Wiper, the hybrid striped bass/white bass, is gaining a lot of popularity in fishing circles across Colorado and surrounding areas that have wiper fisheries. The greatest excitement is probably found among the relatively small 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 almost make you wonder why you'd fish for anything else.
Now, wiper are fairly mysterious fish and volumes have not been written on the subject of fishing for them. As with any type of fishing article, authors offer information based on their experiences, leaving the door wide open for an array of other tactics, insights, and opinions. It seems everyone I talk to about wiper have their own thoughts that have been formulated not by magazine articles and fishing shows, but from their own personal quests. This article is nothing different. I have put in many hours behind the reel searching for these steamrollers, and the following is a compilation of my experiences.
Fly fishing for wiper can be humbling, but if you get that one trip under your belt where you really 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 should consider ourselves lucky to have this fish available to us. It's like saltwater fishing in the Rockies.
Wiper will eat forage fish about the width of the gape of their mouth, entitling this 6-inch shad to be dinner for the big boys.
Finding the fish: The most important thing in any type of fishing is locating the fish. If you're fishing trout in a river you look for pockets and runs of the right depth, size, and water speed. When smallmouth fishing in a lake, you look for certain structure and depth depending on the time of year, or you survey with your electronics. Whatever the scenario, if you find the spots where the living is easy and the food aplenty, you will find big fish.
It is often assumed wiper travel constantly and randomly around the lake in schools at generally high speeds picking off whatever food 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 underneath your boat and onto the west. But I don't think it is completely 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 some level of energy conservation written into their DNA. If they did not, they would exhaust themselves swimming about freely all day long. Think about trout in a river - the biggest fish will take the best spots where current is slight but carries plenty of oxygen and food so they can 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 can perform their signature "busting" feast.
Wind blowing into any structure makes that structure better. This complex has plenty to offer wiper, especially traps for schooling baitfish.
But what about 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 movement 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 expressed by a variety of authors is alive and well. Wherever there is an abundance of food that is highly available to predators, you will find fish. So is the case with wiper. However, don't expect the schools to sit still in one area for long. Instead expect the schools to travel paths between or with abundant food 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, definitely consider baitfish schools structure. Wiper almost certainly 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.