There is plenty of great bass fishing in Oklahoma to go around.
We have more lakes and streams than most states along with tens of thousands of farm ponds that offer bass action as well.
No matter whether you fish from the latest and greatest $40,000 bass boat or you fish by walking the bank or paddling a canoe, you can find lots of places that hold largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
OK, well, maybe bass waters are a bit scarce out in our arid Panhandle counties, but in pretty much all of the other 74 counties there are lakes, rivers, creeks and ponds harboring one, two or all three species of black bass.
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Big, wallhanger-class bass are more common than in the past. I remember when I knew of only two bass over 10 pounds ever being caught in Oklahoma. That was back in the 1970s when the sport of bass fishing was just starting to grow and tournament fishing was a really new concept.
These days, a 12-pounder hardly turns a head at some lakes, and the smallest bass on the state’s Top 20 Big Bass list is a 13-pound, 3-ounce whopper from Arbuckle Lake. The top 12 bass on the list are all 14-plus-pounders.
The current state record is a 14-pound, 13.7-ounce whopper from Cedar Lake down in the Ouchita National Forest caught in 2013. The same small lake also produced the previous record, 14 pounds, 12.3 ounces, caught almost exactly a year earlier. Both lunkers were caught in March.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has stepped up its stocking of Florida-strain largemouths. Florida bass and Florida/northern hybrids are the reasons for the numbers of double-digit lunkers being caught in Oklahoma in recent years.
The department released 2.23 million Florida-strain largemouths in 44 Oklahoma lakes in 2013, mostly as fry and fingerlings, but a few hundred adult bass as well. A detailed report showing how many Florida bass were released in each lake can be seen on the ODWC’s Web site, www.wildlifedepartment.com.
Last year’s exceptional Florida bass production at three of the state’s fish hatcheries doubled what would be stocked an average year, said Cliff Sager, a senior biologist with the Wildlife Department.
“We had a good situation this year by having so many fish,” Sager said, which resulted in many more lakes being stocked than would have been stocked in an average year. “Being able to stock 44 lakes, to give so many lakes a shot in the arm with the Florida genetics, that just increased the potential for trophy bass production for years to come.”
Oklahoma is on the northern edge of the range where Florida bass grow so large and the department has had mixed success in past decades with stocking Floridas and Florida/Northern hybrids.
But there have been some notable success stories. Dripping Springs Lake at Okmulgee was one of the first lakes to get a big stocking of the hybrids, and for several years in the 1980s it churned out a lot of 8- to 10-pounders.
Sardis Lake has produced a lot of double-digit bass and, for a while, was definitely the best place to fish for wallhangers.
Other lakes have been producing more big bass the past couple of years.
Arbuckle Lake has been one of the most generous lakes recently for producing whoppers.
In 2013, on two success weekends in January, the winners of two bass tournaments weighed-in five-bass stringers weighing more than 40 pounds each — an average of more than 8 pounds.
Gene Gilliland, Oklahoma’s assistant chief of fisheries who retired at the beginning of this year to become the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society Conservation Director, said Arbuckle is one of the Wildlife Department’s biggest fisheries management success stories.
“Historically, Arbuckle hasn’t been a great bass fishery,” Gilliland said. “It was dominated by large numbers of small, slow-growing bass.” In the early 1990s, he said, the department reduced its stocking of Florida bass in Arbuckle because hatchery production was low at that time.
After 2000, though, hatchery production increased and the Florida bass stocked in the early years of this century grew rapidly.
“Those fish obviously have matured,” Gilliland said. “The fish that we stocked, or the offspring of those stocked fish, are now turning into these trophy bass that are being caught on a pretty regular basis for the last three years.
Fishing pressure may be another factor in Arbuckle’s success, he said. As word spread that big bass were being caught there, more anglers from Oklahoma City and Tulsa and elsewhere began fishing the lake.
“When you have more anglers on a 2,300-acre fishery that is very accessible, the chances of someone catching a big fish generally go up.”
