Oklahoma offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
Summer is coming, and our abundance of lakes, rivers and streams makes Oklahoma the perfect choice for a family fishing “staycation.”
No state does spring prettier than Oklahoma. The weather is fabulous, and the fish are biting in every part of the state. That combination attracts visitors from around the country, but it also makes it tempting for native Okies to spend their time and money at home rather than blow it on an expensive outing to the Gulf Coast or, heaven forbid, Texas.
After your day on the water, there’s plenty for the entire family to enjoy at these great Sooner State destinations.
Over the last 20 years, OKC has transformed itself into a first-rate tourist destination, and high-quality fishing figures prominently into the equation.
There are a number of lakes in central Oklahoma, but our favorite is Lake Hefner, a municipal water supply reservoir tucked into the northwest corner of the city.
Lake Hefner offers a desirable platter of fine fishing opportunities, including smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleyes, crappie, panfish and catfish. The lake’s small size makes it easy for visiting anglers to fish effectively without wasting frustrating days on trial and error.
The best bass fishing is near the marina. On most mornings, you and family can catch largemouths and smallmouths as soon as you clear the breakwater, but the fishing can be good on the riprap inside the harbor as well.
Work your way around until you get to the riprap banks on the opposite side of the lake at restaurant row. There’s where you’ll want to break out the light-action rigs for a little walleye fishing. You can catch them with small swimbaits or by bouncing crankbaits off the rocks.
Hybrid stripers can appear almost anywhere on the lake, but the most dependable place to find them is near the dam during windy conditions.
Additional fishing opportunities abound at lakes Overholser, Stanley Draper and Thunderbird, the latter of which is one of the state’s premier saugeye fisheries.
If you want to catch a monster smallmouth, you can find them a short drive south at Lake Lawtonka, on the outskirts of Lawton.
Along The Way
Off the water, a visit to the Cowboy Hall of Fame is well worth the time. And, of course, no visit to “The City” is complete without a walk through Bricktown. It’s a renovated section of the Warehouse District that includes a wealth of excellent restaurants and micro-breweries, as well as a number of stores and other attractions.
The State Capitol Complex is nearby, too. The Capitol building has a lot of interesting exhibits, including some cool artifacts from the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters is a few blocks away, and it has some great exhibits that should interest any outdoors-oriented family.
I highly recommend the Oklahoma City Zoo. It’s one of the best in the country.
If you like zoos, Tulsa has a great one too, along with a lot of other interesting attractions to satisfy the family.
T-Town also has some excellent fishing close to the city, including some mighty fine action for sand bass and sand bass/striped bass hybrids at Lake Keystone. It’s an Arkansas River impoundment that doesn’t get near the credit it deserves, but its fishing is well regarded locally. It also supports a healthy smallmouth bass fishery, and it’s a great place to catch big crappie, redear sunfish and catfish.
In May, they’re all biting, but the sand bass and hybrids probably will be the easiest to pattern for visiting anglers that aren’t familiar with the lake.
The easiest way to find them is to watch for schools of sandies and hybrids slamming shad on windswept points. You can catch them with topwater plugs like a bone-colored Zara Puppy or a small Whopper Plopper. Casting spoons and Dardevles are good, as are shad- and pearl-colored swimbaits and Sebile Stick Shadds.
For families with youngsters that like to fish from the bank, Yahola Lake in north Tulsa’s Mohawk Park offers access to fun fishing sand bass, channel catfish and crappie.
Good fishing for spotted bass, channel catfish and crappie also is available at small public fishing ponds at Sixth St. and Mingo Road, and at Metcalf Pond at 11th Street and Mingo Road. The entire banks of both ponds are accessible, and the areas are well maintained. Metcalf Pond is the better of the two and contains largemouth bass, bluegills and redears.
Tulsa’s capstone fishing destination is at Zink Dam, a low-head dam on the Arkansas River at 29th Street and Riverside Drive. Public parking is at 31st Street and Riverside Drive.
When water is churning through Keystone Dam, anglers gather there to catch trophy striped bass. The fish hit 1-ounce bucktail jigs, shad-colored swimbaits, all manner of topwater lures and stickbaits.
The fishing depends on the current so check water flows before you go.
Along The Way
Off the water, the Tulsa Air and Space Museum is a real treat. It’s near the Tulsa International Airport and contains all kinds of air and space exhibits, including vintage military and civilian aircraft and modern fighter jets.
The Gilcrease Museum contains an impressive amount of native American and western art, and the Philbrook Museum of Art contains exhibits of multiple genres.
Kids and adults can burn off energy at the Big Splash Waterpark and Tulsa Laser Quest.
This McCurtain County paradise is a perennial fixture on this list, but its combination of great fishing, beauty and diversity of family-friendly water activities make this one of Oklahoma’s best vacation getaways.
