Wiper, the hybrid striped bass/white bass, is benefitting a lot of popularity in fishing circles all over Colorado and surrounding areas that have wiper fisheries. The greatest excitement is in all likelihood found among the comparatively little circle of fly fishers who pursue them. Once you find these fish, fooling them with a fly is not difficult. The powerful fight that entails is something that will closely make you wonder why you’d fish for anything else.
Now, wiper are somewhat mysterious fish and volumes have not been written on the subject of fishing for them. As with any type of fishing article, writers offer selective information based on their experiences, leaving the door wide open for an array of other tactics, insights, and opinions. It seems every one I talk to in regards to wiper have their own thoughts that have been devised not by magazine articles and fishing shows, but from their own personal quests. This article is not one thing different. I have put in a great deal of hours behind the reel searching for these steamrollers, and the following is a compilation of my experiences.
Fly fishing for wiper may be humbling, but if you get that one trip underneath your belt where you genuinely get into them and figure them out, you will be hooked for life. Having these hybrid-vigor fueled fish tear line out of your hands is an amazing feeling, and we will have to consider ourselves lucky to have this fish available to us. It’s like saltwater fishing in the Rockies.
Wiper will eat forage fish regarding the width of the gape of their mouth, entitling this 6-inch shad to be dinner for the big boys.
Finding the fish:
It is many times assumed wiper travel constantly and randomly around the lake in schools at in general high speeds picking off whatsoever feed they come across. My thoughts are that this is partially correct. I have witnessed their schooling mentality and their speed of travel. One moment they will bust near the surface 50 yards to the east, and the next you will see them flashing beneath your boat and onto the west. But I don’t think it is wholly random. Those frustrated by this thought, hang in there. This may not be an easy fish to locate, but I don’t think it’s a crap shot.
Every fish has numerous level of energy conservation written into their DNA. If they did not, they would exhaust themselves swimming with regards to freely all day long. Think in regards to trout in a river – the greatest fish will take the best spots where current is slight but carries a great deal of oxygen and feed so they may keep growing big and fat.
Wiper are no different. They have spots and patterns on each body of water that provide what they need – food. With little current to speak of in general, forage is the key. They are not so much like bass that they need cover and structure to ambush fish. They are more effective schooling and taking a team-based approach to feeding. The best example of this is when they corral baitfish to the surface, bay, or other type of trap so they may carry out their signature “busting” feast.
Wind blowing into any structure makes that structure better. This complex has a great deal to offer wiper, in particular traps for schooling baitfish.
But what regarding when they are not busting baitfish near the surface? I believe they are doing similar things subsurface. Here’s where experience with a lake, knowing structure and water temperatures on the lake, and understanding wiper motion comes into play the most. Wiper like other fish will use underwater structure, edges if you will, as their highways. Perhaps it is a depth breakline, submerged road beds, rocks, sunken trees, or humps. Perhaps it’s a weed line, mud line, or inlet/outlet channel. Whatever it is, these edges define a path for them. These fish travel in a route consistent with edges and the availability of food.
The “available and abundant” theory indicated by a potpourri of writers is alive and well. Wherever there is an abundance of feed that is highly available to predators, you will find fish. So is the case with wiper. However, don’t suppose the schools to sit still in one area for long. Instead suppose the schools to travel paths amidst or with plenteous feed sources. That’s right, I said “with.” Wiper are ravenous beasts. They have been known to decimate forage populations. They are living vacuums. In understanding this, unquestionably consider baitfish schools structure. Wiper almost surely corral and follow schools of shad and other forage fish when abundantly present. One of the best indicators in finding wiper is prevailing wind. Always check the leeward side of a lake which may harbor schools of baitfish.
Chasing wiper around a lake is not often times considered a smart thing to do. It wears out trolling motor batteries and may tear your heart out. Don’t get me wrong, I do it myself all the time – particularly when the busting action is moving tardily in semi-predictable fashion. I am not the type to sit in one spot and fish for hours even if it is the best choice. My only recommendation is to find a happy medium.
Surface water temperatures are one indispensable piece of the puzzle that will help you find wipers. These temps combined with psychological result of perception learning and reasoning of the fish’s motion and preferent forage will provide a good starting point to finding wipers on any given day. In the spring as surface water temps approach the 50′s, wiper will become more and more active. Optimal temps are relative to a body of water and strain of fish, but in frequent the further away you get from the optimal range for any fish, the lower their metaboli process and thence the less they are compelled to eat and the slower their activenesses will be.
One of the reasons we put the Fish Explorer web site together is to provide data that will aid you find fish in person water bodies. Our focus on water temperatures is not merely a novelty. If you comprehend how water temperatures affect fish on a queer lake, you are one step in front of the game.
