Arkansas' Spectacular StripersBy Ted Peck - February 1, 2011
Arkansas is truly a sportsman's paradise. Right now this state offers at least three things you won't find much of close to home: open water, bare ground and striped bass.
Ocean rockfish, a.k.a. "stripers" are perhaps the hardest pulling fish in fresh water. The only potential challengers for this designation are Chinook salmon and flathead catfish.
Muskies would be out of the race after 20 yards. A big striper won't even look back until it has covered the length of a football field. Arkansas guide Terry Brodnax calls them "freight trains" because they are virtually impossible to stop.
This is the kind of string stretching most northern anglers pine for right now. Fish down on the Ouachita River system near Hot Springs are waiting to make your dreams come true.
Many Arkansas lakes hold stripers and their close kin, hybrid striped bass. Hybrids are a cross between ocean rockfish and white bass. They are often referred to as "wipers" for this reason.
Any combination of these species will earn your undivided attention. Pure stripers may literally bring you to your knees. Fish over 30 pounds are common. Monsters over 50 pounds may have "Milwaukee Road" encrypted in their stripes.
These fish are nomads, viciously attacking schools of shad intercepted on never-ending patrol. Striper guides like Brodnax and his partner Ben Sanders use several different presentations to hook up with these fish, most of which are patterned after shad behavior.
These guides find fish on his sophisticated electronics. Shad suspend in huge schools. Electronic marks of stripers often show up just a little deeper.
Sanders likes using his trolling motor to sneak along over these fish with 6-12 inch shad fluttering behind planer boards and trolled slowly behind the boat under small balloons. Sometimes he has clients cast heavy jigs, big Rat-L-Traps or large stickbaits in an attempt to pull in fish from beyond trolling range.
The image of the 20 pounder which swam up on my big Cordell Red Fin and slowly turn away upon seeing Sander's boat and my slack-jawed face will haunt me for the foreseeable future.
Brodnax prefers precision trolling with his big outboard, using umbrella rigs to draw in fish. The umbrella rig resembles a mobile over a baby's crib with nine dropper lines of varying lengths each tipped with a one-ounce RoadRunner jig head and five inch plastic tail.
He long-line trolls two umbrella rigs behind the boat, using line counter reels filled with 50 lb. test monofilament on heavy trolling rods. Distance between rod tips and hooks is 150-180 feet, with anglers instructed to make quick corrections in distance as Brodnax picks up individual stripers on his electronics.
Stripers see this gang of RoadRunners as a school of shad, responding with an involuntary strike. This is sometimes more effective than soaking live bait, hoping that stripers are in a feeding mood.
Birds can be a key to striper location, with gulls diving to attack shad pushed to the surface by marauding schools of fish. From mid-February through about mid-April using water birds as "bird dogs" is an effective way to fish.
Few experiences in fresh water fishing compare with casting a topwater lure into a school of 20-40 pound striped bass in a wild-eyed need to feed.
If you think a southern latitude might enhance your attitude contact the Arkansas Stripers guide service at (501) 318-3092 or on the web at www.ArkansasStripers.com .