Deer and duck seasons are scrapbook memories now, and Oklahoma sportsmen are itching to fish.
We’ve picked a good time to catch the fever because all of our favorite game fish are biting in lakes, rivers and streams all over the Sooner State.
Don’t let the cold weather discourage you. The days are getting longer and warmer, and you won’t notice the chill when the fish are biting.
We’ve got some great largemouth bass fishing all over Oklahoma, and some fabulous places to catch smallmouths, too. A mess of fried Kentucky bass would help take the chill off a cold winter night. Speaking of skillets, we’ve got some fine walleye fishing in places, and even better crappie and bream fishing. If I want to give my tackle a real workout, I can catch big stripers and hybrids, and some great big catfish, too. I can catch sand bass and saugeyes around the state, and I can catch some trout in a few of our rivers. Enough talk! I’m ready for some fishing action, how about you? OK, so let’s get after it!
JANUARY – Lake Hefner Walleyes
The new year arrives fierce and cold in the Sooner State, but warm clothes and a Thermos full of hot coffee will brace you for the biting winds of Lake Hefner.
This water supply reservoir supports an excellent walleye fishery in the northwest corner of Oklahoma City, and its small size makes it easy to fish, especially with modern electronic graphs.
On sunny days, target walleyes on dropoffs with soft-plastic flukes, jigging spoons, or deep-diving crankbaits like the Wally Diver.
In the mornings or on overcast days, you can catch walleyes with square-billed crankbaits on the riprap across the lake from the marina, and also at the edge of the marina breakwater.
If walleyes don’t cooperate, slowly troll deep-diving crankbaits or live minnows on bottom-bouncer rigs along breaklines, and also across the lake in a crisscross pattern.
If you find fish on a graph, you can also catch them by tightlining minnows.
FEBRUARY – Sooner Lake Largemouths
Bitter cold days means a spike in demand for electricity, and those can be great times to catch giant largemouths in the warmwater discharge area at Sooner Lake.
This 5,000-acre reservoir in Noble and Pawnee counties near Red Rock cools an Oklahoma Gas and Electric coal-fired power plant. When the plant is generating power, baitfish concentrate in the warm discharge water. They attract game fish, making this a prime area to catch big largemouths at a time when the fishing at other lakes is comparatively slow.
The best way to catch big largemouths in February is to cast swimbaits in the warm water. You might have to experiment with size, but big fish, as a rule, generally go for big baits at this time of year.
While soft-plastic swimbaits are standard, don’t hesitate to throw big jointed swimbaits, especially in a rainbow trout pattern. Bass in Sooner Lake are not conditioned to prey on rainbow trout, but these lures consistently catch big bass wherever I use them.
MARCH – Grand Lake Largemouths
As it demonstrated in last year’s Bassmaster Classic, Grand Lake is a phenomenal bass fishery in March, and it can give up large numbers of big bass if the conditions are right.
“Right” conditions include a string of sunny days that warm the water in the coves and tributaries. You’ll see bass cruising in shallow water in places like the Elk River, where Edwin Evers of Talalla won the Classic.
Evers caught five bass weighing 29 pounds, 3 ounces on the last day of the 2016 Classic to win the tournament. That’s nearly a 6-pound average, and it equaled his total weight for the first two days. He caught his fish on the third day fishing deep cuts with a 5/16-ounce Little Andy’s custom jig and a Zoom Critter Craw trailer.
Evers said the jig was important because it is one of the few jigs that is still made with “living rubber” skirts, which he said is crucial for fishing highland reservoirs.
APRIL – Lake Eufaula Crappie
Covering more than 102,000 acres, the “Gentle Giant” of Eastern Oklahoma is a crappie angler’s dream. It is loaded with a tremendous number of artificial brushpiles where crappie concentrate, but it also has abundant natural cover along the banks and astride creek and river channels in the tributary arms.
You’ll catch the most and biggest crappie this month near brushpiles. These will mostly be females that have moved back to deep water to recover from the spawn.
The most dependable way to catch them is to anchor a few yards downwind of a brushpile and cast a 1/32- or 1/64-ounce jig with a small, soft-plastic, shad-imitating trailer a few yards upstream. Count the lure down to the depth of the brushtop and reel very slowly. The jig should nick the top of the brush. If crappie are in the brush, you can expect to catch a mess, and most of them will be large.
MAY – Lake Skiatook Hybrids
A combination of big fish and good numbers make Skiatook an attractive destination, but it’s also conducive to anglers using a lot of different tactics.
You’ll usually find hybrids in May over deep structure like mid-lake humps and deep points. My favorite way to catch them is to cast large spoons weighing up to 2 ounces. Let the spoon fall to the bottom and then reel it back. Strikes usually occur on the retrieve within a few cranks from the bottom.
This is the best way to catch big hybrids, but you should also keep a rig handy with a topwater plug in case you encounter schooling hybrids. You’ll catch decent fish on the surface, but bigger ones wait beneath the school to pick off shad that get cut off from their own school. A spoon works its magic in this environment, too, but a heavy spoon sinks quicker to reach big fish before the smaller ones get it.
If hybrids shy away from artificial lures, you can fire them up with live bait.
JUNE – Lake Holdenville Bluegills
If you want a mess of tasty big bluegills for a fish fry, you’ll catch them at this 550-acre water supply near its namesake town.
This is my favorite bluegill destination in Oklahoma because it never disappoints. Its small size makes it ideal for fishing from a small boat.
In June, you’ll find bluegills protecting nests in shallow water. With the aid of polarized sunglasses, the saucer-shaped nests are easy to spot.
