February 28, 2012
When March rolls around each spring it is time to march down to the banks of your favorite farm pond and enjoy some good bassin' action.
Yes, there may be icy, snowy days when fishing will be poor in northern Oklahoma. Winter often hangs around for a while in some parts of our state. But a spell of mild, sunny weather can also trigger some excellent farm pond bass fishing.
I used to be the outdoor editor for a Tulsa newspaper and my job allowed me to spend a lot of time with a fishing pole in my hands. There were several years when I logged more than 100 days a year on the water, and I usually kept a journal with details about when and how fish were caught, weather conditions, and more.
Year after year, I found that those nice days in March, when the sun was shining and the temperatures were in the 60s or higher, produced topnotch bass fishing in farm ponds.
A friend and I one March day fished three ponds south of Tulsa and noticed that on all three ponds we caught more bass on the downwind sides of the ponds than on the upwind sides. We speculated that the sun-warmed surface water was blowing to the downwind side and that maybe the fish were more active there because of it.
So I purchased a small probe thermometer and began checking water temperatures at various spots in ponds as I fished them.
Sure enough, on sunny spring days the water was often several degrees warmer on downwind shorelines than it was on the upwind side. With few exceptions, the fishing action was better in the warmer areas. Keeping that in mind served me well on many later fishing trips. It still does.
It was even more pronounced when the wind was from the south and the shallower portions of the ponds were on their north sides. On ponds like that, the difference in temperatures between the colder south sides and the warmer north sides could be 12 degrees or more!
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The winds and weather are fickle in March in Oklahoma. One day the wind comes howling down from the north at 40 mph and the next day there's a gentle southerly breeze, or vice versa. We can have temperatures in the 70s, even 80s, or the season's worst blizzard can hit us with snow.
But when we luck out and get those little spells of sun and warmth, farm pond bassin' can be terrific.
Spinnerbaits, or small Beetle Spin type spinners, can be great lures when the bass are prowling the sun-warmed shallows. I also have a lot of luck with small jigs and plastic grubs at this time of year.
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board says that it is estimated there are more than 200,000 farm ponds in our state. Many of them are loaded with bass. And at this time of year, when females are carrying a belly full of eggs, it can be your best shot at catching some rod-bending lunkers that weigh even more than they'll weigh later in the year.
Farm pond bass fishing is a great way to spend a sunny springtime Saturday in Oklahoma, but our state is blessed with many large reservoirs as well. Many large lakes also offer great bass fishing possibilities, so let's look at some other spots where you're likely to enjoy some exciting bass fishing action this year.
Each spring the Oklahoma Wildlife Department's fisheries biologists and technicians go electrofishing to sample the bass populations in many bodies of water. Not every lake is surveyed every year, so there may be several lakes with high-density bass populations that don't show up in the annual survey report. But viewing the survey results, which can be found on the ODWC's Web site, www.wildlifedepartment.com, can give anglers an idea about where some of the lakes with the best potentials are located.
I should point out that electrofishing, like rod-and-reel fishing, can have significantly different results on any given day. A mild, sunny day when lots of bass are prowling the shallows will probably produce more fish than a cold, blustery day when the fish seek refuge deeper and farther from shore. So a lake with mediocre numbers in the survey isn't necessarily a bad bass lake, and a lake with relatively high numbers isn't necessarily a guaranteed hotspot.
The survey information establishes trends to help biologists assess bass population dynamics, not to determine the exact density of the population at any given time. But the surveys can at least tell anglers where there are possibilities for good bass action.
In last spring's population surveys, the highest catch rate per hour came from Konawa Lake in Seminole County where the crews caught 266 bass per hour, with a whopping 129 bass per hour measuring 14 inches or greater. The biggest bass caught there weighed 8.1 pounds.
Tiny little American Horse Lake (100 acres) out in Blaine County produced the second-highest bass catch per hour — 240. It also produced 30 bass per hour over 14 inches in length. The heaviest bass caught by the survey crew weighed 5.5 pounds.
And an even smaller lake, 35-acre Schooler Lake in Choctaw County, produced 135 bass per hour with 14 per hour topping 14 inches. Both Schooler and American Horse are lakes owned and managed by the Wildlife Department.
And Waxhoma Lake, near Avant in Osage County, also produced 135 bass per hour with 38 per hour exceeding 14 inches. Greenleaf Lake, southeast of Muskogee, had an impressive total of 154 bass per hour with 47 topping 14 inches.
Among the large lakes surveyed, Fort Gibson Reservoir, southeast of Tulsa, produced 136 bass per hour with 58 per hour topping 14 inches. The biggest bass there weighed an even 7 pounds.
Another tool that bass fishermen can use to get an idea of a lake's potential is the bass tournament report compiled by the Wildlife Department. At this writing, the most recent bass tournament survey displayed on the department's website was from 2009. But by the time this article is printed, newer reports may be available to view.
