LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. — The success of the Western Outdoor News Lake Havasu Striper Derby, at least in terms of fishing productivity, is largely based upon the annual spring spawn. Off the water, the derby is always a popular event; thanks to oodles of raffle prizes (including a boat/motor combo), divisional awards, and two fun-filled days on the shores of the Nautical Inn Resort & Conference Center (home base for the derby). On the water, however, “success” is predominantly predicated upon the spawning stage in which the stripers are engaged. Post-spawn fish will be scattered and harder to catch, while spawning linesides can provide non-stop action all day long. It all depends upon what the fish are doing and where they will be located. As it’s panning out, however, everything seems to be falling into place for an outstanding couple of days of striper fishing, May 19-20.
According to Lake Havasu guru and owner of basstacklemaster.com, John Galbraith, this spring has been on the cool side, which means the stripers should be in full-blown spawn mode when the derby arrives.
“We always pay attention as to whether or not it’s a cool spring or a warm spring,” Galbraith said, “and this year, it’s been cool. The difference is, stripers will spawn later with a cool spring. A warm spring means the fish will start spawning in early-April and by the time the derby rolls around, the spawn will be at its tail end.”
When stripers spawn, the fish tend to congregate in large groups; say, 20 to 30 smaller, 3- to 5-pound males surrounding a larger, 12- to 20-pound female. “Spawning schools are the best to fish,” Galbraith noted, “as the fish school by weight class. When you’re fishing in the derby, those are the fish you want to be fishing; and this year’s derby should have the fish schooled up nicely. It’s not like in previous years when the spawn has been over by the time the derby arrives. When that happens, the schools are broken up.
“The three derbies I won were all during cold springs. That meant that by the time the tournament rolled around in May, the spawn was on.”
Spawning stripers will generally head shallow at night to feed and then move into the deeper channel as the sun rises. That said, Galbraith likes to target spawning fish with topwaters first thing in the morning and then switch over to soaking cut anchovies throughout the day.
“A common misconception amongst striper fishermen is that all of the stripers go upriver to spawn. That’s not true. The fish just have to have some type of moving current when they spawn. As long as they’re out in the old river channel and they have moving water in which to spawn, they’re fine. And this can happen all over the lake. There will be a river bite, for sure; but it will be towards the later part of the spawn.
“The key for me has always been to fish topwater early in the morning,” Galbraith added, “then fish bait in deeper water. As I said, it’s setting up right now to be a late spawn, at least in terms of quality for the derby. Instead of catching twenty 2 to 3 pounders, they’re catching six 6- to 12-pound fish.”
What anglers need to keep in mind, however, is that the bite will be dramatically different during the tournament than that encountered during pre-fishing. This is due exclusively to the amount of boat traffic on the water; which will be significantly less during the week than on Saturday and Sunday during tournament hours.
“With the weekend boat traffic, the pattern on the lake is a whole different animal,” Galbraith noted. “The fish are on different spots. That’s why I pre-fish on busy days. On calm days, they’ll do their shallow thing and move in and out. On busy days, the boat traffic will drive those schools deeper and the bait bite becomes better. I had always found that the deeper main channel areas were where I did well; especially if there was a lot of boat traffic. The boats will literally push the fish to the bottom.”
According to Galbraith, the topwater bite has already begun, and two of the best baits as of late have been the Rat-L-Trap in white or chrome, and the Lucky Craft Pointer Minnow in Chartreuse Shad or rainbow trout. “Those baits have just been killers,” he said. “Even when the fishing’s tough, guys still catch fish on them.
“When the topwater bite’s kicking good, the Pencil Poppers work great. But again, while those fish will eat the big, noisy baits on the weekdays, the more subtle baits work well when it’s busier. The fish will go from eating them hard to lightly smacking ’em.”
Whatever bait you opt to fish or where you opt to fish it, one aspect of Lake Havasu striper fishing remains steadfast: if you can find fish, chances are, you can catch ’em. And as recent conditions should dictate, finding and catching stripers in a couple of weeks should pose little problem.
“We had triple-digit temps. a couple of weeks back,” Galbraith said, “but I don’t see it going back to that for a couple of weeks… right when the derby arrives. We should be in the best part of the spawn when that happens.
“I know the spawn is on when guys come into the tackle shop with male fish milking. So far, they’ve been catching fish in groups, but none of them are pouring milk.
“The fish should be schooled-up in numbers for the tournament. I think it’s going to be a great derby.”
To register for the May 19-20 event, call Striper Derby Tournament Coordinator Ashley Hartman at (949) 366-0030, ext. 38; or Tournament Director Billy Egan at ext. 40.
Boat inspections in place at this year’s Striper Derby
To clarify the random boat inspections Western Outdoor News will be instituting at this year’s Striper Derby, the inspections will begin at the Captain’s Meeting on Friday night at the Nautical Inn Conference Center. Those will not be the only inspections in place, however, as WON staffers will be on hand at the major launch ramps on Saturday and Sunday morning, and in boats on the water during both days of the event.
Our presence in this capacity is to ensure a fair and fun tournament for all participants.