“There may be just as many big bass in other lakes where we have stocked Floridas on a regular basis, like Sardis or Broken Bow, but those lakes are much bigger, which means that the angling pressure is spread across a larger area.”
In those two Arbuckle tournaments in January last year, the winning teams’ stringers weighed 42 pounds and 41.9 pounds. And neither of those winning stringers included the big bass of the day. In one tournament the biggest bass weighed 10.7 and in the other it was a 10.65-pounder.
There isn’t a recent electroshocking report available from Arbuckle Lake, but the most recent report from Cedar Lake, which has produced the most recent largemouth state-record catches, produced impressive results. The electroshocking crews there captured 71.1 bass per hour with way more than half — 41.1 per hour — measuring greater than 14 inches. The biggest bass shocked up by the crew was a 9.5 pounder.
Among large lakes, one of the best electroshocking reports came from Grand Lake, which, for decades, has been one of the most consistently good bass lakes in Oklahoma.
The shocking crews at Grand captured 80.9 bass per hour including 28.7 per hour topping 14 inches. The biggest bass in the sample was an 11 pounder.
Grand Lake is among the state’s most popular fishing lakes for bass, crappie, catfish, sand bass and other species. It is never the lake that produces the biggest tournament stringers each year, but it is always near the top of the list when you average out the winning stringer weights.
While bass fishing at Grand is usually good throughout the year, early spring is one of my favorite times to fish there because of a March/early April pattern that is fun and productive. At this time of the year, lots of good-sized bass are gathering near the shorelines in preparation for spawning, and anglers using suspending jerkbaits or stickbaits can often put together some impressive stringers. Smithwick Rogues, Storm ThunderSticks, Rebel Minnows and similar lures can be very effective. Some anglers customize their stickbaits, adding more weight to make them suspend a little deeper when fished. A bait that suspends 8 to 12 feet deep seems to be a good choice during the pre-spawn period.
Another way to catch the pre-spawn bass is with soft-plastic baits fished on a Carolina rig, behind a swivel and weight, fished around structure near shorelines in less than 20 feet of water.
As spring moves toward summer, after the spawn, topwater baits, then plastic worms, become more and more effective at Grand.
Grand was also the top-performing lake in the latest Bass Tournaments Annual Report from the Wildlife Department, for which the department gathers data on numbers of bass caught per man-hour of angling during tournaments on state lakes.
Grand averaged 124 boats per tournament and the contestants weighed in an average of 442 bass, with the average fish weight being 2.61 pounds. The average winning stringer weighed 17.9 pounds. Some 86.5 percent of tournament contestants brought fish to the weigh-ins at Grand.
Three small lakes produced the best electrofishing results, at least in terms of numbers of bass captured per hour, in the latest report available.
Tiny Carl Albert Lake, a 161-acre municipal water supply reservoir for the city of Talihina in Latimer County, produced 117 bass per hour, with 33 of them topping 14 inches. The biggest bass caught, though, weighed only 3.6 pounds.
Lake Carlton, a 46-acre impoundment also in Latimer County, produced 111 bass per hour with 37 topping 14 inches. The biggest bass there was an 8 pounder.
The only other lake to top 100 bass per hour was Carter Lake where crews captured 103 bass hourly from the 108-acre lake that provides water for the city of Madill. There were only 13 bass greater than 14 inches captured there hourly. The big bass was a 7.6 pounder.
One more small lake that looked good in the electroshocking reports was Chimney Rock Lake near Salina, where crews captured 90 bass per hour, including 40 per hour topping 14 inches. The big bass there weighed 6.2 pounds. Chimney Rock, also known as W.R. Holway Reservoir but just called “Pumpback” by many anglers, is a deep lake built in the hills above Lake Hudson.
The lake is 140 feet deep in places and no gasoline-fueled motors can be used on it. Only electric boat motors are permitted. The dam there includes big pumps, tubes and turbines and water can be pumped uphill from Lake Hudson to fill the lake, then drained back downhill through the turbines to generate power during peak-demand periods.
