February 22, 2012
How lucky we Oklahoma anglers are to live in a state with lots of varied fishing opportunities!
Thanks to an abundance of water, especially in the eastern half of Oklahoma, we can fish year-round for a variety of species.
Even in the coldest winter and the hottest summer months we have lakes and streams that offer up black bass, crappie, walleyes, sauger, catfish, sunfish and more. We even have trout, thanks to our Wildlife Department's stocking program, as well as a few municipal trout ponds where rainbows are stocked each winter.
Let's look at some of the most promising options, month by month, throughout 2012. The options listed here, based on experience, are A-1. But they certainly aren't the only times and places when and where these species can be caught.
Thank goodness for total-electric homes and businesses.
No, I'm not a stockholder in an electric utility company. I say that because in midwinter when the weather is cold, lots of electricity is needed for running all those electrical heating devices, just as it is needed in the summer for air conditioning. That means that hydroelectric dams are often generating power in midwinter, and when the turbines are running, that usually means good fishing in the tailrace waters below.
Below the dams on the Arkansas and Red rivers, as well as on the Canadian, Neosho and Kiamichi, striped bass move into the tailrace waters to feed on dead or wounded shad sucked through the turbines and discharged into the stilling basins below. Opening the turbines can be like ringing the dinner bell for hungry stripers. They wait in deep holes downstream, and then crowd into the spillway area when the water starts flowing.
Tailrace fishing is a specialty. It usually means using longer rods and making very long casts to deliver baited hooks or lures to the most productive areas. Anglers fish from the shorelines using rods of 9 to 16 feet, or fish from boats tied to the buoyed cables that mark the upper limits for navigation below the dams.
Some anglers also use small, remote-controlled boats to carry their baits up into the stilling basins. Or, when the wind is favorable, they use balloons as floats and let the wind push their baits toward desired areas.
Live shad or big, lively minnows or small sunfish can be productive baits.
At times when using live bait, an angler might catch as many catfish as stripers, for the catfish also come to dine when the turbines are running.
Those who prefer using lures may choose big topwater plugs, jerkbaits or small jigs fished beneath casting corks. All of those can be effective at times and it's a good idea to have all of them available.
At some of the dams you might also catch big striped/white bass hybrids mixed in with the stripers, or lots of big white bass.
The best-known tailrace areas for striper fishing include Kaw, Keystone, Webbers Falls and Kerr dams on the Arkansas River. The smaller dams below Kerr can also be productive. Eufaula and Fort Gibson dams are excellent at times. Sometimes good action is available below the Hugo Lake Dam for stripers that have moved up from the Red River.
And good action for hybrids can sometimes be found below Oologah Dam, Pensacola Dam at Grand Lake, and the Markham Ferry Dam at Lake Hudson. One other area worth trying is the low-water dam in midtown Tulsa, on the Arkansas River, at 31st Street.
Wintertime crappie fishing can be excellent at many Oklahoma reservoirs in February, but one of my tried-and-true favorites is big ol' Lake Eufaula. That 102,000-acre lake is loaded with manmade brushpiles, which are the keys to finding crappie at this time of year — before the crappie move to shorelines to spawn.
A good sonar unit is invaluable for pinpointing the location of offshore brushpiles that lie beneath the surface. Marking the locations of brushpiles with a GPS unit makes it much easier to return to those spots later.
Jigs or minnows are both effective, although there definitely seem to be days when one works better than the other. Over the years I've found that smaller chenille-and-marabou jigs seem to work well early in the season, and that tube jigs and small grubs start working better as spawning season nears and the fish move toward the shores.
March weather in Oklahoma is unpredictable. We can have long stretches of mild temperatures and sunshine, or late-season blizzards with lots of sub-freezing temperatures. But unless we're having an unusually harsh spell of weather in March, that's usually the month when bass in ponds and small lakes really seem to get aggressive.
While you might coax a strike or two with topwaters or plastic worms, I recommend using small spinnerbaits or jigs and working the shallows, especially on the downwind side of the ponds on sunny days. When the sun warms the surface waters and the wind blows the warmest water toward the downwind shore, it can be several degrees warmer there than on the lee side. That minor temperature difference often seems to make the bass more cooperative.
