Clayton: Remember December

By Luke Clayton
Bill Carey, right, with Striper Express and Luke with some nice stripers landed earlier this week at Lake Texoma.
Luke Clayton

My longtime friend Bill Carey with Striper Express has a saying, “Remember December,” that he often mentions. He’s referring to the awesome striper fishing that occurs during the winter months at Lake Texoma. Earlier this week, my good friend Jeff Rice and I joined Bill for an awesome day on the water.

Granted, the weather was terrible, at least from a striper’s point of view. There was almost no wind, bright sunny skies and a temperature that climbed to just over 70 degrees, what we fishermen call a bluebird day. Stripers are a saltwater transplant fish and it seems the rougher the weather the better they bite.

Bill doesn’t actively guide these days, he’s kept plenty busy managing one of the biggest inland guide services in the state but he has logged in countless hours in the past almost four decades putting clients on line sizzling striper action and he knows the lake as well as many of us know the route we take to and from work. But this week, Bill broke away from his management duties to just go fishin’ with us.

I’ve fished for stripers enough to know the weather we humans consider perfect for a winter’s day are not conducive to a strong striper bite, but I also knew that Striper Express has several top-notch guides on the water every day and that chances were very good Bill would get us in the action. I was not wrong!

Flocks of sea gulls often lead anglers to schools of feeding fish this time of year, but as we entered the main lake from the Mill Creek cove and scanned the waters with binoculars, nary a gull was spotted dipping and diving toward the water’s surface. This was an indication of what we already suspected, the stripers were not actively feeding but, that didn’t mean they couldn’t be caught!

“We’ll have to work for our fish today,” says Bill as he hammered down on the big outboard, en route to a distant area of the lake with a submerged creek channel near a big "pocket" or cove with many secondary points. “We will be targeting fish moving out of the deeper creek channel to feed on shad drawn to the warming water back in the cove. A very slow retrieve close to bottom will be the ticket to enticing strikes.”

Our Sixgill rod-and-reel combos were rigged with half ounce horse head bucktail jigs by Jewel Baits. Each jig had a 6-inch, white-worm trailer.

“When stripers are not on an active bite, they like big baits. They simply cannot resist these bigger baits when they come bouncing along right in front of their noses," instructed Bill as he eased the boat up to a prominent point jutting out 50 yards into the cove. 

With everyone casting on the windward side of the boat, we drifted slowly along with a very light breeze. The rule of thumb for winter fishing is to work the baits very slowly. Bill instructed us to crank the reel handle slowly and then slow down a bit more!

I was expecting a very subtle bite and was surprised when I felt a strong strike telegraphed up through line and into the sensitive tip of the Sixgill rod. Then I felt nothing. The striper had attacked the bait with intent to kill and instantly returned and grabbed it and headed off in the direction of the main lake. I would like to say my lightning reflexes caused the hookset but that was not the case. The striper hit hard enough to set the hook and I simply took up the slack in the line. It was a solid 23-inch fish and I could already taste the blackened striper dinner I was hoping for later that day.

We began fishing at 10:30 that morning and after a couple hours of catching stripers on this slow retrieve pattern the action slowed. Bill got a call from his son Chris with word that his clients were catching stripers holding on small submerged humps close to the creek channel out near the middle of the arm of the lake.

“Boys," says Bill, "Chris has switched to slabs and his clients just boated eight nice stripers. Let’s tie on slabs and see if we can some active fish.”

As Bill buried his face in the graph, I could see the bottom contour slowly rising from 28 feet up to around 15 and a cloud of baitfish begin to show, accompanied by larger "hooks" hanging close to bottom below the pod of bait. The drill was pretty simple, make contact with the bottom with the slabs, crank the reel handle one crank and vertically jig the slabs.

There is something I find very exciting about catching stripers on slabs. This definitely is not "finesse" fishing. All that is required is knowing where bottom is and vertical fishing the baits. When a striper strikes, you feel the bite instantly and hooksets are almost guaranteed.

Although the warm bluebird day was better suited to humans comfort than stripers biting, we returned to dock with plenty of fish for several blackening cook outs. Bill and I had the opportunity to reflect upon about 35 years of friendship and fishing trips together. I’m sure our buddy Jeff Rice got a good history lesson from listening to our tales of past fishing trips on beautiful Lake Texoma.

If you are getting the itch to feel the tug of a striper on your line, give some thought to booking a winter fishing trip. Maybe your day on the water will be windy and cloudy and that will be just fine. You won’t begin fishing until mid-morning and chances are good the stripers will be active and enjoying their kind of winter’s day!    

Check out Bill and Chris Carey’s Striper Express online at www.striperexpress.com.

Remember the late winter Outdoor Ron-de-Voux in Greenville on March 6 on 4 acres a few blocks north of downtown. Food, music, antique car show and big campfire, much fun!  For booth space of more information, contact Randy Koon at (903) 456-3048.