That creates a unique situation. Most bass fishermen will tell you that when a lake is falling, bass pull away from the shorelines and move deeper and become harder to catch. But because the water can drop so rapidly at this lake, it forces crawfish and minnows to move and seek new cover, so the bass often cruise the shorelines looking for food when the lake is dropping quickly. I’ve fished Chimney Rock and had mediocre action until the turbines were activated and the water level started falling, and then had fast action as the bass got aggressive.
The lake has some interesting structure, including an old, submerged dam, and most of the shorelines fall off steeply.
I’ve been fishing Pumpback since the late 1970s, back when no boats were allowed on the lake at all, and we fished only from float tubes. The lack of shallow-water cover baffles a lot of fishermen, but the lake is loaded with bass and can be generous when the bass turn on.
Most of Oklahoma’s water is in the eastern half of the state, and so most of the best bass lakes are there also. Among them are Grand, Hudson, Hugo and Fort Gibson, all part of the Neosho (Grand) River chain of lakes, Webbers Falls and Robert S. Kerr, both large impoundments on the Arkansas River, plus Lake Eufaula, Skiatook Lake, Sardis, Broken Bow, Hugo, Pine Creek and Tenkiller.
Lake Lawtonka near Lawton is a pretty fair bass lake in southwestern Oklahoma, and Lake Texoma down on the Red River is a good lake for catching both largemouth and smallmouth bass.
At this writing, Lake Lawtonka holds the state smallmouth bass record, with an 8-pound, 7-ounce whopper caught there in April 2012 by angler Benny Williams Jr. from Poteau.
Gilliland said Lawtonka was one of Oklahoma’s first lakes to be stocked with the Tennessee River strain of smallmouths that seem to prosper in lakes. Oklahoma’s native “brownies” don’t do well in still-water impoundments, although they thrive in many streams.
The south-central area has several smaller lakes that, at one time or another in the past 20 years, have each produced numerous trophy-sized, double-digit bass, and still produce a few. Among those lakes are Arbuckle, Humphreys, Mountain Lake, Carter Lake and a couple of others.
Good bass fishing is also available on the long, narrow navigation lakes above and below Webbers Falls and Kerr Lake, on both the Verdigris and Arkansas rivers. Those lakes have a central barge channel, but most have lots of creeks, oxbows and backwater areas where bass are plentiful.
Anglers who like to fish smaller rivers for smallmouth and spotted bass have several streams to choose from, including the Illinois River, Flint Creek, Barron Fork Creek, the Mountain Fork and Glover rivers, plus Pennington Creek in south-central Okalhoma. April, May and June are often great months for catching spotted and smallmouth bass in Eastern Oklahoma streams. Some streams have minimal flows during the hot, dry months and can be difficult to navigate in a canoe or johnboat, but usually by early autumn they are flowing again and ready for excellent fall fishing.
At this time of year, thousands of Oklahoma farm ponds and small watershed lakes, mostly on private land, also produce some excellent bass fishing.
In March, although winter weather conditions can persist, there are often stretches of sunny days that warm the shallows of the ponds and trigger good action. Fishing the downwind sides of the ponds, which may be a few degrees warmer than other areas, is often the key to early-springtime bassin’ success on ponds. Small jigs fished on light tackle are a good choice for springtime fishing. Spinnerbaits also can produce results.
There are quite a few small municipal water supply lakes, most only a couple of hundred acres or smaller, that hold good numbers of bass. Anglers fishing those lakes should check, though, because some small cities require anglers to purchase a local permit or license to fish their municipal lakes.
I think bass fishing has actually improved at many state lakes in recent years, even though fishing pressure continues to grow at most lakes. That may be due, in part, to increased hatchery production and bass stockings at many lakes.
Whatever the reason, it’s appreciated. While there are never any guarantees on any given day of bass fishing, it’s nice to know that it’s still possible to catch a lot of bass at times. And for the next few weeks, chances of catching big, egg-laden female bass in Oklahoma are good. Most state records have been set in February, March and April.
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