Oklahoma's 2010 Fishing Calendar

If you think fishing was good in the Sooner State last year, just wait until you try some of the 36 trips we've targeted for you this year! (February 2010)

This story easily could be twice as long as it is and still only scratch the surface of Oklahoma's diverse and dynamic year-round fishing potential.

"Fishing opportunities have never been better in our state," said Barry Bolton, and he should know. He's Chief of Fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "The variety of species our anglers have available now is really strong."

Although Oklahoma may not often come to mind when it comes to great fishing for species like walleyes, sauger/saugeyes and trout, great fishing for these fish does exist in the Sooner State. So does great fishing for black bass, crappie, stripers, white bass, catfish and even the prehistoric paddlefish.

Start planning your trips now!

JANUARY
Stripers
January is a great month to fish for stripers on the Lower Illinois River for a number of reasons. Most important, from here, is the opportunity to tangle with really big stripers on light tackle. The Lower Illinois is home to a good trout fishery because of coldwater releases from Lake Tenkiller. This time of year, white bass and stripers will run up the river for the chance to feed.

Many anglers choose to fish live or cut bait like they do in other lakes. Those who opt for light tackle and jig-fishing, however, enjoy a great chance to experience some of the best angling action of the entire season.

One of the keys to success in this kind of striper fishing is the ability to adapt to varying water conditions by changing jig sizes and weights to be consistent in presentation. Bring along a selection of weights from 1/6 ounce to 1/4 ounce, and make sure the hooks are as sharp as can be.

Hooking a striper or big white bass will stress your rod, reel and line. Ultra-sharp hooks will help assure a good hookset and give you the best chance of holding up your end of the fight with a fierce striper.

Bucktail jigs tend to present a bulkier profile as you fish them, while soft plastics usually offer a look with more action. I prefer the plastics because color and size changes can be made quickly if you don't need to adjust the weight of your jighead.

Expect to find whites and stripers from the mouth of the Illinois, where it dumps into the Arkansas River, all the way up to Tenkiller Dam.

FEBRUARY
Trout
Oklahoma offers a number of seasonal trout fisheries, but this is the time to head for one of the year-round spots -- that 12-mile section of the Mountain Fork River from the Broken Bow dam down to the U.S. Highway 70 bridge. Anglers can fish from bank or boat and enjoy great action for big browns and rainbows.

Before you leave, check the Wildlife Department's Web site and become familiar with the map that outlines how regulations change in the trout section of the Mountain Fork. There are multiple fishing "zones" noted in blue and red on the map; regulations vary by zone.

Blue zones allow anglers to catch up to six rainbow trout of any size and one brown of at least 20 inches. Red zone anglers may not keep fish smaller than 20 inches, and the limit is one rainbow 20 inches or larger.

You can use live bait and barbed hooks in the red zones, but you must use barbless hooks and artificial lures in the blue zones. I'd opt for going blue and would carry a variety of inline spinners with the barbs pinched down. If you'd prefer to use natural offerings and barbed hooks, it's hard to beat drift-fishing small worms or salmon eggs for big rainbows.

MARCH
Smallmouth Bass
Go to Lake Eufaula this month and fish for big smallmouth bass. March brings with it the magical time of pre-spawn, when the biggest bass of the year begin staging in preparation for their move into the shallows to make spawning beds.

Eufaula is located within easy driving distance of greater Oklahoma City and Tulsa. And at this time of year, the drive can be well worth it.

Look for steep, rocky banks on the main-lake sides of points that open into coves where spawning will take place. Don't move on to the next spot, however, until you've fished along the inside of those points, too. My experience has been that the smallmouths stage on the main-lake sides -- but not always.

My favorite way to fish these areas -- because it's proved to be so effective -- is to position the boat so that the farthest cast I can make lands within a few inches of shore. You're covering the most water by doing that, and you're going to be getting your bait over smallmouths that are staging along the bank you're fishing.

My No. 1 choice in lures is a 5- to 6-inch stick bait that's weighted to be as close to neutral buoyancy as possible. Cast it, crank it down and then begin sweeping jerks -- pausing to reel in slack and let it sit.

