Top Spots for Largemouths

Top Spots for Largemouths

Oklahoma is blessed with many places in which to catch bass, but these lakes may be our best bets for connecting with hefty largemouths this month.

The riprapped banks near the Lake Hefner lighthouse are good spots for picking up a few largemouths, like this one caught by Shonn Goodwin of Moore. Don't be surprised if you pick up a few smallmouths as well! Photo by Bryan Hendricks

By Bryan Hendricks

Shonn Goodwin and I were in stitches as we entered the parking lot at Lake Hefner Marina. We were listening to the Sports Animal radio talk show, on which morning host Mike Steely was offering his hilariously pointed commentary on the sports matters of the day. In Oklahoma City the main topic, regardless of the season, is, of course, Oklahoma Sooners football, but on this morning, Goodwin and I were preoccupied with other matters - specifically, bass fishing.

The sun was just breaking over the Oklahoma City skyline, painting the sky with streaks of blue and gray. The wind was fierce, rocking Goodwin's Suburban from side to side with strong gusts. The American flag over the Water Patrol station strained at its hoist, popping in the breeze like corn kernels in hot oil. At the marina, ropes slapped against the aluminum masts of docked sailboats, ringing out like discordant wind chimes.

We backed Goodwin's boat into the water on the marina side of the breakwater, and, like magic, all was calm. With scarcely a ripple on the water, we casually trolled toward the marina inlet, throwing Shonn's handmade spinnerbaits to the edge of the concrete breakwater that towered over our heads. The bass were home, and we quickly picked up a pair as we approached the inlet leading to the main lake.

Directly across the marina was the covered fishing dock, a popular spot for Oklahoma City anglers, especially during the winter.

"I've got this friend who immigrated from Russia a few years ago," Goodwin said. "He's a paraplegic, and, well, he's just one of these guys that always has weird things happening to him. He was over there in that crappie dock fishing one night. It must have been about 2, 3 in the morning. There was an old man and a younger guy in there fishing together, and some old drunk asleep in the corner. All of a sudden, the doors burst open, and a SWAT team rushes in, yellin' and orderin' everybody to the floor and all.

"My friend doesn't speak English very well, and so he thought they were after him for using too many rods. He was trying to apologize and promising them he wouldn't do it again, and it was just total confusion. I think they thought the place was being used for a drug drop or something."

As soon as we hit the inlet, the wind hit us full bore. Goodwin cranked up the power on his trolling motor, and we rounded the bend to the windward side of the breakwater. The fish were biting there, as well, and we caught three more, the biggest of which was about 3 pounds.

"I'm kind of surprised," Goodwin said. "Anymore, you expect to catch smallmouths out here. Black bass are kind of a bonus."

The wind grew even stronger as the morning progressed, and the fishing got weaker. On the other side of the lake, we fruitlessly fished a series of boat docks and pilings in a small cove near a cluster of restaurants, as well as the riprapped banks along the shore. We also fished a long, shallow flat that extends a couple of hundred yards into the lake in front of the restaurants.

"Normally, you can expect to catch some smallmouths in these areas," Goodwin said, "but for whatever reason, it wasn't happening that day."

Finally, we tried the riprapped banks in front of the dam, but the wind and 6-foot waves made it virtually impossible. That trip ended with a whimper, but the flurry of good largemouth bites early made it worthwhile.

Whether it's windy or calm, the chance of experiencing some memorable bass fishing makes Lake Hefner irresistible to many Oklahoma City bass anglers. It has a pretty good population of big smallmouths, and obviously it has some pretty nice largemouths, too.

Also, Hefner is easy to fish. It's mainly just a featureless bowl, with no natural cover. In May, Hefner's bass concentrate around artificial cover like riprap, docks and jetties, or prominent natural features like the big flat in front of the restaurants. If you're new to the lake, you can figure it out fairly quickly.

That's the beauty of being a bass angler not only in Oklahoma City, but in Tulsa, too. There are many lakes that offer excellent bass fishing just a short drive from either of these two cities. Here's where to find it.

LAKE LAWTONKA
One of my favorite bass fishing destinations this month is Lake Lawtonka, near Lawton. Located about an hour southwest of The City, Lake Lawtonka sits at the edge of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. Mount Scott looms over the western side of the lake, providing a backdrop of breathtaking beauty.

