line counter reels) I prefer a 7ft stout action rod rated 15lbs to 30lbs line class with a medium to heavy action. Finally I like to keep a 12ft surf rod in the boat in case they are surface feeding and I can cast a large lure at them.

The reason for the long rod for live baiting is the ability to cast a light weight bait gently over great distance. I can and so can anyone with practice cast a couple ounce shad 100ft or more with little effort and little damage to the bait.

The heavy action rod or (depth control) rod is normally kept in a pole holder and fished straight up and down. 20LB Line is my preferred line class. It is simple to do drop the bait down and lock the reel in gear. The fish striking will do the rest.

The long surf rod is self-explanatory, longer rod longer cast to surface fish.

Part VII
Reels

As I said any gear can catch a striper but the best quality tends to make life easier and improve the odds of landing a fish. I learned years ago for taking on big fish day in day out Penn and Shimano reels last and hold up to the abuse. I prefer bait casters it’s a preference I gained salt water fishing. The feel of the reel and smoothness of the drags just make fishing much more enjoyable.

Setting the drag is again not like bass fishing where people want to horse a fish. I like to set my drags light for 12lb test line I set them at 6lb for live bait fishing but during the fight I will loosen it to just enough to turn the fish and gain line on it. Stripers have a nasty habit of right at the boat bolting and more than one time I had my drag to tight and lost them right then with the last quick flip of the tail run.

For the down line I use the 20lb and set my drag at 10lb, this allows the fish to hit the bait and set hook as he takes off. Again as the striper nears the boat I will back off the drag.

Part VIII
Hooks

Circle hooks for live bait; I learned about these hooks from commercial fishermen years before the recreational angler and learned the hard way how to use them effectively. First rule is never set the hook! These hooks are designed to be left out on long lines for hours on end where no one was there to set a hook, so they had to be the hook setter. When a fish get it in the mouth and tries to swim off the hook is designed to catch the corner of the mouth and it does. So don’t be a jerk let the fish be the jerk.

Size of the hooks to use is confusing to many anglers, a 1/0 hook will do the work of a conventional J-Hook in a 3/0 size and because of this fact anglers can use much smaller hooks and lighter hooks which allows the bait to swim more naturally and live longer on the hook. The biggest hook I use is 6/0 Circle hook and that is for baits over 12” as it is targeting only the biggest of circle hook and that is for baits over 12” as it is targeting only the biggest of stripers.

Part IX
Terminal Rigs

I only use two rigs for live bait fishing! Free-line and weighted Line.

Free-line is just what is says I tie a hook to the line and cast it out from the boat. I play out 100ft of line to 200ft depending on conditions. In no wind conditions my suggestion is 100ft and in windy conditions the 200ft.

When free-lining bait hook placement is important, in windy conditions the best place is to hook them in the nose so they can swim naturally behind the boat in the drift.

In no wind conditions there is four ways to hook the bait.

1. Nose hooking: this allows the bait to swim naturally as it wishes.

2. Tail hooking: hook the bait and the back end of the dorsal fin this will cause the bait to swim away from you but it tires out baits fast and you will need to change them often

3. Anal Hooking: Hook the bait directly above the anus, this will cause them to swim down and away from you but as with tail hooking it will tire them quickly and require frequent bait changes.

4. Gill Hooking: Hook the bait in the gill plate, this will cause the bait to swim in circles near the surface of the water and is a deadly way to present a bait to surface feeding fish.

Part X
Lures

I over thought this and spent more money than I ever needed when I first started fishing for stripers. There are really only 3 types of lures needed for striper fishing.

1. Surface lures
2. Casting lures
3. Trolling lures

1st is the surface lure. Pencil poppers in Rainbow trout, Red and White and Black and Chrome are all that is needed for getting the surface fish to bite and it is one of the most thrilling ways. Nothing is more heart stopping then to see a 40lb striper turn the water into a washing machine as it attacks a popper on the surface.

