BIRDS OF A FEATHER: Fall fishing at Lake Texoma is for the birds, so to speak, and the striper guides operating out of Catfish Bay Marina team up to find the birds and the fish
LAKE TEXOMA — “These birds are really working this area. There ought to be something here.”
Those were striper guide Phil Townsend's words early Tuesday morning as he slowed the boat and cruised into the Table Top area of Lake Texoma.
Just a few minutes earlier, we had been fishing in Platter Flats and picked up our first striper of the day when word came on the radio from a fellow guide about finding the flock of gulls at Table Top. Townsend pulled anchor and we raced to the new location in hopes of getting into a school of hungry stripers.
You could say fall fishing is for the birds on Lake Texoma. If you can find the gulls circling and feeding on baitfish on the surface, it's a good bet there will be some striped bass below. Stripers are chasing shad and driving the bait fish to the surface.
Gary Scarberry of Oklahoma City, who has been putting clients on stripers for 29 years on Lake Texoma, said the gulls start showing up at the beginning of the dove hunting season in early September.
For a striper angler, the birds are like having hundreds of bird dogs on the water. Just like bird dogs finding and pointing hunters to a covey of quail, the birds will lead striper anglers to schools of fish.
“Don't ever drive past seagulls feeding on the water,” Scarberry said.
Townsend and Scarberry are two of seven Lake Texoma striper guides who operate out of Catfish Bay Marina. Each guide is an independent contractor, but they work together as a team on the water when hunting for fish, constantly communicating on the radio.
“It's hard enough (to find fish),” said Catfish Bay striper guide James Allen, a 12-year veteran on the lake. “Why not take advantage of more eyes?”
Townsend was on the water at 3:15 a.m. using a cast net to catch threadfin shad to use as bait for our outing on Tuesday. Striper fishing is on the rise again at Lake Texoma after the devastating flood of 2015 that set back the fishery and left the fishing guides stranded on shore for five months.
Not only did Lake Texoma lose big stripers in the 2015 flood, several years of drought before the flood resulted in low numbers of young stripers. It is the biggest reason why there are few large stripers in the lake now.
“The drought years leading up to the flood event also was detrimental to the fishery because we didn't have the inflows for quality spawning that we normally associate with Texoma,” said Cliff Sager, senior fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Matt Mauck, fisheries supervisor of the state's south-central region for the Wildlife Department, said the combination of drought then flood was a “double-whammy” to the striper fishery. The fishing suffered but has rebounded thanks to a couple of years of productive spawns that have filled the lake with young fish.
“We got beaucoups and beaucoups of these fish right now,” Townsend said, as he unhooked another “box” fish caught on Tuesday.
“Box” fish is the striper guide's vocabulary for keepers or stripers less than 20 inches in length. Anglers can keep 10 stripers a day caught on Lake Texoma but only two can be "longfish," the striper guides' lingo for 20-inch-plus fish.
“We are catching some longs but it's not every day,” Townsend said.
Another report came through the radio about a flock of gulls working at the other end of Table Top, so we pulled anchor and again were on the move. We picked up a few more stripers there before Townsend decided to try drift fishing the flats near an area of the lake called Lakeside.
Townsend said there are days on the lake where you can drop a slab or live bait over the side of the boat and pull up a striper on almost every cast. Tuesday would not be one of those days.
We had to work for ‘em Tuesday morning, but we eventually caught 'em, even getting one "longfish" to boot. The birds would tell us where to go and we raced from one spot to another to where they were circling.
At morning's end, the striper guides convened at the cleaning station at Catfish Bay Marina to filet the day's catch for their customers, handling their filet knives with such speed and precision I thought I was watching a “Kill Bill” movie.
The striper fishing is good again on Texoma and barring another catastrophic event like a drought or flood, it should get even better. The biologists said the lake had another quality spawn this past spring.
“There are fish there that are small enough now not showing up in somebody's ice chest or at end of the rod, but those fish are getting bigger,” Sager said. “Everything is trending up right now which is good news.”
Thousands of people travel to Lake Texoma each year to go striper fishing. Scarberry said 60 percent of his clients are from Oklahoma, with the other 40 from Kansas and Texas. He was guiding a couple of anglers from Kansas on Tuesday.
“I would argue it's Oklahoma's most recreationally and economically important sport fishery we have,” Mauck said. “It's been a really good fall so far. People should be excited about Lake Texoma.”
By all accounts, Lake Texoma seems well on its way to recovery.
“The lake has come a long way in two years," said guide Shawn Morales, another member of the Catfish Bay striper squad.
STRIPED BASS FISHING
To contact Phil Townsend's guide service on Lake Texoma, visit philslaketexomaguideservice.com, call (580) 465-7487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.