When wipers prowl the shallows of warmwater reservoirs in spring, the elusive open-water predators bring the excitement of their speed and power within the reach of anglers on shore.
Wipers, the hybrid cross of white bass and striped bass, rank among the hardest fighting freshwater game fish in America, due in part to the phenomenon known as hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor is the term that biologists use to describe the enhanced strength and stamina that occurs in the sterile offspring of two closely related but different species. The mule is one example; the wiper is another.
During most of the year, schools of wipers roam the depths, where they are difficult for anglers to pinpoint. However, when water temperatures rise above 60 degrees in spring, smaller groups of wipers break away from the schools to forage on gizzard shad and other forage fish in shallow water. This opens a window of opportunity for anglers to intercept wipers that are cruising shoals, shoreline flats, and the gently sloping points of reservoirs on the eastern Plains and the Front Range.
Wiper enthusiasts also can locate schools of feeding wipers by watching for “wiper boils”, the raucous disturbance created by a school of wipers herding a school of shad to the surface and then charging in and feeding furiously on the frenzied baitfish.
Gary Crum of Pueblo West keeps a close watch on the wipers at Pueblo Reservoir. “I fish for wipers every morning and evening that I can,” Crum said, “and even on the mornings when I have to work, I drive out to Liberty Point and watch for wiper boils with a spotting scope.”
Crum is not alone in his infatuation with wipers. He is part of a tight-knit group of fellow fishing addicts that share information and combine their efforts in following the movements and feeding activities of the reservoir’s roving bands of wipers.
“There are about a half dozen of us out here that are buddies and that is what we do – chase wipers,” Crum said, “It is great to have a bunch of guys that you know and trust that they release the big fish. We usually have guys on the lake in boats but we also watch the lake from the cliffs,” Crum said, “We have one guy that sits at the west end in the morning and one guy that sits at Liberty Point watching the east end. From those spots we can see most of the lake and then call if we see something.”
The group weighs and releases nearly all the wipers that they catch. Most of the fish weigh around 5 to 6 pounds, but many weigh more than 10 pounds. This spring, their largest wiper to date weighed 15 pounds.
Now is the time of year when fly fishers also may join in the action. Catching wipers by any method is great fun, but catching them on a fly rod is in a league by itself. Long-distance casting, jolting strikes, and dogged battles with a powerful and stubborn fish are all part of a game that reaches a higher plateau when played with fly rods.
When wipers patrol the shallows, they can be taken on both streamers and top-water flies. Brightly colored streamer flies that imitate the silvery-white shad, such as Lefty’s Deceivers, Clouser Deep Minnows, and Brook’s Platinum (white) and Honey (yellow) Blondes, are especially effective when retrieved in quick jerks. Wipers also will hit bass flies such as deer-hair poppers and sliders, and floating minnows when skittered across the surface.
Wipers usually like a fast-moving meal. After casting the streamer, point the rod straight towards the fly and start stripping in the line with fast snaps about 6-inches long. The faster the better – at times, wipers like a chase. When a wiper hits a fast-moving fly, it usually overtakes it from behind, grabs it, and then makes a U-turn. This stops the line stripping cold, and the strike is telegraphed to your hands like a jolt of electricity. The wiper will set the hook. All you have to do is to hang on to the rod.
The state-record wiper was landed on a fly rod at Pueblo Reservoir in 2004. The wiper measured 37 ½ inches long and weighed 26 pounds 15 ounces, beating the previous Colorado state-record by three pounds, and coming within six ounces of the all-tackle world record.
Wiper hot spots include Pueblo, Nee Gronda, Nee Noshe, John Martin, North Sterling, Prewitt, Lonetree, and Trinidad reservoirs. Wipers may be caught using a variety of methods, including trolling crankbaits and fishing from shore with bait.