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story.lead_photo.caption Darr caught this striped bass at Beaver Lake late November on a fly rod with a fly he tied himself. Fishing has been good lake-wide as stripers follow schools of shad into creek arms. - Photo by Flip Putthoff

It's a big-time fishing party when word gets out that heavyweight striped bass are biting at Beaver Lake.

The fishing grapevine has been ripe with reports of fabulous striper fishing during autumn and so far this winter. The catching has been lights-out good from Rocky Branch park all the way south into the White and War Eagle tributaries.

Fly rod stripers

Bruce Darr chases striped bass with an 8-weight fly rod that’s nine feet long. His reel is spooled with sinking fly line and a 10-pound-test leader.

He keeps a good-sized net in his boat.

Source: Staff report

Mike Whitehouse at Hickory Creek Marina, on the south end of the lake, said this is the best year for stripers he can remember. Jon Stein, area fisheries biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, has heard the same.

Gangs of stripers prowl the open water, seeking what they eat.

"They're following schools of threadfin shad," Stein said. Shad are the main forage fish for stripers and other game fish at Beaver Lake. Threadfin shad can be anywhere from one-half inch long up to six inches.

Stripers grow to 40 pounds or better on a diet of shad, but they can be finicky eaters. If a fisherman isn't using a lure that's the same size as the shad, striper ignore the imitation. A fishing party on a warm November evening proved it.

Word got out that big stripers were surfacing in a particular creek arm on the middle portion of Beaver Lake. Anglers in eight or nine boats, from kayaks to bass rigs, were after them throwing spoons, jigs, maybe the bathroom sink. Not a single striper was caught.

Bruce Darr, who lives on the lake east of Rogers, had been fishing the same cove. Magic happened when a fish he caught spit up some shad, tiny shad the size of a thumbnail.

Darr, an ardent fly fisherman and fly tyer, hurried home to tie some flies that were exact imitations of these little shad. The next trip, bingo, fish on.

Stripers up to 20 pounds inhaled Darr's creations. Stripers give Darr and his limber fly rod all the fight he can handle. Among the anglers in the fishing-party cove, Darr has caught more stripers than anyone. But not every trip.

"They're finicky fish," he said. Some trips stripers are surfacing all around his boat and they never touch his mini shad flies. Other trips he boats three or four big ones, along with white bass and an occasional black bass.

Sometimes a fisherman will luck into a striper with a crank bait or spoon, but Darr's flies are the ticket. That's unusual at Beaver Lake, Stein said.

"It really is because you think of striper fishing and you think of using big gizzard for bait," Stein said. Gizzard shad grow up to a foot long, way bigger than threadfin shad. A lot of striper guides use gizzard shad to help their clients catch fish.

Stein looked at a picture of Darr's teeny shad fly.

"What that imitates is shad that just hatched this summer," Stein said. There are tons of them, the biologist explained, because the lake level was high and the shad spawn was excellent.

So was the spawn for largemouth bass and other game fish, he added.

That's not to say stripers won't still eat big bait or lures. It's just that the lake is full of little shad right now. Stripers and other species are gorging on them.

The shad spawn was excellent, but striped bass don't spawn at all in Beaver Lake. They're stocked. Stripers need a river environment to spawn naturally, Stein explained. Their eggs have to stay suspended in a current for a period of time and not touch bottom. There isn't enough current in Beaver Lake for stripers to spawn.

So the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks 200,000 fingerling stripers at Beaver Lake each year. Not all grow into adult stripers. Bigger fish eat a lot of the fingerlings.

At Beaver Lake, striped bass must be 20 inches or longer to keep. The daily limit is three. It takes two years for a fingerling to reach 20 inches, Stein said.

When they're biting, the party's on.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com or Twitter @NWAFlip

Sports on 12/26/2017

Print Headline: Anglers earn their stripes

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