Oklahoma'™s Bass Trifecta

If you've ever wanted to try your hand at catching three different species of black bass in one day, here are the top spots to do it in our state.(May 2008)

A crawdad-colored crankbait is a highly effective lure for catching any of the three bass species swimming Oklahoma's waters. In this case, it fooled a smallmouth.

Oklahoma anglers are really very fortunate in having a number of bass species to fish for. Take, for instance, striped bass, white bass and hybrid striped bass: Many chase these hard-fighting linesided creatures up and down many of the state's rivers and lakes.

But the bass trio garnering a lot of angling attention is the largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass. Although not really true bass, being members of the sunfish family, these three members of the black-bass family generate tremendous angling excitement among anglers in Oklahoma.

Our black-bass "trifecta" inhabits several of the Sooner State's top fishing lakes. (Incidentally, Webster's defines "trifecta" as a gambling term describing a bet in which the wagerer not only picks the first three winners in a race but also specifies their order at the finish.)

As you know, our state's bass waters can be unpredictable, but there's one thing you can bet on: If you fish any of the lakes listed here, the odds are in your favor for catching an Oklahoma bass "grand slam."

Let's start out with some basic understanding of these three fish and then examine how that helps determine where to catch them.

LARGEMOUTH BASS
Micropterus salmoides

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's own literature describes largemouths as found statewide in ponds, lakes, rivers and streams. Both state and federal hatcheries have long stocked Oklahoma waters with these powerful fighters. Specimens of the Florida subspecies of largemouth have been stocked in many reservoirs and have interbred with native largemouths. These hybrids grow rapidly, and can produce trophy-sized fish in record time.

During the spring, largemouths are found in shallow, weedy habitat, where both food and cover are available. During the hot days of summer and cold winter months, these fish move to deeper water. Largemouths' varied diet consists of crustaceans, insects, crayfish, frogs and smaller fish.

Spawning activities begin as water temperatures reach 62 to 65 degrees -- in Oklahoma, in April and May. Females typically deposit 2,000 to 7,000 eggs per pound of body weight in the nest. After fertilizing the eggs, the male drives the female and any other intruders from the nest until the eggs hatch and the fry leave. Fry swim in schools until reaching approximately an inch in length.

A highly predatory fish, the largemouth will strike an assortment of artificial lures and natural baits.

SMALLMOUTH BASS
Micropterus dolomieui

According to ODWC biologists, smallmouths occur naturally in many of Eastern Oklahoma's Ozark and Ouachita streams and their tributaries. Fishable lake populations exist in Grand, Tenkiller, Murray, Eufaula, Texoma, Hefner, Arbuckle, and Broken Bow reservoirs.

Smallmouths inhabit clear, gravel-bottom streams in Oklahoma. The best areas to fish for smallmouths within streams are riffles, pools and the shallows above rapids. In manmade impoundments smallmouth bass seek clear, clean water usually with a rocky substrate. Weedy areas along the shoreline, flats off channels and shelves also are good areas to find smallmouths.

Smallmouth bass feed on crayfish, small fish, aquatic and terrestrial insects, worms, frogs and tadpoles. Spawning takes place in the spring when water temperatures reach 60 to 75 degrees, with nests built on gravel bars in 3 to 20 feet of water. The male drives a ripe female to his nest. After she lays her eggs, he searches out a second female, and frequently a third. Each female lays from 2,000 to 7,000 eggs per pound of body weight. Little or no parental care is provided after the eggs hatch.

SPOTTED BASS
Micropterus punctulatus

Common in both the Arkansas and Red River systems, spotted bass prefer clear lakes and streams in Eastern Oklahoma. Although important game fish in Oklahoma, spotted bass have not been widely cultured or stocked.

Spotted bass inhabit flowing streams in Eastern Oklahoma and are more tolerant of slow, warm, turbid water than smallmouths are. In lakes, spotted bass generally are found in deeper water. They prefer rocky-bottomed areas as well as locations with steeply sloping sides.

Crayfish and immature insects make up the bulk of their diet. They also eat small fish such as bluegills.

Spawning takes place in the spring when water temperatures reach 63 to 68 degrees. Males clean out a nest on a gravel or rock bottom, usually near heavy cover. After the eggs are laid and fertilized, males guard the nest similar to largemouth bass, remaining with the fry until they are about a month old.

Now here's where to catch them.

BROKEN BOW LAKE
This mountain lake nestled in the southeast's rugged Ouachita National Forest -- a most scenic part of the state -- covers 14,200 acres. Framed by pine-studded banks, Broken Bow serves as a scenic backdrop for fishing and camping recreation at its finest. The average depth of this crystalline lake is 62-feet with some areas as deep as 200 feet.

