Clayton: Texoma, a fishery for all seasons

Luke Clayton
Special to the E-T
Guide Chris Carey (Lt) and Luke’s grandson Luke Zimmerman having a big time showing off one of many hard fighting stripers landed earlier this week.
Luke Clayton

I love striper fishing at Texoma during the dead of winter, using oversized jigs to entice greedily feeding stripers that drive bait to the surface and eat like there is no tomorrow. The sight of a few hundred sea gulls dipping and diving over a several acres of feeding stripers is the stuff great fishing memories are made. I also like catching them in midsummer during the first few hours of the day when they are feeding upon shad that have completed their spawn and dispersed to the waters of the mid to lower lake.

The summer striper pattern is now firmly entrenched at Texoma and earlier this week, my grandson Luke Zimmerman, great friend Jeff Rice and I joined guide Chris Carey and his dad Bill, the principals at Striper Express Guide Service, for some red hot early morning topwater action.

Being in the boat with this father and son team, each with years of experience guiding striper anglers on Texoma, was a distinct privilege. Bill is kept busy these days running the day-to-day business of one of the largest — if not the largest — striper guide service in the state so that his son can concentrate on doing what he was born to do: share his passion for fishing with others.

As we left the dock at Mill Creek Resort with the boat at an idle, Chris gave us his prediction on how he expected the morning fishing to unfold.

“Don’t expect to see acres and acres of topwater feeding stripers this time of year. The past few days, we have boated some solid stripers by staying on the move and hitting areas that traditionally hold bait and stripers. Once we find an actively feeding school, we have to get on them quickly with these big topwater plugs. I don’t expect them to be on the surface feeding for very long but the action is hot and heavy when they are feeding. This cloud cover should really help.”  

Chris then handed us each a rod rigged with a big topwater plug and instructed us to be at the ready for when we encountered our first school. With eyes trained by many years of daily practice, Chris adjusted the course of his boat a few degrees toward a shoreline in a secluded cove. It was obvious he had seen something that piqued his interest. I hoped it would be our first striper action of the morning.

“Just saw a big one blow up a couple hundred yards out. Let’s close the distance and see if this might turn into a full fledged feeding frenzy.”

The boat had barely slowed to a stop when we saw a big school of stripers chasing shad that were jumping completely out of the water. At times we could see an entire striper clear the water’s surface in efforts to catch its breakfast. If there is a more voracious feeding fish in fresh water than the striped bass, I have yet to discover it! Thanks to prior instructions by our guide, we each had our rods at the ready and as soon as the big plugs hit the surface and were "chugged" a couple of times, they were nailed by these hungry fish.

I made a long cast and the instant the bait hit the water, it was knocked a couple feet high by a very aggressive striper. The plug hit the surface only to be nailed again. Stripers often use their tails to "whack" a bait before actually trying to eat it. I assume this is a predatory move intended to stun the baitfish just long enough to eat it. 

This striper, my first of the day, hit this bait a total of five times before finally getting hooked. Just as I was cranking the reel fast to bring the bait out of the water for another cast, the fish struck again and this time, wound up in the net. The cardinal rule for catching topwater fish, regardless the species, is to not attempt to set the hook until one feels the weight of the fish. This is easier said than done. As a good friend of mine once said, when a fish pulls on the line it’s natural for the fisherman to pull back!

To be successful, it’s best to just move the bait a foot or two after a strike and wait until you feel the fish before rearing back on the rod. While fighting my striper, I watched my grandson’s rod bend heavily toward the surface and heard the drag on his Six Gill reel making that buzzing sound a reel under a heavy load makes. Luke had hooked the biggest striper of the day, as he usually does. He must hold his mouth right or something; he always seems to catch the biggest fish. 

On the way back to the fish cleaning table at Mill Creek, we encountered several mixed schools of white bass and stripers. Knowing that they had a group of fish eaters in the boat, Chris allowed us to fish each school and, just as earlier in the morning, the schools churned the water for a few minutes and then it was done, they sounded and probably continued chasing shad sub surface. We dropped slabs down near bottom and added more fillets for the frying pan and blackening skillet.

A good tip for summer striper fishing at Texoma right now is to get on the water at first light and, as Chris said, keep that boat on the move until you find actively feeding fish. By around 8:30 we were back at the dock with plenty of fillets for upcoming meals and some great footage for the next episode of “A Sportsman’s Life” video, which is archived on YouTube each week. Did I mention the trip also provided some great fodder for this week’s article?

Back at the house, we enjoyed a lunch of some very fresh stripers fillets, blackened in my cast iron skillet in blackening seasoning, butter and a squeeze of lemon.

Contact Striper Express Guide Service at www.striperexpress.com

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org