The Good Lord gave us a glorious sunrise, the glowing orb back-lighting a cloud in the eastern sky that looked for all the world like an angel in flight. I snapped a few photos as the sun slowly nibbled away the cloud bank.
In a matter of minutes, the sun did what it has been doing for the past month, sending its searing heat down on us.
Kevin Beasley, Ruston photographer, and I were motoring slowly across the surface of Lake Claiborne, looking for the tell-tale surface splash of striped bass feeding on threadfin shad; they'd been doing that every morning for weeks. We searched and sweated in vain for nearly an hour without seeing a single feeding fish.
Then that same sun that had mesmerized us earlier slipped behind another cloud bank, and that action triggered the fish into feeding. For fifteen minutes, the cloud cover we enjoyed briefly put the stripers into action; they were popping the top of the water here; then over there; then back here again.
Just as quickly as it began, it was over when the sun popped back out again and all was quiet on the lake's surface. During that brief flurry of activity, we caught three stripers before giving in to the sun and calling it a day.
The fish we were catching are really not striped bass; they're hybrid stripers, incapable of reproduction save for the intervention of man. After returning from the lake, I talked with Mike Wood, Inland Fisheries Director for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to get the lowdown on these fun-to-catch fish.
"Hybrid stripers are a cross between female striped bas and male white bass," said Wood. "In the past, we artificially spawned them in our Toledo Bend hatchery.
"We've been stocking them in several lakes, including Lake Claiborne, since 1993. Most years, we have been able to stock some 70,000 fingerlings each in Claiborne, Lake Bruin and False River. We no longer operate the Toledo Bend facility because of excessive time and expense involved. However, we are committed to continue stocking these lakes and we are able to do it by contracting with other hatcheries that raise hybrids.
"We are able to get hybrid fry from other states at a very low cost. We place the fry in our rearing ponds at hatcheries we operate around Woodworth, the Booker Fowler and Beechwood hatcheries, and rear them to fingerling size before putting them in the lakes. I'm not ruling out the outright purchase of hybrid striper fingerlings because they're not that expensive and provide a fun fishery for those folks who pay the way with their hunting and fishing licenses," Wood added.
The fish Beasley and I caught were attracted to shad imitation lures, principally a topwater chugger or a gray/chartreuse cockahoe minnow skewered onto a grub head. Mike Wood suggested another way he has had good success in fishing for hybrids.
"I'll use a cast net to catch some shad. I'll put a shad on a hook under a slip cork, drop it down to the thermocline and hang on; they'll really attack these bait fish," said Wood.
I recalled when stripers were first stocked in Lake Claiborne, there was a bevy of opposition mainly from bass fishermen who suspected that the stripers were scarfing down baby bass.
"We did a food study early on to try and determine if this was in fact the case," Wood said. "We sampled thousands of stomachs of these fish and found only a few that had small bass or crappie. Their food of choice is shad."
Want to beat the heat and have some fishing fun? Be on Lake Claiborne at sun-up and watch for hybrids feeding on top. It can be a blast, especially if the sun decides to hide behind a cloud for a spell.
Glynn Harris Outdoors is proudly sponsored by DSK, Ltd. of Minden.