Steve "Scuba" Street's BLOG

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Norfork Lake fishing and lake conditions by Scuba Steve from Blackburns Resort and Boat rental (click here for comments)

The lake level is 554.09 and has dropped 1-1/4 inch in the last 24-hours with generation about 1/2 the time. We have had about 1/2 inch total of moisture in the last several days with nothing heavy just several slow drizzle days making things miserable. The lake is clearing again with the creeks leading the way especially near the bank. I am only fishing for a couple of hours a day and staying close to home but I mostly do that anyway. There is not much sense having to travel very far with what I want very close. There is a lot of interest in getting the striper population back where it used to be especially the big ones that are the most vulnerable. There are several different possible solutions which not everyone will agree with. The first thing is that I want stripers in Norfork lake. Some do not. Without them we are just another very nice lake. It has been proven in the last 40-50 years that stripers can live with other species except for trout.  The second is that there is a problem. Some people do not want to admit it because they make a living from them. It is not in good interest to let people find out they are almost gone and their chances of catching a trophy is much lower than a few years ago. I do not want them to find out after they have come here and are disappointed and go home and tell everyone. Some can be convinced that a 8-10 pound fish is big but not anyone knowledgeable. If you are going after them for meat they do not dress out very well and do not compare to walleye, crappie, bluegill, Kentucky Bass and flathead catfish for eating. Some will argue this but the same people also eat carp and gar. Next, what can be done about this problem. Since none were stocked by Game and Fish this year due to covid the class of 2020 will be absent. That can only be made up over time. Increased stocking could help but if all of the big ones die it will not do any good for at least five years. The answer is to slow the death of the older fish by identifying what is causing their demise. There are two main problems. One is letting the lake level rise into the vegetation for a long period of time and reducing the oxygen in the water and the other is over-fishing. Stripers are ocean fish and do tolerate low oxygen well. We have always had some kills in late summer but not nearly like the last several years of high water. For every striper you see floating there are several more times that amount that sink and are not seen. The lake level needs to be controlled better and not held up high for so long. Next is over-fishing. People are learning how to catch them better and once that happens they are quite easily caught. Another is fishing pressure. There are a lot more striper fishermen out there now. Live bait used to be the best way to catch them and you had to have a lot of equipment to net the shad, keep them alive which is dificult and down riggers with expensive cannon balls and planer boards. There used to be balloons all over the lake but not now. It cost a lot and took a lot of time and money to get ready to go fishing and the average fisherman would not or did not want to do so. Now with the increased use of Jigging spoons and umbrella rigs they can catch fish easily with little preparation and cost. Both are deadly. If you can control the depth of the umbrella rig by speed and weight and troll through enough schools of shad you will catch fish. If you have a good locator and find fish and drop a spoon on their head you will also catch fish. This was not the case 20-tears ago when the big fish population was high.  Increased quality of electronics has not helped the stripers either but only helping the fisherman resulting in many more limits being caught everyday with the stockings not changing. Stripers are semi-put and take and do not reproduce in fresh water so what you see is what you get. They just live a lot longer than rainbow trout and grow faster and bigger. They should be considered game fish and not meat fish and be released as much as possible. They fight really hard and are fun to catch. A lot of people like to fish for them and sets Norfork lake apart from the average lake. There are several things that can be done after keeping the water out of the vegetation for long periods of time reducing the oxygen drastically. It will do no good to stock more if they all die after they grow. We will just end up being a small striper lake like others.  Other things can be done. Reducing the limit from three to two is one thing. Another is to outlaw umbrella rigs like the bass people have outlawed Alabama rigs in their tournaments. They are just smaller umbrellas. These are regulatory things that would help. Other is changing the culture. Promote catch and release, again like the bass people do. Many bass fishermen do not keep any fish. Next is to not fish for them in deep water. When they go deep leave them alone. I know there is pressure for the guides to catch fish every time they go out but it is their long term livelyhood that they will be protecting. They need to learn how to fish for other fish. Dock floors full of dead small stripers in advertising pictures is also not helping anything whether it is legal or not. Venting deep-caught fish lets them go down but they die anyway. If guides stopped cleaning and packaging stripers to take home and the people had to clean their own fish, less would kill them. These are just a few things that could be done and nobody will agree with all of them but what we must agree with is their is a problem and some of us want to help and get Norfork back to a trophy striper lake that has brought people back here for years. Stocking more alone will not solve the problem. Stocking more Hybrid Stripers that are more tolerant to low oxygen and fight very hard would help in the short term but they do not get nearly as big.