In the 2009 report, Arbuckle Lake was the overall top-performing lake for tournament anglers, based on numbers of fish caught, fish-per-angler, sizes of bass weighed and other factors.
Second place went to one of my favorites, Hugo Lake, down in Choctaw County. Rounding out the Top 10 Tournament Lakes, in order, were Fort Gibson, Oologah, Okemah, Broken Bow, Sardis, Elmer Thomas, Grand and Sooner.
The bass tournament report, like the electrofishing surveys, shouldn't be taken as gospel as to which lakes are best. Not all tournaments contribute their results to the report and not all lakes are frequently used by tournament anglers. Various reasons contribute to those circumstances. But the report can at least indicate which lakes produce good catches per hour of angler effort during a given season.
I should probably mention the Wildlife Department's "lake records" program as another resource for finding out where big bass are being caught. The program is only three or four years old, but lots of trophy bass have been registered from several Oklahoma lakes.
McGee Creek Lake, between Atoka and Antlers, has more double-digit bass than any other lake to date. It has seven lunkers registered from 10 pounds even up to 12.4 pounds.
Tied for second in the number of double-digit bass is one lake that is known for producing lunkers and another that is known more for its white/striped hybrid bass fishing.
Both Sardis Lake, which a few years ago was cranking out more 10-pound-plus bass than any other, and Sooner Lake, south of Ponca City, each have four double-digit bass to their credit.
Sooner Lake, like Konawa, is a cooling water reservoir for a power generating plant owned by the Oklahoma Gas & Electric utility. It has been one of the state's best hybrid bass hotspots for decades, but apparently produces some trophy-sized largemouths these days as well.
Murray Lake, south of Ardmore, has two double-digit bass registered, as does Lawtonka Lake near Lawton.
Arbuckle Lake has three to its credit, including a 14.5-pounder that I believe is the largest bass entered in the lake-records books so far and holds the third-place spot on Oklahoma's all-time "Top 20 Largemouth Bass" list.
Eastern Oklahoma anglers have a dozen or more large reservoirs of 10,000 acres or greater, plus numerous smaller lakes. The western half of the state has far less surface water and fewer large lakes, but several western lakes consistently hold good bass populations.
Elmer Thomas Lake, near Lawton, is a good example. It frequently produces good numbers both in the electrofishing and tournament reports.
Southern Oklahoma lakes often "turn on" a little earlier in the spring than some of the lakes farther north. A hundred miles of latitude can be a significant difference in how fast the surface waters start to warm up and send bass into their pre-spawn and spawning patterns.
Broken Bow Lake, one of the prettiest lakes in the state, sometimes produces good catches for many anglers in those tournament leagues that start their seasons down south.
And one of my favorite Oklahoma bass lakes is Hugo Lake, just a stone's throw from the Texas border, where anglers have a chance of catching trophy-sized bass. Before the introduction of Florida-strain largemouths and Florida/Northern hybrids, Hugo was about the only lake in the state to produce many 10-pound bass. It still gives up some wallhangers on occasion, and it can be a lake where, if you hit it on the right day, you can catch dozens of bass of all sizes.
I fished Hugo last year with T.J. Switzer, the owner of Salt Creek Cabins and who has guided on Hugo since shortly after the lake was built, on a day when the bass were exceptionally cooperative. I don't recall just how many bass we caught, but I do remember fishing an old roadbed on the lake's west side where we caught bass in the 2- to 4-pound class on virtually every cast for quite a while. It didn't seem to matter if we threw our spinnerbaits straight down the old roadbed or near any bordering bush or tree. Aggressive bass seemed to be everywhere for an hour or two.
Hugo was the first large US Army Corps of Engineers reservoir to be built without clearing out most of the timber. Thousands of acres of standing timber were left in the upper half of the lake, with only boat navigation lanes being cut through them.
That made it more difficult to choose a spot to fish, but provided lots of area with attractive cover for bass. Prior to that, all large Oklahoma lakes were cleared of most of their timber, so anglers either fished shorelines or had to search for submerged structure in vast stretches of open water.
At Hugo, only the lower lake "bowl" was cleared. But that area is always one of my favorite areas, because in that lower area it seems like any existing cover is almost sure to hold bass.
The Kiamichi River channel at the upper end of Hugo is also a great place to find spotted bass bunched up in big numbers along channel bends and at the mouths of tributary creeks.
Robert S. Kerr Lake is another bass lake that has been good to me for many years. The last big lake on the Arkansas River before it heads out of Oklahoma toward Arkansas, Kerr gathers the waters of the Canadian, Arkansas and Illinois rivers and offers a variety of structure. Sometimes the bass fishing in the river channel portion of the upper lake can be outstanding, with bass holding and feeding around wing dams and riprapped shorelines and dikes.
I could continue listing many more lakes with good bass fishing potential. Oklahoma anglers are fortunate to have so much water that offers such good bass fishing opportunities.
Early spring offers the best chance of catching those big females while they're at their heaviest weights. So now's the time to head to the lake to catch that wallhanger!