The key to success is figuring out how fast (or slow) the lure has to move to interest smallmouths. That can, and often does, change on a daily basis. When the fish are hitting baits moving fairly quickly, you also can try fishing a tandem-blade spinnerbait a few feet under the surface.

APRIL
Paddlefish
Fisheries Division Chief Bolton says it best. "I believe the paddlefishing opportunities in Oklahoma are unequalled anywhere in the country."

Anglers will find these truly large, prehistoric fish in the Grand and Neosho River systems. Bolton mentioned the areas below Markham Ferry, Lake Hudson and Fort Gibson dams as the real hotspots.

The stretch of the Grand River between the Lake Hudson dam and the upper reaches of Fort Gibson would be a great starting point for anyone wanting to catch paddlefish. You'll be snagging them, and it involves using large, heavy rods and reels with very large, very sharp, treble hooks and plenty of weight.

More specifically, you should be using a heavy-action rod of at least 10 feet, with a high-capacity reel spooled with 50-pound line. Your treble hook should be 10/0 or 12/0, and you should be using at least a quarter-pound of weight. Six to 8 ounces would be better if you can handle it. Make long casts and use long, sweeping motions to keep your hook moving. You'll definitely know when you've hooked a paddlefish. They've had millions of years to hone their fighting ability!

Two of the best areas this month are the stretch of river i

mmediately below the Hudson dam, and an area a few miles downstream, adjacent to the Fort Gibson low-water dam. You are likely to find paddlefish stacked up in both areas this month.

MAY
Bass
In past years, this calendar has targeted smallmouth bass in Southeastern Oklahoma streams this month. However, just plain bass is the better term to use. That's because anglers have a chance to catch both smallmouth and largemouth bass now.

More than two decades ago, I got my introduction to bass fishing Oklahoma streams in McCurtain County on the Glover River. On a drizzly afternoon, I spent a few hours catching all kinds of bass in the Glover using the tiny 1/10-ounce 7700 series crawdad crankbait that Rebel still makes.

This bait is hard to beat on Southeastern streams this month, but a 1/8-ounce jig tipped with soft-plastic curlytails also will work. In-line spinners and small safety-pin-style spinners will catch fish, too.

I stick with the little crawdad crankbait unless the bass don't react fairly quickly to it -- say, within 20 minutes. Seriously, if that bait doesn't produce quickly, try something else. Like every lure, there are days when the magic is just not there. You'll know in short order. That's when I switch to the jig.

JUNE
Flathead Catfish
Head for Keystone Lake, just west of Tulsa. Get there a couple of hours before dark and use ultralight tackle with that little crawdad crankbait to catch sunfish. It's a killer lure.

Once the sun sets, set up along steep banks or off a bluff and use those sunfish as bait for big flathead catfish. Angler Tommy Couch caught the state record in June 2009 -- a 76-pounder -- from the Poteau River.

Keystone is one of the state's top flathead fisheries, and flatheads are one of the best catfish you can go after. Anglers generally consider catfish to be more scavengers and opportunistic foragers than anything else. Flatheads just aren't that way.

They've always been aggressive predators -- like the smallish one (around 20 pounds) that came after a nice green sunfish I'd hooked on a fly rod. This was along a steep bank, and the flathead came after that struggling sunfish like a shark in a feeding frenzy. It made two swipes before common sense kicked in and I flipped the little sunny out of the water.

JULY
White Bass
Lake Texoma is known for its stripers, and there probably are readers viewing this who are shaking their heads. "Why is this guy telling me to go there for white bass?"

The main reason is that the fishing can be good this month, and there are times when anglers can get themselves in the middle of something that looks like it's right out of one of the Jaws movies.

Specifically, schools of white bass cruise and "ambush" wads of baitfish in open water. When it happens, you can just about flip a bare hook into the middle of the churning surface film and have a nice white attack it.

This time of year, whenever I'm fishing a lake with white bass, I keep one rod rigged with a rattling, lipless crankbait just for this purpose. As soon as I spy surface activity nearby, I'll move close enough to it for a cast either into the middle of it or, more preferably, just to the far side.

Crank the bait through the middle of the mess and hang on because something is going to hit it. The one thing you need to remember is that these surface-feeding frenzies often end as quickly as they start. That's why it's imperative to keep an outfit ready to go. Get there and start fishing as quickly as you can.

