COOPER LAKE — After eight months of being on the sidelines, Cooper Lake is a player once again.
Below spillway level since 2010, the lake dipped more than 12 feet low last September closing all the ramps to boating traffic. They stayed closed until just a few weeks ago when early spring rains brought the lake up just enough for the ramp at Doctors Creek State Park to be reopened.
But just barely.
Then came a big rain last week that brought the level up 14 inches in one day, and then with additional flooding and rains Monday and Tuesday the lake is now down just over 6 ﾽ feet, meaning all ramps are back in operation.
It just took the opening of Doctors Creek to pull guide Tony Parker off Lake Tawakoni and back to Cooper where most of the year he is one of only a handful of boats on the water.
“I have been waiting for this,” Parker said, as we pulled away from the Doctors Creek ramp recently.
At the time the lake was still down 11 feet and pulling from the shore was an odd sight. The pier normally used by fishermen to step into their boats was suspended 10 feet above us by pillars that moor it in place when it sits on the water. It served as a warning that all was still not right on the lake.
“Yeah, you can launch. That isn’t the problem. The problem is out there on the water,” Parker told another group of fishermen about to launch.
He was referring to stump covered humps that would normally be submerged in 12 to 14 feet of water. The ones you could see weren’t the problem. It was the ones that were hidden by the rolling water that could puncture a boat’s hull.
Cooper Lake is all about the hybrid striped bass and white bass, and when he returned to the lake Parker has been finding them in shallow water. In some cases 2 feet or less on the then-exposed humps.
“They are up here early every spring,” Parker said. “A lot of people won’t believe they will be up this shallow. I don’t know if they are up here spawning or if the shad are spawning. If the shad are up there the hybrids are going to be up there feeding on them.”
Of course being a hybrid, the fish don’t actually spawn, but they do go through the process each year. Without a lot of good tributaries to run, hybrids and white bass use main lake humps, points and sometimes wind-swept shoreline for spawning activity.
A week ago many of those humps and flats the hybrids would normally be on were islands. The shallow shorelines they would be on were dry land.
Parker had most of the new spots marked on his GPS as much for safety reasons when running as he did for finding them. The spots slightly submerged were easy to identify by watching the waves turn into white caps as they rolled over them just as they do on the coast when the water hits the shallows.
The fishing then wasn’t difficult and still shouldn’t be with the improved conditions. Normally Parker uses 4-inch chartreuse Sassy Shads on a half-ounce jig. With the fish up shallow he has dropped down to a lower profile bait with the half-ounce jig.
Fishing is simply cast, reel and hang on. Mixed in with the hybrids are going to be white bass. When reeling it is easy to tell the difference. The white bass are going to pop the lure as it swims by and require a hook set to catch.
Hybrids hit it with authority and take off. They set the hook.
While up shallow the hybrids seem to be segregated by size.
“The big ones aren’t with the rest of them. When you find them you will catch a few big ones, but most of them are about this size,” Parker said, referring to the 3- to 5-pound fish we were consistently boating.
Parker suspects the fish will remain shallow through May, but this has been an odd spring and nothing for fishermen has been on time. When the fish do move they will move back into the deeper holes and Parker will switch back to the heftier baits.
While the hybrid striper fishing is good now and should remain that way, there could be issues down the road. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department continues to have water issues at its Dundee Fish Hatchery near Wichita Falls. The hatchery has traditionally produced striped bass and hybrid striped bass for state waters.
Again this year some of that production was shifted to the John Parker Hatchery near Sam Rayburn Reservoir, but there was reportedly some problems with production that could result in lakes getting only 10 percent of the fish area biologists request. However, with strong stockings last year and in 2011 a one-year drop off may not be an issue.
For more information on fishing Cooper, contact Parker at 903-348-1619.
Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at email@example.com. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.