Stripers by Kayak - by Casey Smartt
[img2="left"]http://www.theflyfishingforum.com/photos/files/4/casey-smartt20_thumb.jpg[/img2]Stripers by Kayak
By Casey Smartt
Winter's cloak hangs heavy. The grass is brown and trees are bare. Gamefish activity on the flats has stalled and intermittent shots of inclement weather remind us that even Texas gets cold and dreary... dang. But not all cold-blooded creatures are resting. The plummeting temperatures have stirred the blood of a powerful eating machine - the Striper. If you have a seaworthy kayak, a fly rod, and a bit of fortitude, finding and catching them can be thrilling.
Stripers are ocean-dwelling species best known for their legendary runs on the East Coast. When the late spring water temperatures rise into the upper 40's (that's warm in New England), stripers begin their migration up the surf. They eventually make their way through estuaries far into rivers where spawning occurs. With the approach of fall, the stripers retreat back to the open ocean. Eastern anglers target them throughout the journey. The striper fishery, and striper fishing, in Texas is much different.
For many years TPWD has collected striper brood stock from native populations on the Trinity River below Lake Livingston and reared their offspring in State hatcheries.
[img2="left"]http://www.lsff.com/images/newsletter/august05/striper-eye.jpg[/img2]Despite bright blue skies, this striper was feeding at the surface
Millions of these hatchery fingerlings have been released into Texas reservoirs in a large scale put-and-take program. Although many anglers pose the valid argument that pursuing reservoir stripers is, "... just not the same" as the ocean-run fish, it is still a heck of a lot of fun, especially in a kayak.
Though not commonly seen on reservoirs, the kayak is a good craft for striper fishing because stripers are sensitive to noise. Kayaks are quiet. Models designed to handle chop are preferred over sleeker boats built for speed and are less likely to dump you into frigid reservoir water. I use an Ocean Kayak Drifter, and love it, but many other models are equally safe and fishable.
My boat is equipped with Scotty rod holders mounted on the deck behind the seat and an old Hummingbird portable fish finder strapped to the bow hatch. I wear a pair of snug-fitting neoprene waders cinched tight with a belt, and a good life preserver strapped firmly to my torso at all times. A charged cell phone stays in a Ziploc bag in my chest pocket. One gear bag contains spare tackle and a camera. A second bag holds navigation lights, a rain jacket, gloves, Coast Guard safety equipment, Power Bars, and water. All other gear is kept to a minimum to keep the boat floating high and to maintain maneuverability. As an added safety measure, internal storage areas are stuffed with pool noodles to provide positive floatation.
Remember, the most important aspect of rigging up for cold weather stripers is safety. No kayak is suitable for venturing miles out into a cold, rough, open lake, in the middle of winter. So... don't be lured into dangerous circumstances by a Nordic fantasy. January water temps will dip into the 40's, and an unexpected dunk can go from shocking to dangerous mighty quick. Always inform someone of your planned whereabouts, and fish with a partner who is in a second boat.
Stripers are fond of dark inclement weather- remember to keep safety first
Locating stripers by kayak requires some homework and a fundamental understanding of striper behavior in reservoirs. Unlike most lake species, stripers don't spend their lives waiting "next to a big rock," or "between two brush piles" to ambush meals. They are road warriors... pack hunters... feeding almost exclusively on shad. Stripers follow river channels, drop-offs, and submerged creek beds like a map in their endless pursuit of shad. When the shad are cornered and panic, stripers attack. This may occur in open water if shad are herded to the surface or along main lake points and feeder creeks when shad are driven from deep channels and pinned along confining structure or shallow water.
A striper's keen eyesight makes it a formidable predator in low light
Stripers generally avoid two things- heat & bright sunlight. They hang out in deep water during the warm months, but begin a slow migration toward upper reaches of the reservoir after the first freeze, often surface feeding at daybreak. They wind their way through creeks and around points, eventually staging in deep channels near the mouth of the reservoir. As the late winter water temperature warms into the 50's, stripers push upriver. Spawning occurs when the water hits 60 degrees, but the tiny offspring require as much as 50 miles of tumbling water to survive, so spawning is rarely successful. One exception is on the Red River above Lake Texoma, where conditions produce viable offspring.
[img2="right"]http://www.lsff.com/images/newsletter/august05/striper-kayak.jpg[/img2] Well-known striper lakes include Texoma, Tawakoni, and Whitney in the North zone, Livingston in the East, and Canyon, Buchanan, and Amistad in the South. Many other lakes boast good populations of stripers. The TPWD website posts weekly fishing reports for most Texas reservoirs and also includes links to lake maps and contact numbers for lake biologists. These tools can go a long way toward eliminating unproductive areas, or pie-in-the-sky guesses about the whereabouts of stripers.
December striper lured from a flooded creek channel 28 ft. deep.
To narrow down the search for productive striper water, start with a good contour map. Do your homework. Look for points adjacent to deep channels, bays with creeks winding through them, islands, humps, pinches, or saddles that rise up from deep water. Avoid large expanses of flooded flats with no connecting arteries. Note distances and prevailing wind direction between launch points and potential fishing grounds.
Once you're on the water cruise slowly, following a predetermined route. A portable fish finder will keep you in touch with depth, contour, and schools of shad. Keep your eyes peeled for any sign of feeding activity. At times, it may be subtle. Watch for surfacing white bass (sand bass as they are called in most parts). They are often accompanied by stripers. A good pair of waterproof binoculars can help you scan water and pick up distant splashes and diving birds that signal feeding fish.
Approaching stripers feeding under birds is a real rush
[img2="left"]http://www.lsff.com/images/newsletter/august05/birds.jpg[/img2] I target stripers with fly gear. My favorite rig is a Sage 8wt. rod and Okuma Integrity reel loaded with ultra fast-sinking line and 20 lb. backing. Typically I select large Clousers, Deceivers, or bunker patterns in white, olive, or chartreuse. Crease flies or large white poppers work well during frenzies, but large weighted streamers are an overall better choice. While searching for feeding activity, I drag about 30 ft. of rigged fly line behind the boat. If the fish show up at the surface, I can lift the trailing line and cast quickly. If the stripers sound, the fast-sinking line can reach them.
Striped bass tricked with a bunker fly.
[img2="left"]http://www.lsff.com/images/newsletter/august05/striper-kayak2.jpg[/img2] Stripers are "redfish-strong," and they can easily tear deep into backing. Most schooling stripers range from 18-24 inches in length and weigh anywhere from 4-9 lbs. Larger specimens measuring between 28-35 inches may weigh between 10-20 lbs. The real big boys, greater than 35 inches, can reach weights exceeding 30 lbs although the current State Fly Rod Record is a 37"/ 22 lb. fish pulled from the Brazos River. The 10 biggest stripers caught in Texas range between 42-53 lbs. Three of these were caught in the Guadalupe River tailrace below Canyon Lake.
I encourage you to try stripers by kayak. They are elusive and fond of nasty weather- a real challenge. But that makes landing one on a fly rod all the more rewarding.
"Casey Smartt lives in New Braunfels, TX and has been fly fishing and fly tying for 25 years. He is the fly fishing editor for Gulf Coast Connections magazine and enjoys pursuing everything from Smallmouths to Jack Crevalles with fly tackle. You can contact him at 830-237-6886".