Maybe you have a different favorite white bass lake. Great! Visit it this month, and be ready for an encounter like the one described.

AUGUST
Blue Catfish
"Our blue catfish are exploding around the state," Bolton said, "and they do quite well in August -- a month of the year when other species can be sluggish at best."

He's right. Blues are the perfect fishing target this month, and Eufaula is a great lake to go in search of them.

This month, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more effective method than drift-fishing cut bait over deep flats in the lake. There is another approach that can pay off, though, especially if you enjoy night-fishing.

Find areas on Eufaula where those deep flats begin to shallow up. Spots like those allow you to fish shallow and deep, in the process getting your baits in front of fish that are cruising at different depths. This is a staple of river anglers, who will get up near the head of a deep hole and put baits out in the deep water and also in the shallows feeding the hole.

SEPTEMBER
Largemouth Bass
It's hard to beat pond fishing for largemouth bass this month. As the month unfolds, temperatures generally begin to cool and bass in ponds respond.

I prefer to focus on potholes that I can cover thoroughly from shore -- generally those from 2 to about 10 surface-acres. They're big enough to hold nice bass, but small enough to allow me to fish a variety of baits while casting to pretty much every available spot from shore.

I prefer fishing from late afternoon through dark, and I'll start out with a Texas- or Carolina-rigged worm, crawling it along the bottom. As the evening unfolds, I'll switch to a spinnerbait or shallow-running crankbait, and cast to pockets of shoreline cover until just before sunset.

At that point, I opt for a topwater popper. I'll cast it as far as I can, let the ripples completely disappear, and then pop it back to shore. That is as exciting a form of bass fishing as you'll find, and it's very effective. Just remember to wait until you feel the fish before setting the hook. Reacting to visual strikes often will cause you to miss fish.

OCTOBER
Walleyes
The calendar with this story says walleyes, but the approach I recommend is liable to have you catching nice walleyes along with white bass or hybrids. That is, fishing a shallow-running stick bait, and covering a lot of water with it.

"We have a really good population of walleyes at Canton," Bolton said. "It's head and shoulders above many other lakes."

As fall arrives, those walleyes will hit shallow-running stick baits like a Storm ThunderStick. I generally like fire-tiger because that color seems to work consistently well in the fall.

I like to fish the bait over creek channels no more than 10 to 12 feet deep, and I also focus on points with good underwater structure. Like walleyes, other species will be "feeding up" this month in preparation for winter, and a stick bait seems to be irresistible to them.

As mentioned, cover a lot of water with the lures. This is casting and cranking, not casting and then using jerky, twitchi

ng retrieves. ThunderSticks have a great swimming action on a steady retrieve, which is why I like them for this kind of fishing.

NOVEMBER
Rainbow Trout
Visit the lower Mountain Fork River. Ask around and find out which of the blue sections have been good for six-fish limits of rainbow trout. Start out fishing the most active of the blue zones, but plan on catching a big brown trout.

How do you do that? Maybe you know about this, but many anglers don't. Fish a soft-plastic jerkbait -- in rainbow trout color! Talk about a secret weapon for big brown trout! I guess it's no secret now, but it can still be effective.

This is possibly the single best time of year to fish for big brown trout, and a rainbow-trout-colored soft-plastic jerkbait is a wonderful lure to use for them. I opt for the 6- to 8-inch baits, and fish them un-weighted on 8- or 10-pound line. It's a killer technique. And remember, this trout area has a 20-inch minimum for browns. Using this approach will get you one!

DECEMBER
Blue Catfish
Texoma is the designated location, but you really can catch some nice blue catfish this month on every impoundment in the state that holds them. Plan to fish live or cut bait, and focus on flats and areas with changes in underwater structure.

Channel bends, areas where flats transition from deep water to shallow, and the mouths of coves with main channels close by are your best bets.

Blues can be very aggressive. As pointed out earlier, catfish tend to be more aggressive and predatory than many anglers give them credit for. Add that to the fact the Oklahoma blues can grow to tremendous lengths and weights, and you have all the ingredients for a great Christmas gift -- a huge blue catfish.

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