As wiper become more active in the early season, they reportedly go into a false-spawn. At lakes with active, accessible inlet streams at the right time of year, as Jackson Lake in northeast Colorado often times experiences, wiper will genuinely run up the inlets as if spawning. In other places such as Union Reservoir, we have seen hordes of wiper stacked outside the inlet in a typical pre-spawn staging. It is also possible that these fish are relating to the shad that are in spawn mode. Whatever the reason for this activity, it would be a good place to check these inlet areas early in the season and any time of year, peculiarly when the water is flowing.
Outlets are also a good place to scope out wipers any time of year, particularly when the faucets are turned on. At Jackson Lake it was reported that various hundred wiper escaped into the outlet river, compelling officials to put in a screen downstream to capture the AWOL and return them to the reservoir.
In both of these cases, one thing is for sure – feed organisms up and down the chain are drawn to these areas at any time of the year, which may prove to be sufficient draw to concentrate these ever-feeding fish.
When surface water temps are in the mid 50′s to mid 60′s wiper fishing seems to be the best in Colorado. They will be active in the upper column of water meaning they are more readily available and recognizable to the fly fisherman. The upper column feeding means that fish will be in the shallows, or they may be over deeper water but up high. During this period, you will also witness good wiper fishing all day, as opposed to the oft-assumed theory that wiper are only low-light feeders. I believe wiper feed all day just like trout in a river, because they inherent like to expend energy by swimming around and therefore must eat accordingly.
Analyzing satellite images may support you determine lake structure. In this effigy of Jackson Lake you may effortlessly see where the “flats” are versus the main basin, which may lead you to warmer water areas in the early-season.
As water temps rise, the fish will specifically move deeper to more comfortable water. The temps are better, the forage thinks so too, and sunlight/UV rays will be more dispersed. This is the most difficult time to find wiper, and you actually need to put your time in and get to know a lake for it is structure and tendencies. Often experimentation and time on the water will be the important key to your success. During these times you may find wiper moving back to the surface column at night, dawn, dusk, and very cloudy days. This is the typical low-light feeding scenario aforementioned. Wiper will still be feeding mid-day, just deeper. If you’re like most humans and like to see fish in the upper column or in close to shorelines, fish the low-light times.
As fall approaches and water temps lower, wiper will move back into the upper column and you will again be greeted with more optimal fishing conditions. As is typical with most fish species, the pre-ice season turns wiper into ravenous beasts. They will feed heavily. Catching this amount of time will often times create more spectacular fish due to the fact the fish have been growing all season and are eager to eat whatsoever they may before they slow down for the winter.
Two thoughts come to mind at this point as I run out of ideas to express on how to find these fish: non-standard structure and rise identification. As Dick Pearson describes so well in his book “Muskies on the Shield”, structure is not inevitably always stationary and permanent like points, humps, and weeds. Often edges may be specified in less physical terms. Other edges you may consider are baitfish schools, wind current, and my favorite, carp pods.
If you see a swarm of seagulls or diving birds congregating in the middle of a lake, go over and check it out, you might find a nice school of baitfish that has drawn not only flying critters, but wiper as well. If there’s a good wind, look for current or places where the wind makes a “spot” a better “spot”. Examples are wind blown vegetation edges, a wind-blown point, or a saddle. Current will concentrate forage into sure areas and the wiper will be there.
Regarding carp pods – don’t overlook them. We have fished around carp pods and hooked in truth nice wiper. Stay as far away from the slow-moving mud-stirring pods as you may so not to spook them. Cast right over their edges and off further to the sides, but not right into them. Spooking them may break up the pod and in turn you may lose your structure. We will ofttimes fish bugger or crayfish patterns in this scenario, as we think the wiper are taking vantage of the plethora of feed items being stirred up by the scrounging carp.
By rise identification, I mean being competent to look at a fish breaking the surface and determining what kind of fish it is and what it is doing. One calm day on Union Reservoir, we were looking for wiper and having a tough go at it. There were rises all over the lake that we initially determined were trout or bass taking insects. As we studied the activenesses more exhaustively we started out to observe a divergence in rise forms. One type of rise was dissimilar than the others – it was more of a quick “pop” than a quick splash or slurp. Soon we ran into these someways transposed into wiper – altho we aren’t sure if they were wiper eating insects or little fish near the surface, or perchance a school of shad that were semi-frequently slurping the top. We expended the rest of the trip looking for this rise form, quickly casting streamers into the vicinity, and hooking into assorted wiper.
Observation is key no matter what sort of fish you are going after. Continuously observe everything around you such as water temps, lake structure, bird activity, insect activity, barometric pressure, weather changes, wind direction, wind speed, your partner’s headache, and anything else that could play into the overall puzzle you are attempting to solve. Even the smallest things may trigger a thought procedure that could lead to success.
