Lynn Burkhead — Texoma boiling with surface-feeding stripers
Thanks to Uncle Sam and his annual early July birthday celebration, the seventh month on the calendar has a reputation for fireworks.
But while thousands of local residents know all about the aerial displays in Denison, Sherman and over Highport Marina on Independence Day, sometimes those mid-summer fireworks are actually taking place in the middle of Lake Texoma itself.
To anyone who has ventured out on the big 89,000-acre reservoir that straddles the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma, you’re probably aware of the way that acres of water can suddenly go full boil in July as a school of stripers erupts on a school of threadfin shad fleeing for their lives.
That natural drama was captured earlier this week on a video posted to the Tulsa District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Facebook page in a social media post that had generated nearly 300 likes, more than 160 comments, and more than 250 shares in a little more than two days.
As two observers sat and watched, the conversation turned to the amazing site of stripers blowing up the water with abandon, a lucky angler finding himself in a can’t miss position.
“That’s the deal, it’s midday and there’s nobody around,” said a voice on the video.
Nobody, that is, except for a kayak fisherman who found himself in the right place at the right time not too far from Denison Dam. For that angler, it was nothing short of angling heaven as acres of water erupted with huge explosions happening as stripers dug in at the buffet line.
What did it look like? Imagine dozens of bowling balls plunging out of the sky into the water and you’ve got a pretty good idea.
“There’s (just) one guy in a kayak and he’s wearing them out,” said the first voice.
“I could catch them off the shore right now,” said another voice as the surface feeding continued.
Thankfully, such red-hot topwater action is more of the rule than the exception during the mid-summer months as stripers go on the prowl, feeding heavily on schools of shad. The only thing that is usually different about the scenario described above is that you’ll rarely find yourself all alone when such surfacing action is taking place.
To be successful in July for surface feeding stripers, a Texoma angler will want to have several key topwater lures handy in their tackle box.
The first, particularly in the low light of early morning and late evening, will be a topwater bait that walks (moves back and forth from side to side) or chugs (pops or spits water) as it is retrieved.
Examples of walking style topwater baits can include the Heddon Zara Spook, a Strike King KVD Sexy Dawg, a Rapala Skitter Walk, a Livingston Lures Walking Boss or a Walking Boss II among others. For the chugging style bait, try a Rebel Pop R, a Strike King KVD Splash, a Storm Chug Bug, or a H2O XPRESS TWP.
Top color choices will be just about any hue that resembles a shad — either threadfin shad or gizzard shad — the abundant silvery baitfish that serve as Texoma's primary forage species in July.
Because of that, err on the side of main bait colors that are white, silver, gray, and clear along with some accent colors that are red, chartreuse, olive, blue or black.
Why that color selection palette? Because as local Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide Steve Hollensed likes to say, on Lake Texoma, it's almost always a shad, shad story.
In addition to getting the color right, you’ll also want to match the hatch in terms of size. Generally, I err on the side of using bigger topwater baits that have larger and stout treble hook sets, or actually upgrade and use the saltwater version of the bait.
But if the boiling linesiders seem finicky, try reducing the size of your lure — or maybe throwing a little bit different color like bone — to see if that changeup will be the ticket to non-stop rod bending action.
A second type of bait to use for July will be a crankbait, either a squarebill, a medium to deep diver and/or a rattling lipless version.
While bluegill colors will often produce largemouth or smallmouth bass near the shoreline or cover, for stripers, most of the time, you’ll once again want a lure that looks like a shad. That’s true around rocky points, near offshore structural features, and in the open water where big schools of stripers will roam this month and blitz bait balls of shad.
Finally, keep a few lures handy that can probe Texoma's watery depths later on during a July day as the sun gets high above the horizon, the heat gets turned up, and the fish become a bit more lethargic.
For stripers, this is a good time to use a slab — an oval-shaped lead bait with a treble hook attached to the bottom — that is painted in some sort of a shad pattern. Find a school of stripers on a boat's electronic graph, drop the lure down below the school, quickly wind the lure back through the school towards the surface, and hang on.
When you feel the solid thump of a striper's take at the end of your line, sweep the rod tip back and set the hook, getting ready for some fun as you reel in several pounds of hard-fighting striped bass. With any luck, it won’t be a so-called smaller box fish, but a big, trophy sized “over.”
As it comes to the top of the water column, expect the bright silvery fish to give a big splash or two, one that is reminiscent of a bright fireworks finale lighting up the nighttime sky on the Fourth of July.
With any luck, you’ll be all by your lonesome, enjoying the best fishing show of the summer on a lake that doesn’t have another boat in sight.
As fisherman who love to experience a big pull at the end of our line, there’s no place better to spend a summertime day of fishing than on Texoma chasing blitzing stripers. Even if you’re in a kayak, all by your lonesome as the water boils around you.
Here’s hoping that we will all be so lucky this summer when we get out on the big two-state lake.