As for the fishing, this is one of the top places in the state for catching monster smallmouths. The minimum length limit is 22 inches, and while it's rare to catch one that big, you can almost count on catching at least one that will give you goose bumps. While smallmouths are the dominant bass species, Lawtonka still has a thriving population of largemouths, including some big ones.

An old lake, Lawtonka no longer has much natural cover. It contains mostly rocky structure, but on the south bank, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has successfully colonized the shallows with aquatic grasses. The grassbeds provide excellent nursery habitat for young bass. This is one of the main reasons for the resurgence in Lawtonka's largemouth population.

Shonn Goodwin and I started by fishing the boat docks in the cove, but had no luck. Then we tried the riprap on the breakwater, but with the same result. We finally caught some small largemouths on the pea gravel bank on the north side of the lake. We picked up a pair of bigger ones in the shallow water near an island on the south side, and then we hooked up with a school of sand bass on a mud flat near the dam.

At sunset, we were getting ready to head for the ramp when I picked up one of Goodwin's spinning rigs tipped with one of his handmade spinnerbaits. I cast it to the edge of the riprap, and as soon as I got it up high enough for the blade to make a wake, the surface erupted with a violent strike. I set the hook hard, but it felt mushy. I set it again, but it still wasn't solid, so I set it again.

"Take it easy!" Goodwin admonished. "You've only got 6-pound line there."

"I couldn't get the hook in him, but he's stuck now," I replied, and thus ensued a battle royal. The drag on the reel buzzed and strained as the fish made several long runs and sudden surges, but the line and knot held. I knew it was a smallmouth, but only when it jumped a few feet from the boat did I realize it might be close to that 22-inch minimum.

Unfortunately, we didn't have a net, and with 6-pound line there was no way I was going to hoist him aboard, especially not as lively as he still was. Finally, Goodwin laid down on his belly, reached into the water and somehow managed to lip the fish. It measured nearly 20 inches long and weighed more than 4 pounds.

WES WATKINS LAKE
Located just east of Oklahoma City, near McCloud, Wes Watkins is the best thing going these days for bass anglers in central Oklahoma. Covering about 1,250 acres, it's a small lake that doesn't take you long to learn to fish. Bass fishing is catch-and-release only, so the big ones have never been removed, and it has a lot of them. Unfortunately, Wes Watkins got hit by the largemouth bass virus last year. Nobody knows how serious the outbreak was, but it probably affected the fishing to some degree. Regardless, it's still the best lake in the area.

Basically, Wes Watkins consists of a central portion that's open, with several wide, tree-studded coves. Facing east from the boat ramp, there's one cove directly to the southeast, one to the northeast and another to the northwest.

In May, you can catch big largemouths by fishing shad-colored crankbaits off the bank in the morning, and off channel drops in the coves almost anytime. May is also a great time to use long stick baits, especially in a fire tiger or clown pattern.

If you find a school of largemouths this month, you can catch them early and late with topwaters. Chuggers and prop baits are always good, as are orange floating worms and even soft jerkbaits. Schooling bass hit the surface throughout the day, so it pays to have a rod rigged with one of these lures for that possibility. If they're not feeding on the surface, you can often catch schooling bass deep on Carolina-rigged worms.

To reach the lake from Interstate 40, take the McCloud Exit and go north on State Highway 102 for two miles, and then go one mile west.

For more information on Wes Watkins Lake, call the Pottawattomie County Development Authority at (405) 273-1866.

KEYSTONE LAKE
Because of its proximity to Tulsa, Lake Keystone is home water for many Tulsa-area bass anglers. It's not just because it's convenient to reach, either. Lake Keystone is an excellent place in which to catch both largemouth and smallmouth bass, especially now.

Formed by the confluence of the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers, Keystone is long and narrow, similar to Old Hickory Lake, the legendary bass hotspot at Nashville, Tenn. It has long, sloping points; sharp, deep points; flats; ledges; and rocks. It also has a fair amount of woody cover. In May, you can catch bass from these structures on almost any lure you care to throw.

