I am a striper fisherman, one that proudly patrols the waters of Barnett Reservoir throughout the year looking for the big schools. 

I love them for their powerful runs as equally as I do for their fine eating at the table.

I write that to say this:

Hallelujah, the bite is finally on. After one of the toughest years ever on my beloved stripers, the weekend was one of the best ever.

A bass fishing friend busy preparing for the upcoming (Oct. 17-19) B.A.S.S. Central Open tournament found several schools late last week and texted me the following message:

“Stripers here, hybrids there, stripers everywhere on the main lake... Get your gear... It’s on!”

A subsequent phone call produced what I needed to hear: Big schools of mixed striped and hybrid striped bass had moved to lower main lake structure to take advantage of the early stages of shad migration. They were starting to stack on the first drops along the Rankin County shoreline area known as “off Fannin Landing.”

“You won’t have any problem finding them,” said B.A.S.S. Elite Series pro Pete Ponds of Madison. “I stopped at four of my favorite largemouth holes and caught stripes and hybrids at three of them. Good ones, too.”

Ponds would have enjoyed the action, if not for more pressing duties. He needs to find some good largemouth and begin tracking their movements for the Central Open.

With no such pressing needs, I immediately went into action, spooling up with new 12-pound mono, securing my supply of Bandit 200 and 300 series Crankbaits and Redfish Magic Spinnerbaits for surface action and getting my big fish boxes ready to load on the pontoon.

Three days later — with seven limits cleaned and bagged and dozens more hooked and released — my hands, back and forearms are worn out. My reels need re-spooling and I need more Bandits.

Here’s how it happened:

Day 1, Friday, 1-4 p.m.: Tommy Sutton, just home from his month-on month-off job drilling for oil in Russia, drove up from Columbia to help investigate the striper reports. We found them on the first spot we looked, chosen for its convenience, less than a mile and about three minutes from my pontoon boat’s dock. It’s a shallow hump, rising to 8.8 feet, near a bend in the river on the Madison County side of the lake. It is surrounded by 20 feet of water with the 40-feet deep river channel about 30 yards away, and it is known for its fall and winter production. We found its peak, tossed out a buoy and began by trolling with the Bandit 200s. Second pass, we both hooked up. The bite ended at 3:30, with our box full and just enough time to get ready for high school football. The fish were not on the top of the hump, but instead on the river side in 12-15 feet of water. They were moving around and trolling was a better alternative in the windy conditions.

Day 2, Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.: Sutton and I returned to the hump and in 20 minutes failed to get a bite.

I was not surprised, since the hump rarely gets hot before mid October. We were lucky on Friday but had burned it up. We made the move across the lake to the Rankin County side and started looking for the ridges and humps, out and down from Fannin Landing. The key is locating the first major contour changes — the ridges run north to south — and work the edges of 14 and 15 feet of water where it climbs quickly to 6 or 8. It was where Ponds first found them last week and where Sutton and I really got on them. I idled over one hump, marked some fish and tossed a buoy. We made a few casts with 200s but failed to get a bite, so we set up a trolling line that would allow us to work up out of the 15 feet into 7 and 8. First pass, two fish. Second pass, two fish. Third pass, two fish. We stopped, made a few fruitless casts and went back to trolling. Half an hour later, the limit was in the box and we started playing with pinched-down barbs and caught another dozen or so.

Day 3, Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.: With a weather change rapidly approaching and fishing through a cool, misty rain on a flat lake, my brother Rick Cleveland, former state fisheries director Ron Garavelli and I returned to the Saturday hot spot. Wearing long sleeves and rain jackets, we put a whooping on those fish. The completely overcast skies pushed the fish up out of the deeper areas to the shallow tops of the ridges and points. The stripes and hybrids were in 5 to 6 feet of water and on two occasions were busting shad on the surface. The schooling fish were smaller, about 2 to 3 pounds, with the bigger fish holding underneath. After catching a couple on the surface, we went back to the Bandits and got the big ones. With the tougher weather of the front approaching, we headed to the dock with an ice chest full of fish 6 to 10 pounds each.

I can’t wait for the next opportunity, and until then, Orange Stripers is on the menu tonight for the pre-game Who Dat meal for the Saints game.