October 05, 2010
Sand bass are slamming schools of shad on lakes all across the Sooner State this month. Follow this advice, and you can slam your share of the sandies.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By Bryan Hendricks
Every year, starting in March, Oklahoma anglers celebrate the spring sand bass run.
Spurred by their spawning urges, sand bass leave the main stems of our big reservoirs and make their way into the feeder creeks by the millions. Word gets around fast when that happens, and anglers greet them in droves, catching scores of these feisty fighters in water that's often no more than knee-deep.
Unfortunately, that pattern doesn't last long. As soon as they've completed their reproductive duties, the sandies return to the reservoirs and the relative safety of deep water. However, the excitement doesn't have to end. With a little patience and a few proven tactics, you can continue to catch Oklahoma sand bass all through May and well into summer.
SAND BASS SCOUTING REPORT Unlike largemouth bass, sand bass like open water. They don't relate to any particular kind of structure or cover, nor are they partial to specific parts of lakes. Depth means nothing to them. You can find them at the surface, or you can find them 50 feet deep or more. The only thing they care about is food, and so they simply follow big schools of their food supply - mostly shad - around the lake. If you find a big school of shad, you can be certain there's a big school of sand bass nearby.
In May, the traditional method of fishing for sand bass is to wait for a school to drive shad to the surface and then start feeding on them in a burst of fury. For that, you simply wait until they start churning up the surface. Sand bass schooling activity can cover several acres, especially on big lakes such as Eufaula or Texoma. Flocks of gulls follow the fish around as well; shad are easy pickings when sand bass drive them to the top. If you see a flock of gulls, stay close to them because they'll lead you to fish.
Once you see in which direction a school is moving, motor to a point in its path and cast into the melee. It's important to keep your distance because if you run through the school or get too close before shutting down the motor, you'll probably make them sound for a long time.
If you position yourself correctly without disturbing the fish, they'll come right to you and envelop your boat. The surface activity can last for several minutes, but it ends abruptly when the sandies break off the assault. They might come up again in five minutes, or it might take an hour or more.
Once you find them, catching sand bass in May is easy. You can throw topwaters in the middle of a feeding frenzy and catch plenty of small sandies. That's because the smallest sand bass feed at the top of the water column. Bigger ones wait at intermediate depths, and the biggest ones are down below, picking off the wounded, stunned and panicked shad that escape the maelstrom above.
To catch bigger fish, use a white or chartreuse grub on a 1/4-ounce or 1/8-ounce jighead, or perhaps a small white deep-diving crankbait. In-line spinners work well, too. Essentially, that's about all there is to sand bass fishing in May. Now, here's how you can employ those tactics at some of your favorite spots.
LAKE THUNDERBIRD John Gifford, author of Oklahoma Sportfishing (Backcountry Press, 2002), the definitive volume on fishing in the Sooner State, is a huge sand bass fan and he has caught them in nearly every lake in the state. One of his favorite places is Thunderbird, a gorgeous lake practically in his back yard near Norman.
Surprisingly, some of his most memorable outings at Thunderbird have been by accident, usually while trying to catch saugeyes.
"May is a big month for saugeye, so I'm always looking for windy points where the wind has pushed the shad," Gifford said. "I'd been catching some nice saugeye, so I took a buddy this one day. The white bass (sand bass) showed up, and we caught this huge mess of 2- and 3-pounders."
Another time, last May, Gifford was fishing for saugeyes at Thunderbird with his brother. They'd catch a saugeye here and there, and when they'd put the rod down with the bait in the water while attending to something else, white bass would strike the dangling bait.
"Those were all small fish, nothing special, but I don't know how many we caught that way," he said. "That's just a good indication of how many sand bass are in that lake. They got to be a nuisance after a while, so we switched to heavier jigheads just to get the bait past them."
Gifford's main bait is a white curly-tailed grub, and that's what he was using that day. He was fishing it close to the bottom to get down to the saugeyes, but those big sandies wouldn't leave it alone.
While sand bass are not as sensitive to weather as black bass, weather conditions are still important for good fishing. Gifford said he looks for points that have been beaten by a steady wind for two or three days. The wind concentrates shad on windward banks, and sand bass will pin them against the bank.
"Generally, by May, the weather is pretty consistent, and the prevailing winds are from the south," Gifford said. "I like to go to the north side of the lake by Sailboat Marina. Any of those points around there are good. The points around the dam can be good as long as the wind is blowing against them.
"Mainly, you're just looking for consistent weather," he added. "Right before a front seems to be good for bringing up bigger fish. That really entices them to feed."
LAKE TEXOMA Despite its reputation for its great striper fishing, Lake Texoma is equally famous in some circles for its outstanding sand bass fishing. In fact, the lake is one of Oklahoma's best places for tangling with trophy sand bass.
"Texoma is just one of those places where I grin whenever I know I'm going there," Gifford said. "There's just so many fish . . . so many big fish.
"White bass are one of the big-ticket items there," he added. "They attract a lot of people, but they tend to get overlooked because of the stripers."
Again, Gifford goes to Texoma looking for something else - in this case, smallmouth bass. Yet, somehow, sand bass often steal the show.
"We're usually looking for smallmouths on main-lake points at the mouths of the creeks," he said. "Caney and Soldier creeks
are really good this time of year."
Perhaps because of its massive size, and the size of its sand bass population, you can still find sand bass in the creeks this month, just not as many as you'll find in March and April.
"In May, we find they've already spawned, and we usually find them on main-lake points, but there's always a few stragglers back in the creeks," Gifford elaborated. "We work the point at the mouth of a creek, and then work the shoreline all the way to the back. We usually find them along ledges or deep dropoffs."
