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DRIFTWOOD OUTDOORS: Memorable experience

MDC stocking Bull Shoals Lake with striped bass

We are gliding across glass flat water along the rocky shoreline of Norfolk Lake by the light of a crescent moon.

Darrell “Bink” Binkley, owner of Bink’s Fintastic Guide Service points to a hardly noticeable finger of rocks and tells Kevin Eastwold to throw his 6-inch surface plug directly at it. Eastwold obeys and a split second later it sounds as if someone has dropped a bath tub in the lake.

Eastwold’s rod doubles over. He puts all his might into just holding on. He rears his large body backwards trying desperately to gain control of the monster fish running like a freight train from the boat. Excitement buzzes all about. I grab for the net. Bink shouts commands, none of which I recall. I’m lost in the moment. And then it’s over. Gone is the monster striper.

Eastwold retrieves his plug and lifts it up to examine what’s left. Just as Bink had figured, the hooks didn’t hold out. The rear treble hook is bent flat by sheer power. The fish won, costing us success and a much desired photo opportunity.

If you are a striper fisherman, then I don’t need to explain to you the excitement of hooking into one of these brutes. But if you have never experienced the enormous fight found inside a striper, then you’re missing out. There are few fish swimming who match the power a struggle of a striper.

Missouri’s striper fishing opportunities are improving. Later this summer, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) staff will stock 16,000 fingerlings on the Missouri side of Bull Shoals Lake. This will be the inaugural event of an every-other-year stocking plan.

“Anglers who enjoy fishing for striped bass can look forward to a more consistent fishery that is capable of producing a relatively high percentage of large fish,” MDC Fisheries Management Biologist A.J. Pratt, who manages the Missouri portion of Bull Shoals, said. “Depending on time of year and water flow, striped bass will provide anglers a diversity of fishing scenarios.”

A limited number of striped bass are already in Bull Shoals. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocked stripers into Bull Shoals in 1998 and this one-time stocking benefited Missouri.

On our side of the lake, a 56-pound, 5-ounce fish was caught in 2008, a 58-pound, 10-ounce fish in 2010 and a 60-pound nine-ounce fish in 2011. All were state records at the time they were caught. Earlier this year on the Arkansas portion of Bull Shoals, a potential world-record 68-pound striper was caught.

Biologists expect this boom in striper size to taper off over the next few years until this year’s stocked fish reach catchable size, which will be in about four years. Striper regulations on the Missouri part of Bull Shoals are a minimum length limit of 20 inches and a daily limit of three fish.

Because of their size and fighting qualities, striped bass are highly valued game fish. If you are going to chase them, be sure to arm yourself with strong enough tackle. The first time you feel the rush of a good-sized striper, you swear someone hooked your line to the bumper of a truck and took off with the pedal to the metal.

See you down the trail …

III

Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at outdoors@newstribune.com.

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