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Early Springtime Reservoir Stripers on Artificials
By Mark (Willie) Williams
Inland Lake Fishing Charters
With water temps in the high 40’s to low 50’s, fishing for early springtime stripers (like so many other gamefish) “downsizing” is the way to start the season. For the most part stripers are shallow this time of year due to the cool water temps. Stripers are usually feeding on 1”-3” threadfin or gizzard shad. Small lures like topwater jerkbaits or swimming minnows reeled slowly are a good choice along with bucktail jigs without any trailers (match the hatch). Good locations can be headwaters, slow tapering points and feeder creeks.
When water temps start rising into the high 50’s stripers start to get more aggressive and feed on larger 8-10” gizzard shad. This is when I start going to larger topwaters. Some of my favorite topwaters are swimming minnows, poppers, stickbaits & prop baits. Remember to go BIG, because when stripers are feeding on large 10” shad they often overlook a 4” lure.
Your best bite with shallow water stripers is very early in the morning or in the evening. When I say early morning, I mean early morning. Be on the water a few hours before the sun starts popping up as the morning bite can be over by 8:00 am and extend only if you have overcast skies or fog in the forecast. Windy days can stretch a morning bite out also since chop on the water can break up light penetration. The reasoning is that stripers are very light sensitive and once the sun starts rising they tend to move deeper.
When cold-water stripers start going deep is when I start heavy metal fishing. I’m not talking Mettalica or Motley Crue, but jigging spoons and blade baits. Some of my favorites include Hopkins spoons, Silver Buddies, Zip Lures and even Fuzzy Duzzits, which are popular blade baits with muskie fisherman when hunting deepwater muskies. These baits are now starting to make the crossover (like so many other muskie lures) to striper fishing. Rattling baits, such as Diamond Shads, Rattlin Rapalas and Rat-L-Traps are good versatile choices. These are great lures for covering water fast and are also very effective when vertical jigging.
Key locations for deep-water stripers can be main feeder creeks branching off the river channel. If the water temp is below 50 degrees, look for stripers in the 30-50 ft. range. In many cases they will be close to some kind of structure such as points, humps or old creek beds. Standing timbers near creek and river channels can be striper and wiper holding magnets also. When fishing standing timber on sunny days, the fish will more than likely be in the trees, and on the outside on overcast days. When jigging or working standing timber it is a good idea to beef up your line and invest in a good lure retriever or plug knocker, as your going to need it sooner or later.
When trying to locate deep-water stripers make sure to be on the lookout for schools of shad for they will we close by. Finding these schools can be a time consuming process but it really can pay off.
When deep water jigging, I recommend a sensitive rod with some good backbone. I also downsize my line to12-15lb test since it keeps you in better contact with your lure. The sensitive rods’ key role is detecting the slightest hit. I have caught stripers as far down as 70ft. and it is amazing how soft of a hit a 20lb striper can make when inhaling your lure (when in doubt, set the hook!) Remember, it is very important to keep contact with your lure on the fall since they rarely hit it on the rise.
These are some of my favorite and productive strategies for coldwater stripers. Some of the most exciting fishing is catching stripers on artificial lures, especially topwaters, and if you have never experienced it you owe it to yourself to go out and give it a try.
Just remember to HANG ON!
Mark Williams is a lifetime member of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society a lifetime member of the North American Fishing Club, and is certified by the United States Coast Guard, and he is Indiana's first and only certified Captain by the International Game Fish Association. Mark also supports the following organizations, Muskie Inc., National Striped Bass Association.
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