Chris Carey has one of those contagious personalities that breeds confidence and bleeds with positive energy. I don’t know how he is off the water, but standing elbow-to-elbow with the guy in his 23-foot Falcon you can’t help but get the feeling that you’re going to get bit.
“I love this stuff,” Carey said. “Some days I run around out here like a mad man. Every day brings a different challenge, and some are easier than others. It’s me against the fish. They keep me motivated.”
Carey comes by his peppy demeanor naturally. He is the son of Bill Carey, a long-time Texas angler who founded one of Lake Texoma’s premier striper fishing guide services in 1983. Fittingly, it’s called Striper Express.
Chris took over the fishing end of the business from his father several years ago and now oversees a five-boat operation that ranks among the busiest on what is arguably one of the top striper lakes in the South and most certainly the best in Texas.
Interestingly, the elder Carey is a former largemouth nut, turned striper addict. The 63-year old Frisco native cut his fishing teeth chasing largemouths on lakes Monticello and Bob Sandlin in eastern Texas.
Then, in 1977, he made the mistake of taking a guided striper fishing trip on the 89,000-acre reservoir that straddles the Texas/Oklahoma border. I say it was a mistake because that one guide trip fueled an addiction that ultimately cost him a ton in guide fees.
“I went 33 times that first year,” Carey joked. “After that first trip I was hooked and never looked back.”
Catching big stripers can do that to a man ―or a woman.
Just ask Barbara Pope of Frisco. Last December, Pope and some lady friends were fishing on the Oklahoma side of the lake with Chris Carey when a heavyweight striper slammed her jig/Fluke rig.
The violent strike progressed into a serious battle that had big fish written all over it. The powerful fish peeled line off the reel at will and Pope fought to regain it―a little at a time―every chance she got.
It took some doing, but she finally played the striper into the landing net. Carey is certain the fish lost significant weight between the time it was caught and weighed on certified scales. At 24 pounds, 11 ounces, it still ranks as a new Texoma striper record for Oklahoma.
Pope’s big fish came near the start of the most remarkable run on trophy-class stripers that either of the veteran guides can ever recall. During the final two weeks of January alone, Carey’s boats accounted for seven fish upwards of 20 pounds, including a 28.7 caught by David Walker of Lubbock and a 24.89 caught by Larry Murphy. Another noteworthy catch came on Jan. 31, when 12-year-old Mattie May of Rowlett landed a 17 1/2-pounder that should rank as a new junior angler Texas state record.
“The number of fish in the 10-to18-pound range we’ve seen this year has been out of this world,” Bill Carey said. “You hear a lot of old timers talk about the old days when they all they caught was 20 pounders on Texoma. But that’s just 20 years of embellishment talking.
“I’ve got 35 years under my belt and this past year was by far the best I’ve ever seen for numbers of big fish. It was absolutely incredible, and what is really encouraging is the stage is set for more great fishing over the next few years. We can’t wait see what we’ll have around the banks in late April. They’ll be like gangs of hungry teenagers at a buffet. They’ll crucify a topwater bait. It’s blind casting and it’s blast.”
The Careys have carved out a niche on Texoma in that they target outsize stripers exclusively using artificial lures. Their guides take an aggressive approach with their fishing and stay on the move to locate groups of feeding fish. Naturally, their tactics change with the season.
Translation: If you want to anchor and dunk live bait, it might be wise to check out a different outfit.
“We fish people who like to fish,” Chris Carey said. “Personally, it makes me nauseated watching someone reel in a fish that ate a shad running around in a three-foot death circle. The fight is fun, but to me the thrill of striper fishing is tricking these big suckers into biting.”
Carey’s mantra obviously has been well received by a loyal customer base. His boat alone has averaged more than 300 fishing days during each of the last three years, and many clients are repeat customers.
Opinions vary as to why Texas’s top-ranked striper fishery is producing so many outsize fish these days. For starters, the lake is one of only a few in the world with a self-sustaining striper population. The Careys think the one-two punch of an ailing economy and heightened worries over a potentially dangerous blue green algae bloom in 2011-12 may have been a silver lining in disguise for the fishery.
“There wasn’t near as much fishing pressure out there when all of that was going on,” Chris Carey said. “My guess is there were thousands of fish that made it to next level as a result.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife fisheries scientists think the prolonged drought that has hampered annual spawning production up the Red and Washita rivers in recent years also may have played a role. Fewer fish means less competition for the available prey base. Nearly 40 percent of the fish collected during 2014 gill net samplings measured 20 or more inches, according to TPWD reports.
“Think of it like a herd of cattle on an acre of land,” explained Tom Robinson, a TPWD fisheries technician based in Pottsboro. “When you remove some of those cattle, there is more grass for the others to eat, so they grow bigger at a faster rate. Plus, the Texoma limit restricts anglers to only two fish over 20 inches per day.”
Although the striper bite at Texoma in recent times been akin to something out of a fairy tale, it isn’t the only lake where anglers can get their strings stretched by these powerful sport fish. TPWD hatcheries produce around three million striped bass each year that are divided among a nucleus of reservoirs best suited for the saltwater transplants.
TPWD Region 2 Director Brian Van Zee of Waco provided the following list of what he believes are the state’s top striper fisheries behind Texoma. Van Zee pointed out that his No. 2 and No. 3 choices (Buchanan and Whitney) are “pretty similar in terms of their striper populations and fisheries, so placing them into priority order is kind of like splitting hairs.”
Story by Matt Williams