Bryce Archey -- Broken Bow Lake Guide Service, (580) 494-6447 -- spends nearly 250 days on the lake each year -- experience that serves him well. "Broken Bow is a great bass lake," he said. "With an awesome abundance of bass, the average-sized catch is smaller than most people believe. However, a few double-digit bass are caught each year, but not every day like some people believe."

Broken Bow yielded a previous state-record largemouth, and is home to the current record -- a 14-pound, 11.52-ounce whopper caught by William Cross in 1999.

Amazingly, Archey has caught the bass trifecta in three consecutive casts. "Actually, I have done it once on three consecutive casts," said Archey. "Most of the lake's habitat holds all three species, so catching all three in one spot is common."

Paul Balkenbush, an ODWC fisheries supervisor overseeing the lake, reported that public access is plentiful here, adding that bank-fishermen usually won't do as well as do boaters. "In May, most of the lake's bass have spawned, and are found in 15- to 20-foot depths," he said. "The bass are in a post-spawn pattern, and, generally, la

rgemouths will be caught around vegetation; smallmouths prefer rocky structure, while spots are in deeper water."

Archey suggested that anglers key on the midlake area and south, naming Egypt, Walford, Cedar, Biggam, Otter, and Bee creeks as recognized May hotpots. He recommended working soft plastics, his favorite color being watermelon, and any natural color combination.

Anglers can expect the largemouths to weigh 2 1/2 pounds on average, while Archey's best is a 9-pound, 1-ounce lunker. Smallmouths average 13 to 17 inches in length and weigh 2 to 2.8 pounds, with Archey's best weighing 5 pounds, 14 ounces. Spotted or "Kentucky" bass will average 14 to 16 inches in length and weigh 2 to 2 1/4 pounds, with Archey's biggest tipping the scales at 4 pounds, 12 ounces.

According to Archey, most of the bass will have spawned in April, but a few late-spawning specimens are always caught on beds during the first two weeks in May.

"Timing is the key to catching May bass," he opined. "The fish are transitioning from their spawning to post-spawn patterns, and some areas you can fish and not catch any bass, and then return an hour later to find abundant fish."

Boat anglers can locate good bass habitat on sonar, looking for long rocky points, underwater islands, flats, and ridges. Smaller baits and lighter lines are in order when water conditions are clear.

For up-to-the-minute fishing reports, log on to Archey's Web site, www.brokenbowlakeguide.com. Balkenbush added that anglers can also pursue all three bass nearby in the picturesque Mountain Fork and Glover rivers.

LAKE TEXOMA
With over 89,000 surface-acres and a maximum depth of 100 feet, this is the 10th largest lake in the entire country. This giant border impoundment is one of the most popular fishing destinations for Oklahomans and Texans alike.

Although Texoma lacks the aquatic vegetation found in most lakes, the ancient reservoir does have adequate rocks, boulders, sunken logs, sandy flats, and stumpbeds to provide great habitat for fish. "Lake Texoma is remarkably well structured in largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass populations," said the ODWC's Paul Mauck.

Though lacking in Florida-strain genes, the lake's largemouths still do remarkably well, although their habitat is less nurturing than that found at other lakes in Oklahoma. "Texoma doesn't have the weedbeds that other lakes have," Mauck remarked. "But with the cover that is available, and with the 14-inch minimum length imposed, we see some pretty nice bass caught there. A legal bass normally will weigh around 2 pounds.

"In May most of the lake's bass have spawned. They will be lean, and mean, and ready to feed, moving from the shallows to water that is a little deeper than the water they spawned in. Traditionally (according to reports I hear from other anglers), the best spots for catching post-spawn largemouths are Catfish Bay, Johnson Creek, Buncombe Creek, Newberry Creek, Alberta Creek, Soldier Creek, Caney Creek, and Little Mineral Creek. Most of the bass in those areas are going to be in the coves and near the boathouses, where they can find some cover."

Mauck was most excited about the lake's smallmouth bass population, reminding me that the lake has produced at least five previous state records. "Texoma's smallmouth bass continue to be good," he said, "and we have successful reproduction each year."

Popular sorts of spots to probe for smallmouths are at the rocky riprap areas near the bridges.

In the view of professional angler Edwin Evers, anglers can catch spotted bass by targeting deep rocky areas found abundantly throughout the lake. His favorite spotted bass tactic: fishing a finesse worm on a drop-shot rig. Jewel Akins' jigs in a variety of colors also catch spots.

LAKE EUFAULA
At 102,000 surface-acres, this lake is the state's largest, featuring a significant amount of the long, wooded creeks that are a bass angler's dream.