You can fish for largemouth bass, Kentucky bass, smallmouth bass, crappie and walleyes in Lake Broken Bow. You can fish for brown trout, rainbow trout and walleyes in the lower Mountain Fork River below Broken Bow, or you can float-fish for smallmouth bass on the Glover River and the upper Mountain Fork River.
Beavers Bend Resort Park, on the southwest side of the lake, has another portion in the tailwater area. It is the perfect headquarters for your family fishing vacation.
Covering 14,200 acres, Broken Bow Lake is known for its deep, clear water. The lower part of the lake is a good place to target smallmouth bass in May with shaky head jigs.
In the low morning light, before the sun peeks over the ridges, you can catch big smallmouths by “waking” large stickbaits just beneath the surface.
Largemouth bass are eager to play in woody cover in coves and inlets, and also on main-lake points. You can take the kids down the hill from the lodge at the park and catch bass from the shore, but in May you shouldn’t be surprised to catch walleyes there, too.
The upper part of the lake, from Bee Creek into the Mountain Fork River, is highly regarded for its good to excellent largemouth bass fishing. This area contains a lot of shallow flats and inlets that contain a diversity of shallow cover with quick access to deep water.
Trout fishing is excellent throughout the tailwater, and you can wade-fish the shoals and runs. The stretch below the re-regulation dam is gentle and easy to fish from the bank. Remember that the water is cold, especially so in May and early June, so hip boots or waders will keep the kids comfortable.
Floating the upper Mountain Fork River is enjoyable for kids, and the fishing is excellent. Remote pools and shoals contain big smallmouths. Any soft-plastic lure in watermelon/red or pumpkin/red is suitable.
Along The Way
Off the water, Beavers Bend & Hochatown State Park is very family friendly, with a range of amenities. You can stay at the lodge with its great restaurant, or you can camp on the lakefront, or along the tailwater.
You can rent all manner of boats, including canoes, kayaks, personal watercraft, pontoons and houseboats. Some of our most memorable times on Broken Bow Lake have been after dark, when I’ve taken my family out for a slow star cruise under the clear, night skies. There isn’t much light pollution in that part of the state, and you feel as if you can see into the next universe.
Activities include cycling, horseback riding and children’s programs. The park has a golf course, and you can rent horses. A narrow-gauge train takes guests on a scenic tour through the park, and that is always popular with kids.
For more information, contact Beavers Bend & Hochatown State Park at 580-494-6300.
Thanks to the late Merle Haggard, this iconic town is most synonymous with the Sooner State.
One thing the Hag’s tongue-in-cheek tribute did not mention was that Muskogee is also an overlooked vacation destination that combines excellent fishing with a diversity of other activities.
Set up your vacation headquarters at Greenleaf State Park, whose centerpiece is 930-acre Greenleaf Lake. It offers excellent fishing for largemouth bass, channel catfish, bream and crappie.
Generous bank access beckons youngsters, and a kid’s fishing pond offers additional fishing opportunities for guests at no extra charge.
Bass fishing in Greenleaf Lake is good enough to entice serious bass anglers, but the proximity of the Arkansas River and Fort Gibson Lake expands fishing opportunities exponentially.
Mere minutes from the park, the Arkansas River offers excellent fishing for largemouth and Kentucky bass, white bass, striped bass, crappie and trophy blue catfish and flathead cats.
Fort Gibson Lake is one of our state’s best bass fisheries, but it also has sand bass, bream, crappie and catfish. Bank fishing opportunities at Fort Gibson are abundant at the Corps of Engineers campgrounds.
At Lake Greenleaf, bass in May and early June are shallow, and you can catch them on plastic worms, square-billed crankbaits and jerkbaits.
Bream are near the bank, too, and you can catch them with crickets and worms. The best fishing will coincide with a full moon.
Along The Way
Greenleaf State Park offers a wide array of amenities and features that are conducive to family recreation.
Families can stay in 14 cabins with bathrooms, kitchens, heat and air, dishes and linens. All cabins have satellite television. The “Cabin on the Lake” is handicapped accessible.
In addition, the park offers RV and tent camping, various pavilions, swimming pool, swim beach, horseshoe pits, playgrounds, nature center, amphitheater, basketball courts, volleyball courts, hiking trails and an 18-hole miniature golf course.
The park naturalist presents astronomy programs, campfire programs, party barge tours of Greenleaf Lake and hay wagon rides, as well as arts and crafts, storytelling and nature hikes.
In Muskogee, music fans can visit the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, which honors Sooner greats like Woody Guthrie, Neal Schon, Albert Brumley, Carrie Underwood and, yes, the Hag. You can also stroll through Honor Heights Park and tour the U.S.S. Batfish, a World War II submarine. A mast from the battleship Oklahoma is there, too.