First, fetch binoculars with you. When you have a lot of water to cover, extending your eyesight could give you the edge. They are an priceless tool on the water when attempting to locate busting fish. If you see or listen a great deal of splashing on a distant shoreline, break out your binoculars and see if they’re spawning carp, shore birds, or genuinely wiper crashing bait in shoal water. Scan over the lake to see if you may find any surface disturbance or any birds actively feeding. One day a pair of binoculars might be the divergence amongst boom or bust.
Second, it ought to be noted that we don’t always find wiper in large, tight schools. We many times see sporadic wiper spooked by the boat jetting away from the boat. I don’t think these are inevitably solo fish, but I don’t think they’re in huge schools either. If you see this happen, take galore time to fan-cast the area looking for more. Take note of where you saw the fish and come back later. And more significantly try to find numerous other spots that fit the same makeup where you saw the fish, paying attention to wind direction, structure, depth, etc.
Now on to genuinely fly fishing for wiper…
Presenting Flies to Wiper:
The type of fly rod you use is determined by what you’re throwing. You will ofttimes want to cast far, so I’d commend not going lighter than a 6wt rod. If you’re finding wiper relating to the surface you will want to throw poppers or high-riding streamers, accordingly a 6wt is adequate with drifting or short sink-tip lines. If you want to fish a few feet down, throwing a 150-grain RIO 24-foot sink tip is the ticket, and again a fast 6wt rod will have to do the trick. When you need to get deeper, say 5-10 feet deep, throwing a 200 or 250-grain RIO sink tip would do the trick and you will want to be using a 7wt or 8wt rod merely to be capable to handle the heft of these lines. Go to a 300-500 grain line to get deeper, upgrading to a rod amid an 8 and 10 weight to carry the load. With a well-made rod with a heap of backbone, you will have to be competent to play even the biggest wipers available in the state.
Having a fly rod with a strong central cohesive source of support and stability is necessary for landing the biggest wipers Colorado has to offer.
When you’re fishing to wiper, you will want to vary your retrieve until you find what works best. Typically you can not strip fast sufficient through busting schools. But often times you will find that quick short strip-strip-strip-pause retrieves work better in other conditions and to well-fed wiper. Vary the pause length….you may be astonished to lose hold of your line as you look up to say something to your buddy on one of the pauses and a wiper grabs the suspended fly and turns at Mach 1 in the opposite direction. One thought that will have to play into your technique is the faith that galore of the biggest wiper will sit underneath schools of shad, waiting for easy pickings. If you drop your fly through and under the baitfish school you may find a heavy surprise down below. Experiment each time you go out, the mood of the fish seems to change daily.
Bait size is a factor. In galore studies on bass feeding, it is proven that fish in sure bodies at a given time of year will have a preferent bait size. For wiper, I have been told that they like to eat baitfish that are as long as the width of the gape of their mouth when open. Experiment with streamer sizes if you’re having trouble locating and hooking fish. If you’re fishing with a partner, get started off the day fishing dissimilar colors and dissimilar sizes until one of you has more success than the other, then switch over to the hot bait. We have had success with streamers as short as one inch to streamers as long as six inches.
Which color fly to use is opening a huge may of worms. As my good friend and perennial fisherman Phil Small says, “If it ain’t chartreuse, it ain’t no use.” That often times may be the case, though we fish chartreuse very many times which may skew the numbers. One theory I believe in is contrast….to use a fly that is two-colored, often times with a light and a dark. The reason this may be effective is that fish see colors differently all around the day, and hence may pick up on the contrast if one or both of the colors is less visible at the time. You may try to “match-the-hatch” or go with more of an attractor pattern….and either may work, but I do not know of any tried-and-true pattern that works each time all of the time. It took me a long time to believe in any color theories, but I now believe color has something to do with the equation. So again, experiment each day with color, determine if one pattern is working more so than another, and run with it.
These are a heap of of my most commonly applied flies when fishing for wiper. From top, l-r: A saltwater popper, perch-colored Rainy’s CF Baitfish Streamer – unweighted, a home-tied huge clouser-style shad imitation, chartreuse/white clouser, another huge shad imitation, a streamer weighted body with wrap-around lead, and my bestloved crayfish/bugger pattern with twist-tail.
Whether you use weighted streamers or not is another item to experiment with. We have had success fishing very light flies, lead-head or clouser-type flies, and weighted-body flies. Clouser-type flies work very well when using the strip-pause retrieve and when fishing a little lower in the water column. Weightless flies seem to work better when fishing high and fast exceptionally on a sink-tip…but don’t fail to experiment fishing very light flies on drifting line quickly right in the surface film which gives an injured baitfish kind of look. You may likewise try fishing clouser-type flies on drifting line to fish just under the surface. If you’re looking for fish down deep, sinking lines and heavy flies will concede you to cover more water quickly.
