That magic window for good quantity and quality hybrid striped bass fishing on Belton Lake has finally arrived thanks to more seasonable weather over the last 10 days.
This opportunity for fast fishing will typically last through the last week of May, or perhaps into the first week of June before the development of the summer thermocline brings a halt to the bite.
The annual threadfin shad spawn is taking place in all but the main basin of Belton Lake now, so these excellent baitfish are readily available to those willing to rise early enough to find them teeming in the shallows on all but the chilliest mornings.
My go-to rig for live shad consists of a 3/4 -ounce egg sinker attached to my braided mainline above a swivel. Below the swivel is my 25-pound test fluorocarbon leader of about 30 inches in length, terminated with a circle hook chosen based on average bait size.
Based on the size of threadfin shad I typically netted this past week, I chose a Mustad Demon Perfect circle hook in size 1/0.
Once a hook is selected, a simple addition to any style of live bait hook will greatly increase your hookups by decreasing the likelihood of your hook becoming embedded in your bait.
This addition is something I call a “mono tag.” I learned of this through a Florida tarpon guide who used this trick of the trade when fishing pogies and mullet on circle hooks.
Adding a mono tag to your live bait hook is easy. Simply use a clear piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon of between 12- and 20-pound test, wrap it twice around the shank of the hook between the bend of the hook and the eye of the hook, and then tie an improved clinch knot.
Moisten the knot and cinch it down well onto the shank of the hook using your thumb and forefinger, then snip both ends of the line to about 1/16th of an inch, leaving the knot fastened to the shank.
The knot can be moved up or down the shank based on hook style and bait size.
The knot is properly positioned when it prevents the point of the hook from embedding itself back into the head of the bait. Experimenting with knot positioning on a dead bait is well worth the time, as once you figure out the proper location for the tag, that location can be used from that point forward so long as the bait size is approximately the same.
The farther away from the point and barb you place the tag while still allowing the tag to do its job, the better off you will be.
I choose to use circle hooks because my guiding operation is 100% catch-and-release and circle hooks allow for a quick release with much-reduced gut hooking. However, this mono tag will also work with baitholder hooks, Kahle hooks, octopus hooks and other common bait hook designs.
I find that these mono tags are most helpful when smaller fish are striking larger baits, and when fish are not feeding aggressively. In both of these scenarios, instead of gulping a bait down their gullet immediately, fish will grab the bait and keep it in their mouths a bit before swallowing it. Some fish use this pause between biting and swallowing to get the bait oriented head-first so it more easily glides down their gullet.
When fish do this, the bait gets folded into a C-shape inside the mouth cavity. This is when the potential for the hook point becoming embedded into the bait— typically on the side of the head, behind the eye and ahead of the gill — is greatest.
This past week we enjoyed solid live shad fishing on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, taking Wednesday off thanks to the storms and avoiding Thursday’s post-frontal, bright, calm, cool conditions. Each party landed hybrid exceeding 5 pounds as well as smaller, still-legal hybrid, in addition to white bass, largemouth bass, freshwater drum, blue catfish, crappie and sub-legal hybrid stripers.
On Monday, M.J. and Gene Linder and family friends Justin and John Hall landed 34 fish, including 15 legal hybrid stripers. On Tuesday, father and son Matt and Mitch Laakso landed 37 fish, including 17 legal hybrid stripers. On Friday, David Burke and his friends, Glen Wagoner Jr. and Glen Wagoner III, landed 38 fish including 19 legal hybrid.
We were fortunate in that Wednesday’s rains did not stain the water so badly that the bite was negatively impacted. Further, the water temperature is still cooler than normal for late April, which means there is still plenty of solid fishing to come. Consider making all you can of what remains of this peak season by giving this simple, inexpensive ticket to a higher bite-to-land ratio a try.