Spring Striper Tactics
By Tom Reynolds from STR Outfitters
Winter in the Ozarks this year is the worst I have seen in 20 years of living here but it will be over soon so it is time to start thinking of early spring striper movements. The current water temperature is the lowest since 2000. That year we had a large shad kill and I expect the same this year. Striper fishing in 2000 was outstanding, the fish were hungry, and with reduced shad population, the bite was on. There will multiple opportunities to catch stripers then. Both live bait and artificial lures will be very effective. The night bite will begin once the winds blow from the south. You will want to fish the north banks of the bays and points. Some excellent spots are the points near the near the dam, Frog Pond, Diamond Bay, Cranfield Island, and the points north of Cranfield marina heading towards Red Bank.
The best time to night fish is a half hour before dark until 12 pm. The best lure is the 5-1/2” Rogue. The color of the Rogue varies but black/gold, nuclear clown, and blue/black in the Norfork Lake color combinations seem to work the best. These Norfork Lake exclusive colors are available only at our local tackle shops such as 101 Grocery & Bait and Greg’s Baits at Hand Cove Resort. I would experiment with these colors and others until you find the one that works best that night. Make long cast parallel to the bank and reel back very very slowly so that the action of the lure works best for you. A lot of the bites will happen right next to your boat. The reason for parallel casting is that on Norfork Lake you can be casting next to shore but your boat might be in 90 feet of water. That will not work so good for you. The best shore is a sloping bank. But might you will find a time when you are in deep water throwing shallow occasionally. The parallel cast allows you to keep you bait in the strike zone for a longer period of time, right up to your boat. Just keep a sharp eye out for boulders in the water when you are working shallow depths.
Stripers, hybrids, and walleye are all active during this time. Watch the water temperature. As it moves up into the 50 degree range and on towards 60 degrees the bite will get stronger. Legend has it that the magic water temperature number 60. There may be some truth to this but plenty of fish, nice fish are caught in the 50 degree range and even in the upper 40’s. This actually applies to all Norfork Lake species.
Until the warm weather returns the live bait bite will slow. Stripers and the other big predators will be scattered all over, so moving around the many points of Norfork Lake will be the only way to find fish. Stripers will start moving “up the creek” soon. An example would be the stripers that were caught around Blue Lady dock will move towards the Crystal Cove area but not much further until the warmer weather begins.
As the water and air temperatures warms the stripers will continue to move from the mouths of the creeks all the way up to shallow water, I have caught stripers in 1’ of water right next to shore in stained water. Keep watching the weather and winds. Once the water air temperature warms the stripers and hybrids will really be on the move and most likely begin their migration toward the dam and the Big Creek arm. My long time fishing pal, Hand Cove Resort’s pro staff Larry Olson tells me he plans to start his night fishing routine about the first of March. Larry has been fishing Norfork Lake since the late 1970’s and has vast knowledge about night fishing the lake. He will be hunting the striper to top his personal best. 41 pound, 44 inch long, 28” girth “Lil’ Larry” currently hangs in the tackle shop at Hand Cove Resort. Big Old Larry will be going after Lil’ Larry’s big brother this year.
Now let’s talk about fishing when the warmer weather is in full swing usually in April and May. Fishing on Norfork Lake will explode when we start to see a consistent warming weather patterns. Stripers, walleye, crappie, & bass will all get very active.
The fish will appear in different parts of the lake. For example the walleye will begin their spawning cycle and will be found on pea gravel sloping banks. Some of the better spots are at the Arkansas Missouri state line, Liner Creek, Bridges Creek to the US 160 bridge, the Hand Cove area, Dam Cove, and Thumb Point.
Stripers will move to the warmest and dirtiest water up into the creeks. Find a creek with warm dirty water and you should find stripers, from Pigeon Creek to Big Creek stripers will be found. The night time stripers can be caught all over the lake, when a strong south wind happens you can find stripers on any of the northern shores. Some good spots are Diamond Bay, Dam Cove, Thumb Point, Cranfield Island, points leading up towards Red Bank, Barron Creek, and around Reynolds Island in Big Creek to name a few.
Crappie will begin their movement from the deep brush piles towards the creeks. The big issue with crappie is the fronts and rain storms. I have watched anglers catching crappie in 1 foot of water way back in a creek. The next day after a heavy rain the same spot will be void of crappie. They had moved off to find a deeper brush pile. You can still catch them but the bite will be a little slower until the warm lake water returns. Crappie will be caught in all the major creeks. Just look on your depth finder for brush piles. They are scattered over the lake in every creek arm. Find the brush and you will find the crappie. This is when a current Norfork Lake fishing map comes in handy. The most current versions are available at the local bait and tackle shops.
Bass will begin their move up the creeks and cove also. Smallmouth are the first to spawn. They will spawn on deep boulders off sloping points for example at Barron Point near point 1. I catch lots of smallies off Barron Point in 20 to 30’ of water when I’m striper fishing in the spring. Large mouth will move all the way up the creeks and back into the coves to make their beds. Again cold fronts will dictate their cycle, warm weather and normal water levels will keep them on the beds. A heavy storm will move the bass off the beds and back into deeper water.
Spring offers a lot of fishing fun. If you just get out on the lake, you can catch fish. It really boils down to putting your time in on Norfork Lake. Cold fronts will always effect the fish but if you have the will, you to can catch lots of species of fish during the spring. Sharpen your hooks, wear your PFD, and don’t forget to take a kid with you to groom the next generation of Norfork Lake anglers!
Tom Reynolds has fished Lake Norfork for over 35 years and guides out of Tracy Ferry Marina; you can reach him at www.stroutfitters.com, 870-421-1541 or on Facebook @ STR Outfitters