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Fall striper action heats up on Okatibbee

By By Mike Giles / outdoors writer
Oct. 25, 2002
Although anglers are starting to catch plenty of largemouth bass in area lakes and rivers, many are missing out on one of the areas most outstanding opportunities to catch a lunker. Now I'm not talking about catching lunker largemouths either. The lunkers I'm referring to are known by several different names, but are commonly called hybrid striped bass.
On a recent fishing trip to Okatibbee Reservoir, we were busy catching hungry bass that were aggressively attacking and feeding on shad. These bass were fun to catch and release, but most tended to be on the small size. Late in the afternoon we were working a shallow water ledge when something really started slashing and tearing the water surface.
These large fish were savagely herding shad to the surface and attacking them with a vengeance. The bait fish were very easy pickings for these veritable killing machines. After a quick cast past the school, a hard charging fish almost took the rod from my hands. Holding on for dear life I had to hit the release button on my reel to keep from losing the outfit or breaking my line.
After about a 10-minute battle, the 8-pound striper finally wore down and we were able to bring him aboard for a quick picture, before releasing him to fight another day. Stripers are edible, but since they don't reproduce in the reservoir, they are worth much more to me for their fighting ability than their taste! If you release them, you are assured of another opportunity to tangle with them later – when they may be even bigger!
As we continued working our way down the ledge the stripers came up here and there at random. If you could get a lure in the vicinity, they would usually smash it in a fury while trying to relieve you of your outfit.
Preferred baits
Although any standard bass lure will attract a striper from time to time, some are definitely better than others. Knowing what to throw and when, is often the key to consistently catching the stripers when they are schooling in the reservoir. Shallow running Bandit crankbaits in shad or chrome colors are good choices when the stripers are feeding on top, or just below the surface.
Two of the all-time best striper baits are the Wing Ding and Skipper shad, which were designed by Bob Ponds in the early seventies. Ponds fished for largemouths as well as stripers on Ross Barnett Reservoir and those baits are equally proficient at catching both species of fish. They are now manufactured and distributed to stores around the state by Collum's Baits.
When the stripers are down deep, the Wing Ding tail spinners are deadly as they can be worked at all depths in a rise and fall retrieve. The flash of the spinners attracts the stripers much like a shad does.
The Skipper Shad is primarily used when stripers are schooling on the surface or just below. Simply cast the bait past the school and retrieve the bait into the schooling activity. Once the bait reaches the strike zone, let it flutter down 3 or 4 feet before pumping it back up and letting it flutter down again. By retrieving the bait in a rise and fall pattern the stripers will think the bait is a wounded shad and attack it looking for an easy meal.
Locating striper schools
When it comes to catching stripers, location is everything. This time of year the stripers will follow the shad. Find the shad and you'll find the stripers! There are several ways to locate the stripers, when the schooling activity starts. A good pair of binoculars will allow anglers the opportunity to scan the water surface, while looking for fish breaking the surface. They are also good for spotting sea gulls and terns, which have now arrived back in our area and are sure to be feeding on any available shad concentrations.
Most of the stripers may be found near creek channels, drop offs and shallow shelves adjacent to deep water. If you're looking for some fast and furious action, then now is the time to head to the reservoir. But be sure to bring strong line and some stout equipment, or you just might be out of luck.