Frustration and failure commonly confound a wiper-angler’s day. And the 60 days of September and October are always a vexing time for wiper fishermen at the reservoirs across the Heartland, stretching from Bagnall Dam in central Missouri to Cedar Bluff Reservoir in western Kansas.
Since the first wiper was stocked in the reservoirs of the Heartland more than a quarter of a century ago, their population densities have been scanty. And that is a significant problem for anglers plying a reservoir containing 54,000 acres and with 1,150 miles of shoreline.
Another angling woe revolves around wipers’ pelagic natures. Their wanderlust often provokes them to roam across many acres of a reservoir throughout a day. During that time either individual wipers or small schools of them might be found foraging upon shad on the lake’s surface; sashaying along the bottom of a massive flat; lollygagging at the edge of a hump, or suspended and cruising about at various depths. Across the years, anglers have found the wiper’s penchant for gallivanting around countless acres of water to be a devilish challenge in reservoirs as small as 4,000 acres, and an even a greater test in gigantic waterways.
During September and October, two more factors are added to the formula for deciphering the whereabouts of the wipers that live in the reservoirs of the Heartland.
The Heartland is frequently pummeled by cold fronts in early September, making the wipers sullen and difficult to locate. Even when located, they are often so tetchy that it’s a hellish task to entice them onto a lure or to eat a lively gizzard shad impaled on a circle hook.
The second factor is that cooling water temperatures provoke many schools of gizzard shad to leave their summertime midlake haunts and frisk about in the shallows shorelines. Some schools of shad also invade coves and feeder creeks. Many of the wipers follow suit, spending their autumn days scattered along the reservoirs’ shorelines and wandering around coves and feeder creeks.
This can take as few as three weeks in some Kansas reservoirs or as many as seven at Lake of the Ozarks. During this gradual transition, many anglers say that most wipers seem to be in a state of limbo and virtually impossible to find.
Before the wipers make their autumnal move to follow the shad, they’re relatively concentrated in the main body of the reservoir. A significant number in Truman Lake, Missouri, and Milford Lake, Kansas, for instance, gather from May through August in schools and frequent offshore humps, ridges and flats in 20 to 35 feet of water, near a submerged river channel in the lower-third portions of the lakes. During these four months, anglers can occasionally catch and release wipers in meaningful numbers, not to mention occasional big ones weighing more than 16 pounds.
But by September, as the wipers slowly disperse across many acres of water, it becomes harder to find and catch good numbers of them. And the likelihood of landing a 16-pounder along the shoreline or in coves and feeder creeks at this time of year is a slim one, indeed.
The wipers that invade the coves and feeder creeks regularly forage upon shad on mud flats and secondary points, especially when the wind blows ranks of waves into these coves and onto the points. These points areas also attract foraging wipers during the evening hours, and even during these worst possible conditions, high wind and diminishing light, random wipers can still be found chasing shad pell-mell across coves and feeder creeks, though the only way anglers have found to catch them is to troll crankbaits across vast stretches shallow water in high wind or encroaching darkness, just in hopes of crossing the path of a few random fish. Most anglers find this prospect as dull as trolling in ditch water.
Why are the wipers one day found chasing shad along the shorelines and the next, across the middle of a cove? The trained eyes of the most savvy and veteran anglers have been unable to answer this. There seems no rhyme or reason to it. These veterans can only conclude that the wiper, especially in early fall, is the most befuddling gamefish to swim in the waterways of the Heartland.
But not all of a reservoir’s wipers follow shad to the shoreline or into the coves and feeder creeks. Some remain in deep-water haunts of the lake’s main body, says Vic Oertle of Manhattan, Kansas, proprietor of Fishtech Lures (http://www.fishtechoutdoors.com/), a veteran wiper angler. He prefers to ply deep-water spots year-round with a casting outfit that sports a 3/4-ounce Double W Shad Flutter Spoon, which he manufactures.
According to Oertle, in September and October a goodly number of wipers at Milford Lake inhabit some of the offshore ridges, humps and drop-offs in the main part of the lake. He often drags and hops a spoon at offshore ridges, humps or drop-offs covered with 10-20 feet of water and catches more and larger wipers than other anglers using crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jigs on these windblown points and shorelines, or on mudflats in the coves and creeks.
At Truman Lake in autumns past, anglers have also found plenty of wipers, including some of grand proportions, along segments of the weir (a man-made offshore hump), immediately above Truman Dam, but this weir, attracts wipers only when current is jetting out of the dam. The solution is to employ a spoon. The velocity of the current coursing through the dam dictates the weight of the spoon: For instance, there have been days when the current’s pace has been so great that anglers have had to use a two-ounce spoon.
Some anglers prefer to work a spoon vertically. But when possible, Oertle says the most effective tactic is to cast the spoon, then allow it to settle on the bottom. Then you drag and carefully ‘hop’ the spoon by slowly lifting the rod from the 3 o’clock to the 12 o’clock position. Once the rod reaches 12 o’clock, the spoon’s is allowed to fall to the bottom. When it reaches bottom, slack is removed from the line and the rod is slowly dropped to 3 o’clock. This lift-and-drop maneuver continues until a wiper is hooked or the spoon is retrieved past the wiper’s lair.
In years past, white bass anglers traditionally working with small lures were also catching most the wipers by default, especially those caught along windblown shorelines, points, coves, and feeder creeks during September and October.
Recently, however, a new cadre of shallow-water anglers has begun focusing solely on wipers. Their secret is to probe many miles of shoreline and shallow flats. They accomplish this feat by casting and rapidly retrieving half-ounce jigheads adorned with 5- and 6-inch soft-plastic lures. By wielding these humongous lures, they’ve begun catching more and bigger wipers than have ever been caught in these shallows during the fall.
Even though some of these recent catches are impressive, wiper fishermen in the Heartland are continually beset with frustrations and failures in September and October. Nevertheless, these anglers are intrepid souls who relish tangling with one of the most challenging and electrifying species that inhabits these waterways.