June 2003 Indiana Game & Fish
3 Hotspots For Indiana Hybrid Stripers
By Don Mulligan
Every once in a while, humans, or in this case, fishery biologists, find a way to improve upon Mother Nature. Case in point - the hybrid striped bass. Known to anglers simply as wipers, they are a cross between the smaller white bass and the larger striped bass.
The result is an oversized football-shaped marauder of the open water. The wiper possesses the schooling mentality of the white bass, the no-fear assault on baitfish tactics of the striper, and some say, a pound-for-pound scrappier fight than any freshwater bass of any sort.
The hybrid’s aggressive nature, combined with its willingness to live in open water, an area normally unoccupied in most reservoirs, has caused a lot of fishermen around the country to take notice. And Indiana anglers are no exception.
The Indiana Department of Fish and Wildlife (DNR) annually stocks 160,488 wipers into six different bodies of water around the state. Add to the list a seventh destination not identified by the DNR in the regulations, and Indiana fishermen have ample and varied opportunities to fish for wipers across the state.
Having fished all but one of the destinations in recent years, the following three picks represent my best bets to catch a wiper this summer.
EAGLE CREEK RESERVOIR
According to the DNR’s 2002 Fishing Guide, there are no hybrid striped bass in Eagle Creek Reservoir. Tell that to Brian Waldman. Last summer, he and I spent an entire afternoon catching and releasing 6- to 9- pound wipers until we got tired of catching fish.
Technically, what the guide should say is that hybrid striped bass are no longer stocked into the 1,350-acre Indianapolis impoundment. In 1999, the DNR stopped stocking wipers with the intention of eventually building up the walleye fishery instead. This was done for several reasons, but it remains a somewhat controversial move among local fishermen.
“For years our surveys never turned up any wipers over 2 years old, despite aggressive stockings. Consequently, angler interest was low since they could catch similar sized white bass in greater numbers,” said Doug Keller, a District 5 fisheries biologist.
Perhaps even more important though, is that despite common belief by most fishermen, hybrid wipers are not sterile. Surveys reveal that wipers can, and do, spawn with both the striped bass and white bass if either species is present.
In Eagle Creek Reservoir the wipers were spawning with the abundant white bass, affecting the purity of the white bass population. This created an “ethical dilemma” for Keller who thought that an “impure white bass population was not as nature intended.”
Crossbreeding or not, guys like Waldman wonder if the earlier wiper stockings were just not aggressive enough, or simply not given enough time to show their real potential. “Once a person feels the fight of one of these oversized wipers, it is difficult to convince him he should be fishing for walleyes instead,” he said.
So, along with legions of other locals in the know, Waldman routinely takes time out from largemouth fishing on Eagle Creek to troll crankbaits in open water for wipers. Also, like a lot of locals, Waldman advocates releasing vigorous, healthy wipers.
Though there seem to presently be an endless supply of 6- to 9-pound fish available for anglers, successful spawning is limited at best, and once all the wipers are gone, they are gone for good.
In early spring, hybrids are mostly on the north end of the reservoir where it narrows into Eagle Creek. Either spawning or at least trying to spawn, the fish start to move back south as spring winds down and water temperatures rise.
By late May and through June, the majority of wipers will be found south of the 56th Street bridge in deeper water. That is where Waldman and I found our school of marauding wipers last summer.
On the largest flat south of the causeway, Waldman and I were slowly criss-crossing the lake watching for telltale swirls and slaps of topwater feeding wipers. The sky was gray and threatening to start spitting light rain on us, as it had been doing most of the morning.
Despite seeing very little activity on the surface, our hopes were still not dimmed. What we were seeing on the graph wasn’t any different. But in around 20 feet of water, we started to run over large balls of gizzard shad, balled up and hugging bottom.
Like most reservoirs in Indiana, Eagle Creek is jammed with gizzard shad. In the late spring and early summer, they start to form huge balls, sometimes on the surface, but sometimes submerged. They are far and away the primary food source for every species of game fish in the reservoir, including wipers.
Finding a ball of shad submerged at that time of year is a pretty good bet that predators are close by. During the early season, shad are still small enough to be eaten en masse by big-bellied hybrids.
As we passed over the unsuspecting forage, we saw what we were looking for. The graph clearly marked two to five big fish hovering just above each ball of fish. We presumed wipers, and we were right.
We decided to troll medium-running crankbaits that dug down to at least 10 feet below the surface. AT our preferred speed of three miles per hour, we dragged the shad-colored rattling baits over the first ball of gizzard shad.
“I prefer spotting them and throwing Pop-Rs or Zara Spooks at them, but when they are deep in Eagle Creek Reservoir, you have to find them by trolling cranks,” said Waldman.
Wham! The first wiper caught me off guard, almost ripping the rod out of my hand. Besides plowing into a lure like a 10-pound coho, wipers are known far and wide for their never-say-die attitude. Expect any fish over 5 pounds to peel off line a couple times before tiring out.
Within moments we had on a double, and both fish were close to 8 pounds each. As long as we passed over the top of a ball of shad, we caught wipers. Admittedly, not every day is like that on Eagle Creek, but there are enough big fish left in the reservoir to provide a lot of central Indiana fishermen with the toughest fighting fish of their life.
Concentrate your fishing in June south of the 56th Street bridge. More specifically, right off the roadway and a little further north adjacent to Hobie Beach. The big flat lies just off Hobie Beach, which is north of the public boat ramp on the same side of the lake. Key on these areas when fish are not visible on the surface, as well as trying the points leading into the mouths of the bays on the west side of the lake.