If you focus on the upper portion of the lake, you'll find clearer water than you will downlake. You can catch some nice fish by fishing crankbaits and stick baits off shallow points. As at other lakes, shad-imitating colors work best, but you might spice things up a bit with a red crankbait, such as a red crawdad Bomber. Bass orient to rocks in this part of the lake. If you can bounce your crankbait off the rocks, the noise and the altered path of the lure will often entice strikes.

In the mornings and evenings, un-weighted soft-plastic jerkbaits can produce excellent results, as can buzzbaits and surface chuggers.

The water in the upper sections is stained, and bass relate more to shallow structure, such as stumps and brushpiles. You can find those features in the backs of small feeder creeks. Jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and topwaters will get bites, but if bass are holding tight to cover you can catch them with tube jigs, grubs or Texas-rigged worms.

If you're looking for big bass at Keystone, Bear Creek is a good place to fish. It's a little bigger than some of the other creeks, and it still has some timber.

SKIATOOK LAKE
Located about 40 minutes north of Tulsa, Skiatook is a great place in which to enjoy some great bass fishing and beautiful scenery this month.

Characterized by deep, clear water and rocky structure, Skiatook doesn't have much woody cover. That makes it somewhat difficult for anglers to catch largemouths on the banks, but you can still catch plenty if you use finesse-style tactics. May is a forgiving month, which means it's a good time to experiment with different things until you find a pattern that works.

A good place to start is along the bluffs. There's still some standing timber and stumps on the ledges, and these areas hold pretty good numbers of largemouth and spotted bass, as well as some smallmouths. You can catch them with Carolina-rigged worms and lizards, but you can also catch them with crankbaits in a shad-imitating color. Pearl is one of my favorites, but don't neglect a fire tiger model. They're excellent this time of year.

In addition, a plastic worm rigged Texas style is a great way to catch fish on the ledges. A spider grub in pumpkinseed and red metal-flake on a 1/4-ounce jighead is also effective. If all else fails, I will use a small spoon, painted blue or red on one side, fished on 6-pound-test line.

Aside from the bluffs, Skiatook also has a lot of shallow mud flats that hold bass. These are studded with stumps and sticks and, sometimes, even bushes. You can catch some nice largemouths by pitching tube jigs at these targets, or you can run a spinnerbait past them. It pays to spend some time on the flats because they always have fish somewhere. If you want to catch a big one, this is probably the place where you'll most likely do it.

VERDIGRIS RIVER
Just a short hop east from Tulsa, the Verdigris River is quietly earning a position as a top bass-fishing destination for anglers in northeastern Oklahoma.

Although basically a barge canal, the main river has enough bankside cover and midstream structure to warrant an angler's attention, but its biggest surprises are in its relatively vast system of backwaters. These are mostly oxbows, chutes and cutoffs of the old Verdigris River channel. These areas are lonely and undisturbed, and they provide excellent spawning and nursery habitat for largemouth bass. Some areas, such as the backwaters of the old Verdigris River channel downstream from Newt Graham Lock & Dam, look like a misplaced Louisiana bayou.

These areas feature an impressive array of cover, including a tremendous amount of standing timber, laydowns and water willow. The bottoms are slick and muddy, but dropoffs, deep holes and flats provide feeding and refuge areas for fish

.

Later in the summer, bass fishing depends on movement of water through the locks. However, in May, cooler water makes it possible to catch bass almost anywhere and at any time on the Verdigris. However, barge traffic still creates current surges. That allows elements to remain dynamic, and it stirs up a lot of food sources that trigger fish to feed. It helps keep oxygen levels up, too, so they will still trigger exceptional fishing this month.

On a May morning, you can catch a lot of bass by casting spinnerbaits and buzzbaits through beds of water willow and other aquatic grasses. Light colors - chartreuse and white - are the most productive.

Tube jigs stuffed with rattles are excellent for fishing submerged and exposed wood cover. Florida-rigged plastic worms work well in this situation, too. Use them also when fishing cuts and backwater points during lock-through current. Shad-pattern or crawdad-pattern crankbaits are productive off main points when current is moving. Carolina-rigged worms and lizards are excellent off riprap and sloping points.

* * *
These are only a few of the many options open to bass anglers living in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas this month. Good bass fishing is waiting just beyond your doorstep. Why not get out there and take advantage of it?

I think you'll be glad you did!



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