To find the fish, look above the water, not below. Seagulls are nature’s fish locator when it comes to catching fish at Beaver Lake and other big Ozark reservoirs where schools of threadfin shad dwell.
That’s especially true at Beaver Lake this winter. For several weeks now, flocks of gulls have been feeding on shad in the Prairie Creek area and near the Arkansas 12 bridge.
Where fishermen see gulls diving toward the the water, that’s the place to fish. Chances are good that hungry striped bass, white bass or black bass are feeding below and eager to bite.
A fishing trip two winters ago on a drizzly December was unforgettable, thanks to flocks of gulls working as our fish finder.
Word from the lake was that stripers were biting on the south half, as they do most winters. Trolling is the way to catch them. Live bait such as shad or brood minnows work best. Lures work, too.
Off we motored down the lake from the Arkansas 12 bridge ramp heading south. It was a chilly ride to an area north of Horseshoe Bend Park where we shut down the outboard. Beaver Lake was smooth as plywood with mist and fog on this cold, gray day.
We started trolling with two rods. Each pulled a lure that resembled threadfin shad.
The trolling motor moved at a crawl toward Horseshoe Bend. Out in the main channel, the depth finder screen showed the occasional school of shad, indicating the bait fish were 10 to 40 feet deep. A hefty white bass was the first fish to bite, but that was our only catch in an hour of trolling.
We knew the action was about to change when we took a gander east to the mouth of Blackburn Creek. A flock of gulls, 50 or more, dive-bombed the water, splashing and plucking shad off the surface.
We fired up the outboard and motored to the gulls. Birds banked close to the boat while we grabbed our fishing rods. This time we lowered jigging spoons vertically over the side of the boat. The lures didn’t sink far before fish nailed them. Right away we swung two big white bass aboard that weighed 3 pounds each, two of the largest whites we’d seen at Beaver Lake.
Our catching fever hit the red line when we saw huge fish come splashing to the surface to gorge on shad. These were no white bass. Some swirls were the size of truck tires and could only come from striped bass, big striped bass.
These surfacing stripers weren’t expected, so we frantically tied on Red Fin top-water lures in place of the jigging spoons. A long, minnow-shaped Red Fin can be cast a country mile and makes an irresistible wake on the surface when it’s retrieved.
It took a couple casts, but a 10-pound striper hammered the Red Fin and took it down. More stripers surfaced all around while we did our best not to lose the fish we had on the line. Finally, the striper was in the boat and unhooked.
Now a pod of stripers started herding shad close to shore. The commotion was unbelievable where these big stripers fed in water 3 feet deep, like lions after a herd of wildebeest. We vibrated with fishing excitement, but managed to launch the Red Fin toward the ruckus.
A striper chased the lure but missed, then came back for seconds. A hard hook-set and this striper wasn’t getting away.
The angry fish dug for the bottom, stripping yards of 10-pound line off the baitcast reel. The striper nearly pulled all the line off the reel before we gained some back. The big fish was getting closer.
We got a good-sized landing net under the fish and groaned bringing it aboard. There on the boat floor the striper thumped in the net while we pulled a measuring tape out of the tackle box. Thirty-six inches long. That’ll make anyone’s fishing day.
You can bet the house we’ll be watching the sky as much as the water next time we’re on safari for stripers at Beaver Lake.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip
Sports on 03/07/2017