It is estimated that Oklahoma has more than 200,000 farm ponds covering roughly a half-million acres. Just make sure to get permission to fish the ponds on private property.
I fished for crappie for many years before someone taught me how to "doodlesock" in the shallows for spawners in the spring. But after I learned to probe flooded willow thickets and shoreline bushes for spawning slabs, Grand Lake quickly became one of my favorite spots for that technique.
Many of Grand Lake's tributaries have big stretches of shoreline covered with willows. And many Grand shorelines are lined with manmade, shallow-water brushpiles. In the upper lake, along the edges of the Neosho River channel, there are lots of laydown logs mired in the silt.
All of those places attract spawning crappie in the springtime and it's possible to catch a limit of crappie and never fish more than a couple of feet below the surface.
Tie on a jig and drop a foot or two of line down from the end of the rod; work the jig vertically along side willow trunks, logs, or in between the branches of buttonbush.
I like to beach my boat, or tie it to a tree, and hop over the side while wearing waders. It's easier to probe every little nook and cranny carefully while wading. Of course you can do it from the deck of your boat, but because it's really close-quarters fishing, you might spend as much time fighting the trolling motor as you do fishing if you're doodlesocking on a windy day.
Crappie may spawn anywhere from late February to mid-May in Oklahoma, but for most northeastern Oklahoma lakes the action usually peaks in mid-April to early May.
Check out page two for your best Oklahoma Fishing options for May, June, July, and August.
More than 20 years ago, when I was a diehard bass fisherman and outdoor editor of a Tulsa newspaper, I met George Edwards from Oklahoma City. George is an all-around outdoorsman, but probably one of the state's best sunfish fishermen.
George introduced me to techniques that proved very effective at catching loads of bluegills and redears, especially during the peak spawning months of May and June.
Since then I've kept my freezer loaded with lots of tasty sunfish filets using George's techniques.
You can catch sunfish on a variety of lures and flies, and on a variety of baits. But if you want to fill an ice chest quickly, get yourself a carton or two of live crickets, available from a number of Oklahoma bait shops. George even raised his own crickets so he would have an abundant supply for his numerous sunfishing trips.
His favorite rig consisted of a lightweight spinning or spincasting rod and reel, light line, small No. 10 hooks, tiny split shot and very small slip-bobbers. A bobber-stop, either a commercially made variety or merely a few turns of elastic thread purchased from the sewing department of local stores and tied tightly around your monofilament line, allows the bobber to slide down for easy casting. It then holds the bait at the proper depth, determined by trial-and-error until you begin catching fish.
Using small bobbers reduces resistance when a fish takes the bait and it allows you to detect very subtle bites.
Spawning bluegills create nests that can be seen in shallow water, but may be too deep to be visible in some areas. Often, when you find a nesting area, it's possible to catch dozens of bluegills in a single spot.
Redears can be caught by fishing close to the edges of shoreline vegetation. Waterwillow, a common emergent plant that lines the shores of many small reservoirs, is often the key to lots of redears.
A favorite food for redears is freshwater snails. The snails like to cling to the stems of waterwillow and similar plants, and the redears prowl the weedbeds munching on snails, but will readily take a cricket or earthworm offered at the edge of weeds.
My favorite fish in Oklahoma is our native smallmouth bass. These days we have many lakes stocked with an introduced strain of smallmouths that thrive in reservoirs, but our native "brownies" that populate highland streams in the eastern third of the state are still my favorites, even though they rarely grow as large as the lake-strain smallmouths.
If we have normal rainfall, many Eastern Oklahoma streams can be floated in a canoe or johnboat and smallmouths caught on anything from tiny jigs and grubs to big, noisy buzzbaits, and just about everything in between. If we have a dry year, some streams can be difficult to float because long stretches don't have enough depth to float even a lightweight boat. But even then we can fish by wading or using a float tube.
The Illinois and Mountain Fork rivers, and usually the Glover River, Barron Fork Creek and a couple others can be floated. But there are at least a dozen more streams that can be waded or fished with float tubes.
