Lake Palestine Hybrids Have Moved Shallow For Spring "Spawn" Run
by Steve Knight
LAKE PALESTINE - There was no reason for Eric Pottkotter to cast the direction he did when he chunked his lure into the stained waters around Saline Creek on Lake Palestine for the first cast of the day.
He could have just as easily cast to the other side of the boat or left or right 10 feet.
But no sooner had the silver spoon drifted to the lake's bottom, the rod tip bent downward and the line was as taut as a violin string.
Pottkotter, a guide on the lake, reared back with the rod once, then twice and then strained to coax the fish his direction. Even with the 15-pound-test P Line, it was quickly apparent it would not be an easy task. There would be no manhandling this fish to the surface. It was only going to show itself when it was ready.
Once or twice during the extended fight, Pottkotter wondered if he might have hooked one of the lakes big blue catfish. It wouldn't be the first time.
For what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably only a couple of minutes, the angler grasped the rod tightly as its tip was bowed down toward the water by the fish's weight. He carefully protected the line, keeping it away from any sharp edges on the boat.
BIG FISH: Guide Eric Pottkotter recently started the day with an 11-pound, 3-ounce hybrid striped bass on Lake Palestine.
Finally the fish tired and was brought alongside the boat where Pottkotter reached down with the oversized net and brought it aboard. The fish, a robust hybrid striped female gushing with eggs, weighed 11-3. It was not a lake record, but big enough itself to make the day worthwhile.
This has been a good winter for Lake Palestine's hybrid striper anglers. It started last November after the fish had moved from their summer waters into deep holes for the cold months.
"Winter was great. You just had to decide which flock of birds you were going to work," Pottkotter recalled. "It ended with the cold in December and January."
And before the fishermen could recover and locate the fish again, they had already moved up to shallow water flats in an exercise that could best be called a mock spawn. As hybrids, the white bass/striped bass crosses aren't actually able to reproduce, but that doesn't prevent them from moving off the main lake and into the creek channels as if they were going to. That is where the fish have been for several weeks since the water temperature moved up into the 50s. They should be there for several more weeks or until the water temperature moves into the mid 60s. Then they will head back down the lake for the summer.
Right now the smaller and mid-sized fish can be found early in schools hovering in creeks in 10 to 15 feet of water until they move up onto humps to attack shad.
The bigger fish, ones like Pottkotter caught and a 6-pounder that was boated later, are marauding on their own.
"The big fish are loners. The bigger they are the more alone they will be. They are just out cruising," Pottkotter explained.
He had spotted some individual inverted Vs on his graph as soon as we pulled onto the lake about 11 a.m. It is those fish the guide likes to work first. Then he goes after the schools. All of it is just biding time until the seagulls go to work, marking the waters where the hybrids are chasing shad and forcing them to the surface. Then the action really picks up.
The best fishing seldom takes place until mid-afternoon, and even that is dictated by a stiff breeze and overcast skies.
"They will come up when it is a high sky, but it makes it tougher. They like to stay down when it is bright, but they will come up eventually as the sun goes down (on the horizon)," he said.
The numbers game has been good, but what makes Pottkotter equally excited is the size of the hybrids this year. The 11-pounder may be the top side of the range on a lake where the record is only 14 pounds, but fish weighing 5 to 8 pounds aren't a rarity. He said he saw this coming.
"Three years ago I was catching thousands of little fish back in here. They have grown up," he said. In the past year with the water level down on the lake as much as five feet, the hybrids have probably also been gorging on shad that had limited options to hide.
Pottkotter has whittled his lure choices down to an efficient three or four baits. He goes with a gold or silver spoon when the fish are suspended on the bottom. If that doesn't work he will go with a four-inch Storm WildEye Swim Shad in either a chartreuse and pearl or Smokey Joe color, or Creme Lures new Silver Sides, a saltwater bait that has adapted well to freshwater hybrid striper fishing. He works both slowing across the bottom.
When the fish have moved up and are schooling, Pottkotter stays with the Storm and Creme lures, using a steady retrieve that keeps the bait up in the fish's strike zone.
The good thing about fishing for hybrids on Lake Palestine and other East Texas lakes where they are found is that if they aren't biting, the white bass usually will be. Easy to catch on the same lures, the sandies have also moved up into the creeks down the lake as they prepare to make their spawn run, one, that unlike the hybrids, is for real. The smaller white bass can often be found mixed with smaller hybrids.
The daily bag limit for hybrid striped bass is five with an 18-inch minimum length limit. The daily bag limit on white bass is 25 with a 10-inch minimum length limit. Although there is some difference in the appearance of the two fish, the only way to make positive identification is to look at the fish's tongue. White bass will have one patch near the midline toward the back of its tongue. Hybrids will have two.
Steve Knight is Outdoors editor for the Tyler Courier-Times—Telegraph.
BIG FISH: Guide Eric Pottkotter recently started the day with an 11-pound, 3-ounce hybrid striped bass on Lake Palestine