Winter Striper Tactics
By Tom Reynolds from STR Outfitters
Winter angling on Norfork Lake can be one of the most productive periods of striper fishing. Beginning in Mid-December thorough February the stripers will stick close to the old river channels near or mixed in with the shad schools. The old river channels are the outlines of the Norfork Fork River and major creeks such as Big Creek and Bennett’s Bayou before they were flooded and covered by the lake. You will find the old river channels clearly marked on the better lake maps. Once the lake water gets colder, the shad will move into deeper water to find their comfort zone. Sometimes that is depths of 40 feet, other times I have seen shad hover at 80 feet. The stripers will stay with the shad schools the whole winter period.
The two most productive methods to catch stripers are live bait and spoons. Small jigging spoons, either ½ or ¾ ounce are the artificial bait of choice although some specific swim baits can be productive also. Shiner minnows and threadfin shad are the preferred live bait. Shiners approved for use by Arkansas Game and Fish in Norfork Lake are available at most better Norfork Lake bait and tackle shops. Shad are not sold commercially. Shad used as bait in Norfork Lake must be caught in Norfork Lake by net. Wild bait from any other body of water is strictly prohibited by law. This is to prevent the introduction of foreign or invasive species of plants, animals, and water life into Norfork Lake.
A good fish/depth finder is a must have to find fish during this time of year. Good electronics will help you find the shad and stripers and keep you on them. Begin by looking at the old river channel between the US62 and AR101 bridges and move towards the Howard’s Cove area. Somewhere in this area you will find the shad and stripers. Float creek is one other area that will typically hold stripers. The great part of winter striper fishing is that the bite can last all day or begin mid-day. There is no time limit on when the stripers will bite. Some days I go out at first light and fish all day. I have seen no activity until late in the day and other days I’ve had my limit by noon. Just stay close to the shad and you will catch a striper most days.
I fish using shiner minnows and threadfin shad. Downlines and weighted floats are my gear of choice. I run six downlines, each with 2 oz weights and 5’ leaders. I will run two additional lines with floats on the outside of the spread. These lines are set above the shad school. Stripers will come up through the shad column to take your bait. Always keep your live bait above the shad school.
Threadfin shad are and will always be the most productive method to catch winter stripers. Shiner minnows are also very effective. The best places to buy shiners are 101 Grocery & Bait and Hand Cove Resort Bait and Tackle Shop. They both carry shiners most of the season. When the shad begin to school, look for bait fish balls and note the depth on your depth finder graph. Once again a good depth finder will help you find the shad and the stripers. They will be moving around so keep a watchful eye on the graph and stay close to the shad.
Spoon lures are very effective. The key is matching the size and color of your spoon to that of the shad bait fish. If the stripers are feeding on 1” and 2” shad, make sure your lure matches the size of the shad. Jig your spoon through the shad schools for the best success. Always be ready for that top water bite to erupt too. Have a Super Spook Jr tied on and at the ready for when this happens.
As always, your most important piece of equipment is your PFD life preserver. Lake and weather conditions can change in a heartbeat during the winter months so it’s best to be prepared with a high quality PFD. Wear it from the moment you launch until the boat is back on the trailer or in the stall. Fish safely so you can fish often!
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.