Lake Texoma is one of the nation's best inland striped bass fisheries. The salty Red River, which feeds the lake, offers great natural spawning habitat and keeps the big lake loaded with stripers. Dozens of guides ply the lake and send thousands of clients home with limit catches.
Mid-summer usually offers excellent action with a variety of techniques. Many guides use shad or other live bait, but it's also possible to catch stripers on topwaters, crankbaits, jerkbaits and jigs.
You can locate stripers on your own, by trolling or searching with sonar. But on most summer days, it's easy to spot the action by looking for areas where there are multiple boats already fishing. Please be courteous, though. If you're going to "follow the fleet," to find stripers, don't crowd too closely and interfere with the fishing of those who went to the trouble to locate the fish.
Oklahoma has at least a dozen large lakes that offer great action for white bass, or "sand bass" as most of us Okies call 'em. But many Tulsa-area anglers ply the waters of Lake Keystone's 23,610 acres for sandies during the summer months.
Trolling with crankbaits or spinners is one popular technique, but watching for surface action and casting jigs, spinners, crankbaits or topwaters into the melee is a fun way to fill the livewell.
Watching for diving seagulls is one way to locate schools of marauding sandies that are chasing shad to the surface. Listening for the sound of splashing can also guide you to some hot surface action.
If no sandies are surfacing, it's always possible to troll to locate schools, or to prowl the lake while watching sonar to find submerged schools of fish.
Sand bass, along with stripers, can also be found by patrolling the edges of submerged creek and river channels. Casting structure spoons (a.k.a. jigging spoons) can be a very effective way to pull fish from around deeper structure.
Find out the best Oklahoma Fishing options for September, October, November and December on page three
Floating highland streams can be really tough in July and August most years in Oklahoma because stream flows subside, forcing boaters and canoers to drag their craft for long stretches between holes. But often by September we're getting at least an occasional rain and the streams become a little easier to float again.
While most anglers use smaller lures — 1/8-ounce or 1/4-ounce jigs, in-line spinners and small crankbaits — to fish for stream brownies, it's a good idea to bring a couple of big, noisy buzzbaits along. I learned that the hard way, when on an autumn float on the Mountain Fork River. My partner consistently caught bigger fish throughout the day using nothing but a baitcasting rig and a big buzzbait. I may have actually caught more fish than he did, but while I was catching 9- and 10-inch bass, he was reeling in 2-pounders and 3-pounders
While I fished the shorelines and visible rocks, he fired his buzzbaits straight down the center of the stream and raced them back, enticing bigger brownies to hit the noisy contraption.
Speaking of buzzbaits, autumn is a good time to churn the surface with buzzbaits at Fort Gibson Lake. Early and late in the day, when the sun isn't shining directly down, seem to be the best hours for good topwater action.
I've had some really great days catching bigger-than-average bass at Fort Gibson throwing buzzbaits in small coves and the upper reaches of the creeks that feed the lake.
It's also not too late to throw plastic worms. Until the surface temps fall below 70 or so, plastic worms can provide lots of action.
Until the next ice age grows nearer, I guess Oklahoma will never have many coldwater streams nurturing trout, but thanks to put-and-take trout stocking programs, Oklahomans can catch rainbows during the colder months at a number of small lakes and ponds. We also have two year-round trout areas, on the Lower Illinois and lower Mountain Fork rivers, where cooler waters from deep in the lakes are released through the Tenkiller and Broken Bow dams to provide suitable trout habitat in the streambeds below.
The state stocks trout at lakes Pawhuska, Watonga, Robbers Cave and Carl Etling, as well as at Quartz Mountain State Park and in the Blue River. Sapulpa also stocks trout in Pretty Water Lake.
Most catfishing is done in the summertime, but blue cats that are now the dominant whiskered species in many reservoirs are also very cooperative throughout the winter.
Drifting the flats or anchoring near submerged channel edges in mid-lake and fishing with minnows or live or cut shad can fill your stringers with lots of tasty blue cats.
Lake Eufaula is my favorite wintertime catfish destination, especially in that area north of Eufala and east of U.S. 69.
But Grand, Kaw, Fort Gibson, Keystone, Texoma, Kaw, Kerr and Webbers Falls also offer good populations of blue cats.