Somewhere between us and a dark, ominous mass that formed a mountainous shoreline thick with lure-eating snags, a large fish splashed.
During daylight hours, visitors see rocky bluffs and forested shorelines touching crystal waters reminiscent of a remote Canadian lake. At first light, anglers might hear turkeys gobbling or see bald eagles hunting prey. Sometimes, deer walk along the boulder-strewn shorelines. However, at night with no moon and little other light to illuminate the rugged Ozark Mountains, we couldn’t judge distances very well. Was the shoreline 20 yards away or 100?
“Stripers move up shallow at night to feed on shad,” explained Steve Olomon with Steve’s Guide Service (870-491-5142) on Norfork Lake near Mountain Home, Ark. “Shad move up on the banks at night. Sometimes, they get right on the banks. We want to put the bait close to the shoreline, but not on it. With a good breeze like we have tonight, a Smithwick Rogue can really sail on light line.”
Making distance calculations even trickier, a brush-choked point projected out from that dark shoreline toward the boat. We unleashed our lures in the general vicinity of the stygian shoreline, intently listening for reassuring splashes rather than disheartening clunks. We couldn’t see our lures wobbling almost painfully slowly just a few yards away, but one lure didn’t move very far before a vicious beast smashed it and raced for open water, nearly pulling the rod with it.
“At night, stripers don’t like to hit a lure that’s going too fast,” Olomon advised. “Reel it very slowly. The slower the better, just so it wobbles back and forth. Don’t jerk it like when fishing for largemouth bass.”
Just outside Mountain Home, Norfork Lake began in 1944 with a dam on the North Fork of the White River. Slicing a path through the ancient Ozark Mountains of Missouri and northern Arkansas, the North Fork runs about 109 miles until it hits the White River at Norfork, Ark. The White River snakes 720 miles through Arkansas and Missouri, eventually turning southeasterly to hit the Mississippi River near Dumas, Ark.
Norfork Lake runs about 47 miles along the old river channel. No other rivers flow into the lake, but the dazzling waters spread through myriad mountain coves totaling about 22,000 surface acres at pool stage. The lake drops to more than 200 feet deep near the dam and may plunge more than 100 feet just off any shoreline. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls 550 shoreline miles, preventing most development from a few hundred feet to nearly a mile back from the water.
“Norfork Lake is well-known for its striper fishery,” advised Tom Reynolds with STR Outfitters in Mountain Home (877-246-4896). “The state originally stocked striped bass into the lake in the 1960s and continue to stock stripers and hybrid bass each year. The lake has a good striper population averaging about 10- to 12 pounds, but we catch some fish in the 20- to 40-pound range. Occasionally, someone lands one topping 50 pounds.”
In the incredibly transparent water of this deep, rocky lake, stripers can see forever even at night. The large predators can detect the silhouette of a morsel seductively wobbling just under the surface. Hungry stripers might rise 50 feet to smack a bait on the surface, but won’t hit anything that looks suspicious.
For this reason, many anglers prefer to fish at night in the clear water. When fishing at night, keep all noise and unnecessary movements to a minimum. Avoid shining any lights over the water that could spook fish. For seeing inside the boat, use a small LED light and shine it down instead of out over the water.
“Stripers don’t like a lot of light,” Olomon explained. “Even when an electrical storm comes up, that shuts down the striper bite for a day or two. A little talking doesn’t hurt anything, but avoid banging things around in the boat. Sound travels through the boat hull into the water.”
Every few casts, one of us hooked a fish. When someone hooked a powerful fish, the others pulled in their lines to avoid a tangled mess, but the four of us did manage a few doubles. After about 90 minutes, we headed back to Mockingbird Bay Resort, our temporary home on the lake, after catching and releasing 14 stripers and hybrid bass while missing several others.
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