LARGEMOUTH BASS HAVE HAD a stranglehold on freshwater popularity polls in Texas for as long as I can remember.
To hear Bill Carey of Pottsboro tell it, that may be because many of the state’s 400,000-plus bass fishermen have never witnessed the thunder of a 20-pound striper hammering a topwater plug, or experienced the agony of catching double-digit numbers of fish until their arms beg for some relief.
Carey is a former largemouth junkie who turned striper freak more than four decades ago. That’s when he hired a guide and took his first trip to Lake Texoma in North Texas.
It turned out to be a pretty expensive trip. Carey, who earned his fishing stripes chasing lunker largemouths on lakes Bob Sandlin and Monticello, wound up going back to Texoma 33 more times before the year was out.
To say Carey was bitten by the striper bug is an understatement. It might be more accurate to say the silver-sided titans stole his fishing soul.
In 1983, he moved to Texoma and started what has since become one of the premier striper guide outfits on the 89,000-acre reservoir. It’s called Striper Express.
Today, the multi-boat operation employs nearly a half dozen guides. Striper Express caters heavily to thrill-seeking anglers who enjoy the challenge catching the brawny sport fish on artificial lures. Among tgese are the Cordell Pencil Popper, Rat-L-Trap, swim baits and bucktail jigs.
The 67-year-old guide isn’t bashful about sharing his affinity for fooling stripers on artificial baits, either. “Unlike some, we won’t bottom-fish you with live bait for an hour and then NASCAR your butt back to the dock,” he says.
Carey couldn’t have picked a better spot to set-up camp. Not in Texas, anyway. Texoma’s striper fishery is recognized as one of the best in the South and by far the best in Texas.
Anglers come from all over to catch Texoma stripers, and they spend a considerable amount of money. Economic studies indicate striper fishing pumps around $20 million annually into local businesses.
Texoma’s road to success is built largely around gifts from Mother Nature. Striper populations in most lakes are maintained by regular stockings using hatchery-raised fish. However, that’s not the case on this Texas/Oklahoma border lake.
Oklahoma biologists jump-started the population with generous stockings from 1965 to 1974. Since then, the fishery has been 100 percent self-sustaining thanks to timely spawning runs that occur during the spring of the year.
Texoma is fed by two major rivers, Washita and Red River. These are big, long, free-flowing waterways that allow the fish to migrate 60 to 80 miles upstream to spawn each spring.
Translation: Texoma is nothing short of a striper factory. It cranks out mega numbers of fish when current and other conditions are right during the spawning season, according to Brian Van Zee, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries Regional Director based in Waco.
“Texoma is undoubtedly the state’s No. 1 striper lake,” he said. “Populations in other lakes supported entirely by stocking simply cannot match the numbers maintained through the natural reproduction that occurs at Texoma.”
To put those numbers into perspective, Van Zee pointed to gill net surveys Texas and Oklahoma fisheries biologists use to keep tabs on striper populations in Texoma and other lakes. He said typical catch rates in most stocked lakes are two to three fish per net. At Texoma, the number is normally about 18 fish per net.
“That 18 fish per net is just the average catch rate at Texoma,” Van Zee said. “This year, our catch rates are roughly 30 stripers per net, suggesting the overall number of striped bass in Lake Texoma is almost double what it is in a typical year. What makes that even better is that growth rates have also been well above average the last few years. It is not uncommon to catch multiple stripers between 10 and 20 pounds each day right now.”
Van Zee said he believes the spike in striper numbers at Texoma can be attributed to a 2015 super spawn combined with timely rains that have helped maintain water levels critical for recruitment and optimum growth.
“Texoma is typically known as a good lake to catch a 10-fish limit of “box” fish, about 12 to 19 inches,” he said. “But lately it has been tough to find groups of fish under 20 inches, of which you can only keep two fish per person. Though some anglers are disappointed about taking fewer fish, it’s certainly hard to complain about catching bigger fish. If you’ve had a striper fishing trip to Texoma on your bucket list, 2019 is the year to take that trip.”
As good as the striper fishing is at Texoma, Van Zee says there several other lakes across the state that are producing good numbers of quality-sized fish while offering anglers a good shot at catching a big one. Here they are ranked in numerical order.
Size: 23,500 acres
Lake Record: 39.69 pounds
Comments: “Whitney has benefited greatly from increased inflows that have kept the reservoir near or above conservation pool, increased prey availability and greatly reduced the threat of golden algae blooms,” Van Zee said.”
Those factors combined with an aggressive approach to stocking over the past few years has resulted in an incredible striper fishery—as good or better than anytime in the past.”
Van Zee added that Whitney is best known for its big numbers of four to eight pounders, but does crank out an occasional whopper in the 15- to 20-pound range. The best fishing typically occurs from mid-lake at the Katy Bridge to the dam. Known hotspots include the mouth of Cedron Creek, Bee Bluff, Walling Bend Park Island and main lake areas near Whitney and Towash Creeks.
Size: 15,588 acres
Lake Record: 34.19 pounds
Comments: “Like most lakes Possum Kingdom has also benefited from increased water levels and stocking the past several years,” Van Zee said. “It has good numbers and a good size distribution of legal-length fish. It’s not a cookie cutter fishery. You could end up on a school of fast action decent fish that just wear you out, a school of chunky eaters or a school of fish you never thought you’d have the pleasure of fighting. In general, a school of stripers is relatively easy to locate, and there are quite a few guides available to put you on fish if you don’t know the lake well.”
Van Zee said surveys show an abundance of three- to six- pound fish along with good numbers in the seven- to eleven-pound range and 15- to 20-pound class. He ranks it right up there with Texoma in terms of big fish potential.
“To me that’s a lot of the fun, knowing you have a great chance of getting on the fish, but still having the mystery of not knowing what size class you’re going to be getting into,” he said.
Size: 22,211 acres
Lake Record: 27.80
Comments: Van Zee says the scenic Hill Country impoundment ranks as the best in the San Marcos/Austin district and cranks out tall numbers of fish in the three- to five-pound range for fun-loving anglers and fishing guides who go there to chase them.
“The dissolved oxygen and temperature profile on Buchanan is conducive to survival and growth during the ‘summer pinch,’” he said. “There also is abundant forage in the form of gizzard shad.”
Van Zee also notes the lake’s abundant population of sunshine bass as a secondary option. The white bass/striper hybrids have been stocked annually in big numbers since 2006 through an ongoing partnership between TPWD and the Lake Buchanan Conservation Corporation.
Size: 37,879 acres
Lake Record: 22.50 pounds
Comments: Van Zee said Tawakoni’s abundant forage base supports strong cohorts of quality and box-size stripers as well as big numbers of hybrid stripers and outsize blue catfish. The lake is heavily stocked with striped and hybrid bass each year to keep up with intense fishing pressure from locals and the nearby Dallas area. It also so maintains an excellent white bass fishery. Anglers often score fast limits by keying on flocks of birds that gather just above the surface to feed on fleeing shad.
Size: 8,300 acres
Lake Record: 20.03
Comments: “Granbury has seen a dramatic resurgence in its striper population with most of the fish in the four- to six-pound class with a few big fish,” Van Zee said. “Overall striper densities are lower in Granbury when compared to Whitney, and anglers do have to contend with a lot more pleasure boaters. Experienced anglers who don’t mind working a little harder and putting up with boat traffic will be rewarded.”
Lake Texoma guide Bill Carey of Striper Express demonstrates his quick and easy technique for cleaning striped bass and removing the bloodline to leave perfect, tasty white meat.
—story by MATT WILLIAMS