Norfork Lake, in the Ozarks, is like a home in the mountains for striped bass, as well as the reelers that chase them. The nearest city — probably not coincidentally — is Mountain Home, Arkansas.
“Mountain Home is a beautiful place with nice people, good restaurants, and a lot to do that’s not just fishing,” says Bryan Wimsatt. He probably makes the point about things to do other than fishing because Wimsatt is all about fishing.
His mountain home
The local guide — and proprietor of Blue Heaven Resort, a collection of cabins on Norfork Lake — is particularly zealous when it comes to stripers.
“I love the way they fight. When you’re using light tackle and a striper hits, it hits your bait hard and fights harder,” Wimsatt explained.
The part of north-central Arkansas where Wimsatt guides is home to some renowned fisheries. World-record brown trout, for example, have come out of the nearby White River.
Norfork Lake is a good all-around fishery, with plenty of crappie, good-sized walleyes, and a lot of prime bass habitat. While Wimsatt will target whatever’s biting — and put his clients on them — his service, Xtreme Stripers, as you can probably guess, focuses on striped bass.
Wimsatt runs his 24-foot Mako center console out of Buzzard Roost Boat Dock, a marina adjacent to the resort that he and his brother built. When fishing for stripers, he prefers light tackle. It not only adds to the challenge, but makes for a better fight.
“I use 8 lb. test line on nine-foot, six-inch [St. Croix] Wild River rods, and Shimano Sedona reels,” he says.
He puts out six rods, changing fishing depths and locations depending on the season and where the schools are running.
The six-rod array can be tricky, though, if you hook into a big one.
“I had six lines out when a 28-pound striper hit my bait in 20 feet of water.”
Wimsatt had to get the other lines back in the boat, while fighting almost-30 pounds of angry striper on 8 lb. test. It made for boast-worthy battle, but in the end, he boated the bass — his biggest so far.
When hunting stripers, Wimsatt swears by the downscan function on his Garmin Panoptix, which is mounted in the same place as his trolling motor. That location gives Wimsatt about 10 feet of notice when he’s about to come over a school.
“That way I’ll know what side of the boat they’re going to bite on.”
Norfork Lake stripers — like their saltwater counterparts — are usually on the move, especially in the spring and fall, when the schools will run up the rivers.
“Fishing in the spring and fall is luck of the draw, because you may get on the fish, but then the school will move. You’ve got to move over the flats with them, but always keep an eye on the structure.”
The stripers like to ride the water column, but use the contours at the bottom of the lake, like ditches and saddles formed by old creek beds, to hunt for baitfish.
Wimsatt follows the contours at the depth he thinks is right, and then turns around and does it again.
“The school may be moving around, but they’ll come back to that structure,” he says. “You’ve got to know the water you’re fishing. If you catch a fish near structure, like a crappie by a tree, you’ve got to understand why the fish is there.”
And it’s this combination of technology, knowledge, and intuition that keeps Wimsatt and his clients on the fish.
“A lot of people fish,” he says. “But if you want to catch, you’ve got to stay with your gut. If your gut says the fish are there, be patient, stay with it, and fish hard.”