How lucky we Oklahoma anglers are to live in a state with lots of varied fishing opportunities!
Thanks to an abundance of water, especially in the eastern half of Oklahoma, we can fish year-round for a variety of species.
Even in the coldest winter and the hottest summer months we have lakes and streams that offer up black bass, crappie, walleyes, sauger, catfish, sunfish and more. We even have trout, thanks to our Wildlife Department’s stocking program, as well as a few municipal trout ponds where rainbows are stocked each winter.
Let’s look at some of the most promising options, month by month, throughout 2012. The options listed here, based on experience, are A-1. But they certainly aren’t the only times and places when and where these species can be caught.
Thank goodness for total-electric homes and businesses.
No, I’m not a stockholder in an electric utility company. I say that because in midwinter when the weather is cold, lots of electricity is needed for running all those electrical heating devices, just as it is needed in the summer for air conditioning. That means that hydroelectric dams are often generating power in midwinter, and when the turbines are running, that usually means good fishing in the tailrace waters below.
Below the dams on the Arkansas and Red rivers, as well as on the Canadian, Neosho and Kiamichi, striped bass move into the tailrace waters to feed on dead or wounded shad sucked through the turbines and discharged into the stilling basins below. Opening the turbines can be like ringing the dinner bell for hungry stripers. They wait in deep holes downstream, and then crowd into the spillway area when the water starts flowing.
Tailrace fishing is a specialty. It usually means using longer rods and making very long casts to deliver baited hooks or lures to the most productive areas. Anglers fish from the shorelines using rods of 9 to 16 feet, or fish from boats tied to the buoyed cables that mark the upper limits for navigation below the dams.
Some anglers also use small, remote-controlled boats to carry their baits up into the stilling basins. Or, when the wind is favorable, they use balloons as floats and let the wind push their baits toward desired areas.
Live shad or big, lively minnows or small sunfish can be productive baits.
At times when using live bait, an angler might catch as many catfish as stripers, for the catfish also come to dine when the turbines are running.
Those who prefer using lures may choose big topwater plugs, jerkbaits or small jigs fished beneath casting corks. All of those can be effective at times and it’s a good idea to have all of them available.
At some of the dams you might also catch big striped/white bass hybrids mixed in with the stripers, or lots of big white bass.
The best-known tailrace areas for striper fishing include Kaw, Keystone, Webbers Falls and Kerr dams on the Arkansas River. The smaller dams below Kerr can also be productive. Eufaula and Fort Gibson dams are excellent at times. Sometimes good action is available below the Hugo Lake Dam for stripers that have moved up from the Red River.
And good action for hybrids can sometimes be found below Oologah Dam, Pensacola Dam at Grand Lake, and the Markham Ferry Dam at Lake Hudson. One other area worth trying is the low-water dam in midtown Tulsa, on the Arkansas River, at 31st Street.
Wintertime crappie fishing can be excellent at many Oklahoma reservoirs in February, but one of my tried-and-true favorites is big ol’ Lake Eufaula. That 102,000-acre lake is loaded with manmade brushpiles, which are the keys to finding crappie at this time of year — before the crappie move to shorelines to spawn.
A good sonar unit is invaluable for pinpointing the location of offshore brushpiles that lie beneath the surface. Marking the locations of brushpiles with a GPS unit makes it much easier to return to those spots later.
Jigs or minnows are both effective, although there definitely seem to be days when one works better than the other. Over the years I’ve found that smaller chenille-and-marabou jigs seem to work well early in the season, and that tube jigs and small grubs start working better as spawning season nears and the fish move toward the shores.
March weather in Oklahoma is unpredictable. We can have long stretches of mild temperatures and sunshine, or late-season blizzards with lots of sub-freezing temperatures. But unless we’re having an unusually harsh spell of weather in March, that’s usually the month when bass in ponds and small lakes really seem to get aggressive.
While you might coax a strike or two with topwaters or plastic worms, I recommend using small spinnerbaits or jigs and working the shallows, especially on the downwind side of the ponds on sunny days. When the sun warms the surface waters and the wind blows the warmest water toward the downwind shore, it can be several degrees warmer there than on the lee side. That minor temperature difference often seems to make the bass more cooperative.
It is estimated that Oklahoma has more than 200,000 farm ponds covering roughly a half-million acres. Just make sure to get permission to fish the ponds on private property.
I fished for crappie for many years before someone taught me how to “doodlesock” in the shallows for spawners in the spring. But after I learned to probe flooded willow thickets and shoreline bushes for spawning slabs, Grand Lake quickly became one of my favorite spots for that technique.
Many of Grand Lake’s tributaries have big stretches of shoreline covered with willows. And many Grand shorelines are lined with manmade, shallow-water brushpiles. In the upper lake, along the edges of the Neosho River channel, there are lots of laydown logs mired in the silt.
All of those places attract spawning crappie in the springtime and it’s possible to catch a limit of crappie and never fish more than a couple of feet below the surface.
Tie on a jig and drop a foot or two of line down from the end of the rod; work the jig vertically along side willow trunks, logs, or in between the branches of buttonbush.
I like to beach my boat, or tie it to a tree, and hop over the side while wearing waders. It’s easier to probe every little nook and cranny carefully while wading. Of course you can do it from the deck of your boat, but because it’s really close-quarters fishing, you might spend as much time fighting the trolling motor as you do fishing if you’re doodlesocking on a windy day.
Crappie may spawn anywhere from late February to mid-May in Oklahoma, but for most northeastern Oklahoma lakes the action usually peaks in mid-April to early May.
Check out page two for your best Oklahoma Fishing options for May, June, July, and August.