Whether to use a sparsely tied or a very hairy fly is yet another option that the wipers will support you decide. To give galore guidance based on my observations, undertake sparser streamers in water with good clarity, and thicker, hairier streamers in discolored water or mudlines. Flies that construct more water disturbance as they’re retrieved will appeal better to the lateral line senses employed more so by fish in darker waters. This is likewise the case for night fishing.
One area I have yet to experiment with mainly is the use of surface flies, namely poppers. Definitely give poppers a chance, specially in low-light conditions or in busting schools. Vary retrieves from a pop-pop pause, to ripping the popper through the surface film. The typical rule of thumb in top water making something publicly available is to fabricate just sufficient disturbance to attract fish. You’ll want to undertake fishing more prominent poppers that make more noise in choppy conditions, and littler poppers in still conditions.
And do not forget flies other than streamers. As I noted before, we’ve caught a great deal of wipers on bugger and crayfish patterns, in particular around pods of carp when we were most inclined to throw them. The rule of plentiful and available applies anytime you fish. If there’s an abundance of crayfish available to wiper, you better give it a shot. One way to recognise for sure what the fish are concentrating on is to look for undigested feed coming out of a fish you’ve caught. One weekend fishing on Horsetooth Reservoir for smallmouth, we noticed a little orange chunk of crayfish spewed from the mouth of a bass we had on the hook next to the boat. It had been a tough day finding any smallies that day as we rotated among a potpourri of streamer patterns and retrieves. Truth is the smallies had turned onto the molting crayfish much like trout key in on insect hatches.
Presenting crayfish with a fly rod is not as easy as fishing a tube jig on a spun rod. You want to fish them slow and low, preferably in areas with respective sized rip-rap and boulders, even ticking the rocks. Doing so will often lead to a great deal of hang-ups and lost flies. To improve your efficiency, fish a short sink-tip line with crayfish patterns designed to ride hook-point-up. The best crayfish patterns are those that are tied more like a wooly bugger, with short or no pincers (chelae), and in a color leaning more towards orange/tan than dark brown. In studies that relate to this subject, smallmouth bass preferent softer molting crayfish over more prominent hard-shell crayfish, the former tending to be of lighter color.
The jury is still deliberating on whether fishing insect imitations to wiper is effective. I myself have not tried this one lick. Whenever I have found wiper smacking the surface in a manner that might suggest that they are eating insects, a streamer always did the trick. But, perhaps this is a technique to consider. I believe all fish eat insects at a lot of time or another – and I would guess that wipers may do so more than one might think.
For slower fishing, and when letting our fly drop beneath shad schools, I like to go with a shinier and more active streamer like this sparkly clouser-style streamer.
Getting the fish to the reel, meaning picking up all the slack so your reel drag is activated, is not difficult to do with wiper. They will distinctively take all the slack line at your feet out with them on the introductory run. Just make sure you’re not wrapped around your feet, bushes, or items in your boat before the strike. Doing so may fetch the fight to an abrupt halt and will cost you in regards to one fly.
The fight may vary, but specifically they will make a very pronounced basi run followed by a rest amount of time and subsequent sharp runs. Do not overplay the fish to the point it is exhausted, and do not undertake to net the fish so green that it will hurt itself flailing about. Take vantage of their “rest periods” by turning their heads gently, pumping your rod, and reeling in line to fetch them closer to you. Let them take drag when they want to run. Do not put too much pressure on the fish as you may wear a hole in their lip that will make escape much requiring little effort for them. And do not, by any means, give them slack line.
After a few runs, if the fish seems to be losing some steam, put more pressure on the fish to fetch it to the net. Once landed, if you plan to release the fish, handle it gently, support it is weight to the full or entire extent when lifted for a photo, and return it to the water promptly. I have had no problem reviving wiper when handled in this manner. We always fish barbless and have not lost any fish due to this factor alone (if we do lose a fish it’s distinctively our own fault for permitting slack.) I give hope or courage to barbless fishing for any type of fishing you may try…hooks are more comfortable to get out of your skin when the inevitable occurs, the hooks set deeper, and as long as you keep your line taught I do not believe you will ever lose a fish due to barbless hooks. But you will lose fish to weak hooks, so use strong saltwater hooks for your wiper flies or they might come back as straight as an arrow.
Smaller Wiper may be “thumbed” out of the water, but if you plan to release the fish, be sure to support their full body and don’t leave them hanging by the lip.
In conclusion, if you have not hooked into a wiper on the fly, you’ve got to give it a shot. But be conscious that it may turn you into a wiper junkie. Finding wipers is a majority of the battle, so concentrate your attempts there, and when you do find them get ready for a battle! These observations are only from my experiences and a lot is yet to be written on this subject.
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