Lurking in the waters of Lake Palestine are some of the hardest fighting freshwater fish in Texas, and most fishermen just pass them by.
A once popular but controversial species, hybrid stripers are not new to Palestine. They were first stocked in the late 1970s and more aggressively beginning in the 1990s. There was small but enthusiastic following for the fish, but in the early years there was opposition to their introduction from bass fishermen who did not want the fish in the lake thinking they would compete with largemouth bass for habitat and forage.
After 43 years, the arrival of white bass and a resurgence in the quality of bass fishing on the lake, the concern over hybrids has diminished.
Technically, Palestine has been stocked with palmetto bass, a cross using male white and female stripers. The fish are a product of the state’s fish hatchery system. Generally considered to be sterile and unable to reproduce in the wild, they are stocked as a put-and-take fishery.
“Really it has not changed much. They are still roaming open water, chasing the bait,” said guide Tom Mayne.
The draw to hybrids is that they are a hard-fighting fish that can grow to double-digit weights. The Lake Palestine record is 14.77 caught in 1997. They are also popular because like white bass they typically run in schools, and when they begin to feed it can be non-stop action.
The drawback is that they must be restocked on a consistent basis for populations to remain viable for fishing because of harvest and natural mortality. Because of the difficulty in producing the fish some years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has had to develop a priority list based on where the fish are most popular with fishermen. Palestine is well down the list.
The lake was stocked with 767,000 between 2013 and 2017, but was not stocked again until spring 2021 when it received an estimated 337,000. That marks one of the few times the lake has ever received a full stocking or more of 10 fingerlings per acre. The latest stocking was the result of a banner production year.
Stocking regularity, or the lack of it, is important because of the fishes’ lifespan.
“Five-year-old fish are not uncommon, 10 years is the max in Texas,” explained Jake Norman, TPWD Fisheries district biologist.
Norman added that between natural mortality and harvest that the Palestine population was dwindling until the last stocking. Those fingerlings should show up as quality fish in a few years. It takes about three years for the fish to reach 18 inches and another five years with good conditions to top 10 pounds.
For a lake to qualify for hybrid striped bass, TPWD looks for a large forage base, good water depth, open water and milder summer water temperatures. Like most lakes in East Texas, Palestine checks all the boxes.
Mayne does not target the fish every trip because they are not as consistent as they were when the fish were stocked regularly. He does take advantage of them when he finds them while fishing the southern portion of the lake especially in the Highsaw-Ledbetter area and from Stone Chimney south to the dam.
Although he utilizes a Garmin Panoptic LiveScope when fishing, Mayne said just because he can see them does not mean he can catch them.
“I can’t catch them unless they are feeding,” he said.
Mayne targets the hybrids with half-ounce Little Georges or Wingdings, but chartreuse or white Sassy Shads and slabs are also effective. Shad colored topwater lures are also fun when the fish are near or on the surface chasing bait.
“I don’t like anything less than half ounce because I can move it fast. They like moving fast when feeding,” Mayne explained.
When the fish are on the bottom, he lets the bait sink to the bottom then brings it up a crank or two because he has found the fish do not like to move up much.
For Mayne, the best bites on clear days come early and late, while on a cold dreary day they can bite day-long. He finds the best fishing in December and January and again in May and June when they are chasing spawning shad.
When it comes to the perceived conflict with largemouth bass, TPWD’s Norman said it has not been the case on Palestine or the other 20-something lakes where they are stocked around the state.
“It has been looked at quite a bit. They have overlapping prey, but not enough for one to out-compete the other,” Norman said.
He added the two will use the same offshore habitat to an extent, but not to the detriment of largemouth bass.
Related to white bass, which are also prevalent on the lake, fishermen need to be able to distinguish between the two because the limit on hybrids is five per day 18 inches and longer. The easiest way to distinguish the two is that the hybrids will have broken lateral lines along their side compared to solid lines on white bass, and hybrids will have two patch marks on their tongue while white bass only have one.
For more information on fishing Palestine, contact Mayne at 903-279-9083.