This vibrant fishery in the southeast is home to all three species of black bass. I've caught each species of bass there, and one of my fishing partners, Chris Strickland, even caught a relatively unknown "meanmouth" -- a hybrid of a smallmouth and a spotted bass. The unique fish lived up to its reputation, while exhibiting amazing coloration that resembled both species.

If you fish Eufaula on a windy day (and, to be honest, Oklahoma has very few days without a breeze), concentrate on the long rocky points that line the lake. These rocky spots are ideal pre-spawn habitat where bass suspend and feed on baitfish. If you watch your fish locator, you'll find balls of shad congregated near the windy points -- and you can bet the boat that the bass are nearby.

One of the finest professional anglers I've ever fished with, Todd Huckabee possesses a knowledge of Eufaula that amazes me. On the lake can be found spots specifically and obviously appropriate for whatever variety of bass you're after, he asserted.

"If I wanted to catch a trophy largemouth, I would fish the shallow areas of Longtown, Hospital Cove, Brooken Cove, Belle Starr or Porum," he offered. "I would definitely use a Booyah Glow Blade spinnerbait in chartreuse color. And if I wanted to catch spotted bass I would fish the clearest water I could find, like Longtown, and fish near brushpiles or boat docks using a 4-inch Yum Dinger in pumpkin/chartreuse colors. For trophy smallmouths I would fish a Smithwick Rogue from Standing Rock to the dam."

LAKE MURRAY
Pro angler Jeff Kriet grew up on Lake Murray, previously worked as a guide there, and now spends a significant amount of time plying its waters. He regards it as an excellent lake in May, during which he's caught some of his largest bass. "Murray is infested with smallmouth bass," he said. "I have caught several there over 6 pounds, and you can catch some nice largemouths there as well."

Kriet's favorite tactic in May involves fishing a jerkbait near the middle of the lake. He also fishes rocky points, using crawdad-colored crankbaits that run 6 to 8 feet deep. Some days he has his best success by throwing a 1/4-ounce double-tailed, skirted grub by Kinami around secondary points; he's found that the fish generally are in 3 to 10 feet of water. His favorite colors are watermelon or green pumpkin.

"The lake is absolutely full of 1- to 2-pound smallmouth bass," Kriet asserted. "You can literally catch and release 50 or more a day."

Bob Myers, another lake expert, fishes Murray often. According to him, the average Murray smallmouth will weigh 1 1/2 pounds. Like Kriet, he noted that the lake has some huge smallmouths. He advised anglers to try the Three Fingers area, Marietta Landing, and the Quarter Mile Dock area.

Myers prefers to use relatively light line in the 10- to 12-pound-test range, and to cast br

own jig-and-pig combinations in waters 15 feet deep and shallower. "Although I catch a lot of smallmouths on a jig, I caught my best one on a root beer and chartreuse Bandit crankbait," he said.

Anglers wanting to target spotted bass should concentrate on the deep-water areas around boat docks and long rocky points. Best baits are football-head jigs in peanut butter-and-jelly colors, and pumpkin.

ARBUCKLE LAKE
A beautiful clear-water lake nestled in the Arbuckle Mountains just north of Ardmore, this is a southern lake that Kriet spends a fair amount of time fishing. The avid angler is quite fond of this bass factory, regarding it as one of the state's best springtime spots for catching a 10-pound bass.

"Arbuckle is a great place to catch a giant bass in May," he opined. "And it's nothing to catch a 6- to 7-pound bass there, and I know of several 10-pounders that have been caught as well."

Kriet exudes enthusiasm when he talks about the lake's newly grown hydrilla, an aquatic plant known to be a favorite for big bass to hide in while they wait to ambush prey. "This vegetation is not coontail moss or another kind of underwater plant," he exclaimed. "It is hydrilla!"

The savvy bass angler knows from fishing the top lakes in the nation that when you find hydrilla, you have the right habitat to catch a heavy stringer.

Arbuckle anglers also catch a fair share of spotted bass and some fat smallmouths. Yes, that's correct: Like several of the state's top lakes, Arbuckle also boasts a great population of trophy smallmouths.

Biologists have reported that the lake's Kentucky bass are flourishing. Though smaller on average than are largemouths, Kentuckies are found in conventional spotted bass habitat.

FINALLY
May is a fantastic month for venturing out to sample some of the state's finest lakes and streams already mentioned. Maybe now's the time for your quest to catch the Sooner State's bass trifecta. One thing's for sure: Our famed bass trio is destined to test your angling skills, guaranteed to burn the gears in your reel, and sure to put a bend in your favorite bass rod!

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