You’ll have consistent success fishing live crickets under bobbers or slip-sinkers, but this is a prime time to catch them on fly-fishing gear, too. Any kind of nymph will work, including flashbacks and bead head squirrel-tail nymphs. This fishing is best in the early morning and late evening when insect hatches occur. Many strikes will come as the lure falls, but you’ll catch as many or more on the rise.
If you really want some fun, cast popping bugs over spawning areas. Short pops will make chugs and ripples that bluegills can’t resist.
JULY – Arkansas River Sand Bass
The white bass, or sand bass as we call them in Oklahoma, is one of our most popular game fish. They inhabit all of our major lakes and rivers, they are abundant, and they fight ferociously. They can get large, too, but 2- and 3-pounders are most common.
The McClellan-Kerr Navigation System, a series of Arkansas River impoundments stretching from Catoosa to the Arkansas state line, is full of sandies, and they’ll bite in July when other fish won’t bite anywhere else.
Cast small topwater plugs, in-line spinnerbaits or even small casting spoons to fish schooling near sandbars. Small swimbaits, no longer than 3 1/2 inches, on 1/8-ounce or lighter jigs can be extremely effective at catching schooling sandies.
If the Arkansas River watershed has received a lot of rain, heavy current will energize sand bass. You can catch some giants in the gaps between the main river and overflow pools, especially near the locks and dams. Those fish will hit small, square-billed crankbaits, which are resistant to snagging in the rocks.
AUGUST – Arcadia Lake Blue Cats
This 1,820-acre lake on the east side of Edmond has, in recent years, quietly become one of Oklahoma’s best catfishing lakes for channels, flatheads and, of course, the hard-fighting, tasty blues.
Arcadia is especially attractive because you can fish a lot of it from the bank. Blues exceeding 60 pounds are known to inhabit Arcadia Lake, but you can expect to catch them in the 5- to 10-pound range.
One great way to catch a lot of eating-sized blue cats is fishing CJ’s punch baits over bottom structure under a big slip-cork. CJ’s baits come in a variety of recipes, but the bluegill or shad recipes will be very productive this month.
Arcadia Lake has a lot of brushpiles, and while we associate them with crappie, they also attract a lot of baitfish, which means you’ll also find catfish nearby.
If you want to catch bigger cats, try slabs of cut bait on a heavy dropper rig near brushpiles, in troughs and near dropoffs. Current energizes catfish, and these little conduits can produce some big bites when water is moving.
SEPTEMBER – Lake Tenkiller Crappie
Though best known for bass, Lake Tenkiller is a stellar crappie fishing lake that is great in the early fall when the crowds have gone home.
In September, you’ll find crappie suspended in flooded timber and brushpiles in depths of 12 to 16 feet on channel edges. Those are fish highways in the fall, and crappie wait along the channels to ambush prey.
Counting a light jig down to a brushtop is an effective way to catch fish at Tenkiller. Using a 6-foot ultralight rod and 6-pound-test line, cast a 1/16-ounce weedless crappie jig tipped with a variety of soft-plastic shad imitators, including 1 3/4-inch Crazy Angler Tackle Slab Bandits in salt-and-pepper, black shad and pearl truse.
Another good bait for brushtops is a 2 1/2-inch Fle-Fly Crappie Kicker.
in pearl/chartreuse and firecracker. The tail is almost as long as the body, and so it has a little more action than other baits.
OCTOBER – Chimney Rock Smallmouths
Known also as W.R. Holway Reservoir and “Pumpback Lake,” this 785-acre reservoir on the east side of Lake Hudson is one of our state’s best and most interesting bass lakes — and it really shines in the fall.
Big pumps fill the lake with water from Hudson Lake, and the water flows back into Hudson through hydropower turbines. This double-directional flow creates a unique dynamic that seems to anchor bass to the shoreline.
More than most lakes, bass at Chimney Rock are current oriented, and you can catch them with crawdad-imitating soft plastics near the bank. Exposed hook points and weights are prone to snag in the rocks, so I use tubes with internal weights that allow them to slip in and out of the rocks.
Small swimbaits, like a pearl-colored Zoom fluke on a 1/16-ounce head, can be effective in a generating cycle, but suspending stickbaits and lipless crankbaits can produce very satisfying results.
NOVEMBER – Lake Konawa Largemouths
For years, this cooling reservoir near Konawa has been billed as Oklahoma’s best bass fishing lake. If it isn’t, it’s close to the top in terms of quantity and quality of bass, and November can be a great time to catch both.
Like Sooner Lake, Konawa’s warm discharge area is the ticket in cold weather, and you can catch a trophy largemouths with any cast.
Use the same techniques that we recommended for Sooner Lake in February, and you’ll do fine.
DECEMBER – Lower Mountain Fork Trout
Let’s end the year fishing for monster brown trout in the lower Mountain Fork River below Broken Bow Dam.
In December, my favorite area is Zone II, between the Beavers Bend State Park Dam and the Reregulation Dam. You can use only artificial lures and barbless hooks there, and the minimum length limit for all trout is 20 inches.
Cold weather and water doesn’t bother trout, but they respond favorably to insect hatches, and big fish respond especially well to current and rising water.
Sowbugs are main forage items for trout in the lower Mountain Fork, and so you usually can catch fish on black or olive Woolly Buggers.
Match the hatch if you want to catch rising trout on dry flies.
To catch monster trout, remove all the treble hooks from a stickbait and replace the middle hook with a barbless, single-point hook. Big browns usually attack such a bait broadside, and that is a good way to catch a trout for the photo album.