Wild About Wipers

Wipers grow rapidly and exhibit greater strength and vitality than either parent species – traits fishery biologists call “hybrid vigor.”
Weston Mosey proudly displays his Lake Pueblo wiper
Weston Mosey and his Lake Pueblo wiper.

Weston Mosey is just 17 years old. But when it comes to his angling expertise, he is wise beyond his years. Mosey, a junior at Pueblo West High School, spends an average of 80 days a year fishing nearby Lake Pueblo (that’s nearly three full months of angling in case you’re doing the math). Mosey is also a member of his school’s fishing team, the Cyclone Anglers, where he competes regularly in local and statewide fishing tournaments. Yet, despite his vast experience, even Mosey was surprised by his catch at Lake Pueblo.

At approximately 6 p.m., Mosey casted a Clown Rogue lure near the dam and hooked into a huge wiper – a fish he initially mistook for a submerged log. “I casted a few times in shallow water and suddenly my line got really heavy,” said Mosey. “I set the hook but nothing happened, so I assumed I was snagged on the bottom.”

Mosey pulled against the dead weight again and suddenly the lifeless “snag” charged in the opposite direction. “All of a sudden, I felt a tug and then the fight was on,” said Mosey. “The battle I had with this fish was just awesome. The drag in my reel kept slipping due to the tension, but I finally got it to the shore after 10-15 minutes.”

mosey with his wiper
Weston Mosey poses with his wiper near Lake Pueblo Dam.

The young angler’s excitement nearly turned into heartbreak when Mosey heard a loud “pop” just as he was about to land the huge fish. “Right when I got it to the bank my knot snapped,” Mosey said. “Thankfully, I already had the fish mostly out of the water. But when I tried to take the hooks out, I noticed several of the treble hooks were bent almost completely straight.”

Mosey’s Monster

Mosey’s monster wiper measured 30 inches in length, boasted a 21-inch girth and weighed 13 pounds. The trophy-sized fish was Mosey’s largest catch to date and also earned him an entry in Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) Master Angler program.

Mosey’s woes of busted line, a battered reel and straightened hooks are common themes when wiper fisherman share fish stories. Pound for pound, wipers are one of the hardest fighting of all freshwater game fish. As such, the tackle-busters have developed a devoted following among warm-water anglers since CPW introduced the hybrid species into eastern Colorado reservoirs in the early 1980s.

Hybrid Vigor

A cross between a striped bass and a white bass, wipers can be distinguished from striped bass by the broken, rather than solid horizontal stripes on the sides of their body. Wipers also grow rapidly and exhibit greater strength and vitality than either parent species – traits fishery biologists call “hybrid vigor.” Depending on forage conditions, wipers can grow up to seven pounds by three years of age and reach in excess of 20 pounds at 10 years of age. The state-record wiper, caught by Kevin Treanor in 2004 at Lake Pueblo, weighed an impressive 26 pounds.

CPW Senior Aquatic Biologist Doug Krieger says the key to catching wipers is understanding the predator/prey relationship that exists in nearly all of Colorado’s warm-water fisheries. “In most of our lakes and reservoirs, the primary prey for wipers is gizzard shad,” said Krieger. “Shad are pelagic, meaning they live in open water just like wipers, and shad are looking to feed on plankton. In the springtime at Lake Pueblo and elsewhere, plankton are at highest densities along warming shorelines. The shad move into these areas looking for a meal, and the wipers move in to feed on the shad.”

Best Time to Target Wipers

For anglers, this means April and May are the best months to target wipers. Fisherman can take advantage of wiper’s springtime feeding habits by casting crankbaits, spinners or other shad imitations from shore or by trolling lures behind a boat in shallow water. Anglers should look for wipers near river inlets, creek arms and shallow bays.

A Blue Fox spinner is a near-perfect shad imitation.
A Blue Fox spinner is a near-perfect shad imitation. Crankbaits, like those made by Rogue and Rapala, are also excellent choices.

Fishing Summer and Early Fall

In summer and early fall when water temperatures exceed 65 degrees, wipers range freely throughout reservoirs and follow shad into deeper water. This time of year, locating fish is half of the battle. The only way to find wipers in summer is to look for large schools of fish “busting” the water’s surface. This phenomenon occurs when wipers prowl beneath schools of shad and then ambush them, causing an eruption of surface activity. Spotting these localized feeding-frenzies can be difficult, especially on large reservoirs.

Surface Feeding

Anglers who spend time scouting for surface-feeding fish can be rewarded with exciting, topwater action.

“Surface feeding almost always happens at dusk and dawn when wipers are most active,” said Krieger. “Anglers can look for gulls diving on the ‘shad boils’ as an indicator of feeding activity, which can be seen from long distances. The birds are a great visual to direct your focus.”

When wipers are feeding on the surface, casting topwater lures or throwing streamer patterns with a fly rod will induce voracious strikes. Fly fishers should break out their fast-action, 8- to 9-weight rods, 12-pound flourocarbon leaders and have fly reels spooled with sink-tip line and sufficient backing material. Streamer patterns for wipers can vary, however, Clouser Minnows and bucktail streamers in silver/white, chartreuse/white and blue/white color combinations are excellent choices. Wipers can be size selective, so it’s important to bring a variety of streamers to “match the hatch” based on shad sizes in specific waters.

Clouser minnows and bucktail streamers are excellent wiper flies.
Clouser minnows and bucktail streamers are excellent wiper flies.

10 Popular Wiper Fishing Locations

  1. Lake Pueblo
  2. Barr Lake
  3. Jackson Lake
  4. Cherry Creek Reservoir
  5. Martin Lake
  6. John Martin Reservoir
  7. Trinidad Lake
  8. Lonetree Reservoir
  9. Prewitt Reservoir
  10. Union Reservoir

Article by Jerry Neal. Neal is the senior videographer and a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

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