Although it has come nearly three weeks later than usual, the peak of the Belton Lake spring hybrid striped bass bite, and the threadfin shad spawn that typically corresponds with that bite, are taking place right now.
This peak late-spring action should last another three weeks or so, if history is any teacher.
Twenty-six years of meticulous record keeping indicate that this hybrid striped bass bite that occurs around this time each year will produce more legal (18-inch or greater) hybrid striped bass per hour than any other time of year.
Part of this has to do with the way the reservoir’s water is structured. Right now, from the surface to the bottom in as much as 55 to 60 feet of water, there exists only a few degrees difference in water temperature, with the surface water being the warmest, and the coolest water (which is the most dense) being at the bottom. Prior to the summer warmup, all of this water is sufficiently oxygenated to support fish life, thus fish, including hybrid stripers, congregate in large numbers on and near the bottom, using it as a form of cover.
As summer approaches, the deeper waters will become oxygen-depleted. When this occurs, the fish will scatter and suspend horizontally over vast areas in the reservoir. So, right now is the last, best shot at catching heavily congregated fish using vertical tactics, like tight-lining for them with live shad.
Also contributing to this peak bite is steadily warming water. Fish are cold-blooded creatures, thus, their metabolism rises and falls as water temperature rises and falls. We are now in the midst of the longest warming trend, uninterrupted by a cold front or wind shift, that we have seen all spring. This has moved the surface temperature out of the mid-60s and into the low-70s.
All of this is happening several weeks later than usual, thanks to an abnormally cold winter, and thanks to very unstable weather and a lack of any lengthy warming trends up to this point in the spring.
The single most effective tactic for catching hybrid striped bass consistently this time of year is the use of live shad fished vertically beneath the boat. Although fish can be taken from the shallows, even by bank-bound anglers, this bite is a very short-lived bite that exists from first light in the morning and up until the sun’s direct rays strike the water.
The deep-water bite (25 to 55 feet deep), on the other hand, has been beginning around sunrise and extending to near 10 a.m. most mornings this past week and the week prior.
The key to finding fish is using and interpreting sonar well. Hybrid striped bass provide the sonar user with distinct signatures that can be differentiated from other species of fish which also inhabit deep water, such as blue catfish and white bass.
Properly setting a sonar unit’s sensitivity, frequency and other variables all play into this. Unfortunately, there is no longer any bird action, nor surface action present to point the way to this kind of fishing. Sonar is the sole means of discovering these large congregations of hard-fighting fish.
My preferred rig for hybrids consists of 80-pound braided main line, a three-quarter ounce egg sinker, a swivel, a 30- to 36-inch, 25-pound fluorocarbon leader, and a 1/0, 2/0 or 3/0 circle hook. I use all-fiberglass rods for their forgiving, soft tips and smooth, parabolic actions.
I typically deploy four to six rods. When deploying four rods, I’ll have three with live shad and one with cutbait. When deploying six rods, I’ll set four with live bait and two with cutbait.
If you pay close attention to which rods catch fish, the fish will indicate their preference for live bait or cutbait.
Days with manageable southerly winds and some cloud cover tend to produce best. Calm, bright conditions tend to make fishing much more difficult.
My clients have landed the last three adult category catch-and- release lake records for hybrid striped bass at 25.25 inches, 25.50 inches, and 25.75 inches. That 25.75-inch fish was caught by Hampton Haines of Georgetown on April 25, 2017. The current Junior Angler category catch-and-release lake record was also landed by a client of mine, Gregory Hughes III, of Killeen. That fish measured 25.25 inches.
Last week, MJ Linder of Belton landed a 25.125-inch hybrid striped bass, which was a personal best for him, and which was the single longest fish of the 2018 season to come aboard my boat thus far. He and his party of three others boated a total of 59 fish. Of the eight trips I conducted following Linder’s catch, my parties have landed between 50 and 101 fish during the first four hours of the morning.
Now is the time to cash in on the best hybrid striper fishing of the season. Being prepared to catch and keep shad alive and then finding hybrid stripers on sonar to present those shad to will be the key.