2nd casting lures. As I said earlier if I could only have one lure in my box it would and will always be a buck-tail jig. Weight size varies from 1oz to 6oz. Most times I will do nothing at all other than cast them out and slowly retrieve them. Other times ill add a grub body to it just to beef up the overall size appearance and others ill add a trailer tail to it to maximize bulk and size profile. But always start out just with the plain old jig and then customize it to what the fish want. Colors are simple White for day Black for night.

3rd trolling lures. Umbrella rigs are a good way to catch the no doubt and one that is talked about all the time. They do work no doubt but if you really want effective a DD20 OR 22 30 works just as well and doesn’t cost near as much if you snag it. Also a CD30 is a great bait. Colors are simple White, Red n White, Purple and Blue and White for Day fishing, for night fishing Black purple and Black. Troll them behind the boat at 100 yard.

Part XI
Fly Fishing

I do not know if there is a more challenging way or fulfilling way to catch stripers then on a fly. I do not know if there is a more simple way either. A good 8wt rod and reel with plenty of backing and sinking line and a 10ft leader of 15lb test Fluorocarbon is the basics. Flies to use is simple anything white works! Let out all the sinking line behind the boat and drift slowly striping and arm’s length as you go and letting it back out and repeat. I have caught many stripers this way or just let the fly drift behind the boat. Now of course if they are surface feeding fire the cast at them and enjoy. Be ready for smiles and possibly the fish of a lifetime on the fly.

Part XII
The Fish

Understanding several things about Stripers will catch you fish consistently.

1. Stripers do not like dirty water
2. Stripers eat a lot

If the water is very dirty/ chocolate stained don’t expect to find them there, yes its possible an oddball will be present but not any large numbers. Stripers like clean water so to speak. Tea colored water is fine but the clearer the better.

Stripers tend to feed a lot so find the bait and you will have found the fish. Combine clean water with food and you can bet you will have schools nearby.

Stripers do not like hot water as a rule. Most my fish come between 52 and 64 degree water and cooler is always better, there is a reason trout anglers hate stripers. Stripers like cool water and so do trout and stripers love to eat trout. Many a fly fisherman has wound up tangling with a big line-side or even watching one come in and eat his trout as it struggles.

Part XIII
Electronics

Yes the better you have the easier it is to find them. But that said even a cheap flasher has produced me many stripers. The hardcore guys will have the side finders up and down color graph’s with bugs bunny showing them everything and I am one of them. I like to catch fish and my creature comfort cheat screen is nice.

But as I said you do not need one of those. A graph that will show you shad and marks under or around them will suit you fine. The biggest reason for graphs is depth control! If you know the depth the fish are at it will help you to get the bait where it needs to be.

But I do not mean the depth the fish are at but more the depth they are at with the depth and type of bottom. More times than not I will locate fish in a certain bottom depth! Let’s use Fish and 40FT but bottom of 50ft, this is very common to see. The bottom will be a long flat with not much depth change and I will see them hovering 10ft off the bottom the thermocline is at 32 to 35ft and the bait is relating to that mixing of water supplying it with its food and the stripers below the bait.

If the fish stop biting pull out a lake map and go to another place with the same set-up of bottom contour and depth and you will normally find more stripers there doing the same thing and maybe they will be on the feed.

Part IVX
About Beaver Lake.

Or I should say any lake with stripers; I keep tabs on most striper lakes in the country through internet forums and even before that with newspapers and phone calls to friends. One thing I learned is stripers in Arkansas act just like Stripers in California and so on. So you can use everything above for just about any lake with a little bit of research.

That said Beaver has four seasons and three areas to search for stripers in the four seasons.

1ST Is the summer season: The fish will be concentrated near the dam area
2nd Is spring and fall when they can be all over the lake but the best area to search is the mid-lake region and they migrate to and from the white river.
3rd Is winter season: In winter search the white river area.

Have taken a little time to show Beaver and its season areas and then added some points of interest to try in each season.
In Closing

It feels like there is so much I have not covered but I hope I have covered enough to give anyone a shot at catching a big Line-sider. Good luck and trust me anyone can do it if they keep it simple and just try it.

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