Striped Bass on the Frozen Fly

April 27, 2009

Ok so I found myself in Dallas, TX with a couple of days to spare. Having fished for stripers on the eastern seaboard with very little to show for it, I couldn’t resist going to see these landlocked fish. At least I knew where they would be. I headed for Lake Texoma, 89,000 acres (141,000 when it floods) of man-made lake on the Oklahoma and Texas borders 75 miles north of Dallas. Built by the Corps of Engineers, Texoma was impounded in 1944, with parts of the dam being constructed by prisoners of war, as a hydropower reservoir and to control flood events on the Red and Washita rivers.
I was joining a man with the reputation of being the best fly guide on the lake, Steve Hollensed. Having rushed the pancakes and bacon at IHOP, I met Steve on the boat ramp at 7am, with the wind easing to a gentle force 3 or 4, and the temperatures a balmy -3C. Texoma is famous for it’s striped bass. Voracious feeders, stripers are fast-growing and long-lived and have reaching 10 to 12 inches in the first year and attaining weights over 40 pounds. Like other bass, they move in schools, and all members of the school tend to feed at the same time. In the summer, the fish start a surface blitz at 6am, chasing shoals of shad up to the surface, and think nothing of covering 10 or 12 miles in a morning. Steve showed me pictures of his fish-finder screen almost completely blacked out by the number of fish beneath his boat. All this surface action is like catnip to a flyfisherman…especially as so few have discovered the delights of Texoma.
Unfortunately, the plains wind of Rogers and Hammerstein’s lyrics doesn’t make for ideal fishing for man, bird or bass, and the fish had hunkered down on the lake bottom for the day. If I tell you I was breaking ice from my rod rings every second or third cast, it will give you some idea of how…challenging the conditions were. America’s famous for innovation, sporting and otherwise, but the flies here were much the same as those I use for saltwater bass off the UK coast (admittedly an American invention): chartreuse clousers and bucktail streamers. I was so engrossed in my pursuit that it was 11 o’clock (when I had stopped my routine of two or three casts and then crack off the ice), before I realised we were almost alone on this enormous lake. None of the locals it seemed were brave or stupid enough.
Steve didn’t want to admit defeat after bragging about Texoma, the striper capital of Texas, but I think even he at this point had said all his prayers, crossed all his digits and was starting to think the worst. Having done my fair share of guiding I knew how he felt. Then there was a little resistance on the line, not quite like the bottom, but not the hard hit of a bass. Convinced it was a catfish (although why I thought that as I have never caught one let alone on a fly I’m not sure), I casually retrieved line. Bang! My rod bent double, line screaming off the reel. In short order, I had landed my first striper on the fly, no monster, but still a striper of about 3 1/2 lbs and a good reason to call it a day without disgrace.
I have some business to settle with those bass anyone free in July?