Later in the month, the sand bass disperse all over the lake, and then it's a matter of finding a school. On Texoma, it takes discipline not to outsmart yourself right out of the game.
"Texoma is so big, it can be overwhelming if you're not up on what's going on," Gifford said. "There are so many places for these fish to live that by May it's just a matter of picking a few places where you've had success before and that you have confidence in. These sand bass roam all over the place, just like stripers. They may not be in one place one day, but they might be there the next. If you fish long enough, you're going to find them."
If you find a school of stripers, Gifford said, you'll probably find some big sand bass in with them.
"They tend to run together a lot of times," he said. "For obvious reasons, you won't find small sand bass with the stripers, either. They'll be of similar size."
One of Gifford's most memorable sand bass trips at Texoma occurred in May. He and a friend were fishing at the mouth of Caney Creek when they encountered a mudline.
"We were seeing a lot of rough fish - carp and buffalo and stuff - in the creeks," Gifford recalled. "We started working this mudline. We came out two or three feet and stopped. Everything came to the point where the mudline intersected it, and we got into a bunch of white bass. They were holding to the breaks chasing baitfish. We caught quite a few, but nothing too terribly big.
"We caught some big Kentucky bass, though," he added. "Now those were nice!"
That's one of the good things about fishing for sand bass at this time of year. You'll catch sand bass, all right, but you'll also likely catch other species of fish.
LAKE EUFAULA Like Texoma, Lake Eufaula is a huge lake with a lot of huge sand bass. For that reason, Gifford lists it as one of his favorites.
"It's just a fun place," he said. "You can catch some monster stripers there, but if the stripers aren't hitting, you can catch all the sand bass you want."
In May, Gifford likes to start below the dam. Again, he's fishing for something else - specifically, stripers. When the generators shut down, the stripers evacuate, but anglers shouldn't. That's when the sand bass really get going.
"When it's hot outside and they're releasing water, I love to fish below the dam," Gifford said. "You never know what you'll catch. I went down there one year with my fly rod. I was using a minnow imitator, something called a Flash Tail. It's got a shiny Mylar tail that extends an inch or so beyond the hook, and it really attracts fish. I just stood on the bank and caught one after another."
On the lake, good fishing can occur anytime in May, especially downlake near places like Porum Landing.
"Porum has been a good area for me, and I just like the looks of the water there," Gifford said. "It's good sand bass water, and there's a healthy population there. You never know what you'll catch."
Another great place is the Highway 9 Landing, near Keota. "I've had good luck there," Gifford said. "That's one of the best places, if not the best place, for sand bass on the lake. There's a riprap dam there where the highway runs over the lake, and I've caught several there in the 3-pound range. I've seen other people catch some healthy fish there, too."
One reason this area is so good is that it faces south, bearing the brunt of south winds. It's also very accessible for shore anglers at the campground.
"I've seen people walk down the rocks and do pretty well there," Gifford said. "When I was researching my book, I spent the night at that campground and just tore the sand bass up out there. It was getting dark, and I could see them busting shad. Sometimes I could barely get my lure out far enough, and I'm sure the action continued well after dark."
ARBUCKLE LAKE A sleeper lake for sand bass is Arbuckle Lake, near Sulphur. It's loaded with sand bass that don't appear to get bothered much by anglers, and the schooling activity is excellent. I've never been there when I didn't see it, and neither has Gifford.
"My dad took my sister fishing there for the first time years ago," he recalled. "He took her to the main lake between Guy Sandy and Rock Creek, and there was a school feeding in this cove. The school moved across the cove, so they staked it out and cast into them. That's where my sister caught her first fish."
Even in May, the ramp at Rock Creek is an excellent place in which to catch sand bass, Gifford insisted. You can often find them on the first long point next to the ramp, and anywhere north.
The first time I ever fished Arbuckle was in 2000 with Mark Jeffreys of Norman. We were fishing for black bass, but we couldn't help noticing three huge schools of sandies working up and down the banks just outside the jetties across from Guy Sandy.
I went back several days later with another friend. The black bass didn't cooperate that day, so we decided to try our luck on these same three schools of sand bass. They made this big circuit, passing in front of the dam, going into a cove opposite the dam and then working back across open water in front of some buoys. We intercepted one school, and I caught several in rapid succession with a clear Zara Puppy.
My friend caught a nice one on a spoon, at which point the trip disintegrated. This guy was obsessed with neatness, you see. Upon exiting a lake, he would spend 30 minutes or so wiping down his boat and making sure it was perfectly dry before getting on the road. All fishing rods were arranged in perfect order, and all tackle boxes were stowed in their proper places.
So he hooked this big sand bass, and as he was trying to lip it, the thing went wild and thrashed the side of the boat with that heavy lead spoon.
"BAM! BAM! BAM!" That sand bass beat the spoon against my friend's beautiful gel coat.
"STOP it, damn you, STOP IT!" he screamed, but the fish just kept hammering away.
He hoisted the fish aboard with a mighty heave, jerking the spoon fre
e and imbedding it in the previously unblemished seat.
That triggered a complete meltdown as my friend morphed into a blubbering mass of profanity.
"I never have ANY fun!" he shouted. "Sometimes I think I'd be better off if I sold the boat, sold the house, divorced the wife and just went away!"
A painful silence settled in between us as the fished flopped helplessly on the floor. I turned away and cast over the bow, hoping he couldn't see my shoulders heaving from laughter, yet knowing it was hopeless. I expected to be whacked across the head with a rod any moment.
After gnawing mercilessly on my lower lip for a few moments, I finally mustered a sober sentence.
"You 'bout ready to go?" I asked.
I got no answer, so I turned around and saw him glaring at me. I reeled in and put my rod away. He started the engine and throttled toward the ramp.
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