Don't feel sorry for yourself if you can't book an exotic trip to some warmer climate for winter bass fishing. OK City and Tulsa-area anglers can get plenty of bass action right here at home! (January 2006)
Photo by Tom Evans
Many Oklahoma bass fishermen head south at this time of year, either down Mexico way or at least as far as Texas, where generally warmer temperatures mean that bass action can be good throughout the winter.
And there's no doubt that the occasional exotic bass-fishing trip to Mexico or the Lone Star State is an enjoyable winter vacation.
But you don't have to cross the Rio Grande or even the Red River to catch largemouths during the winter. In fact, if we have some of those mild, sunny days we often get in January, you may even be able to catch bass on shallow-water patterns that would work in the middle of summer here at home.
And even when the homefront weather is colder and more winterlike, you can still enjoy productive bass fishing with jigs, jigging spoons and a variety of other cold-water lures.
Let's look at a few lakes and productive winter patterns that might help put bass in your livewell in the coming weeks. Anglers from Oklahoma City or Tulsa can reach most of these lakes and get back home on a single tank of gasoline. And given the gas prices we're seeing these days, that's a whole lot better than a four-tank trip to Texas or swapping your first-born for enough high-dollar fuel to get you and your bass boat to Mexico and back.
Just about everyone's favorite winter bass fishing lake in Oklahoma also happens to be, in my opinion, the prettiest lake in the state -- Broken Bow. This 14,200-acre impoundment on the Mountain Fork River in McCurtain County has clear water and lots of steep and rocky shorelines. Many anglers and fisheries managers classify lakes as either the lowland type, which typically has lots of shallow water and tends to considerable turbidity, or the mountain type, which for the most part has steeper shorelines, greater mean depths and clearer water. Oklahoma has few of the latter, but Broken Bow definitely is one of them.
Holding not only a healthy population of largemouth bass but a mixture of native and introduced smallmouths as well, to say nothing of its abundant spotted bass, it's a great lake for winter bass fishing, being close enough to many Oklahoma locations for a day trip to be very doable. And anglers can stay longer, because accommodations are plentiful; during the winter, it's easy to find a vacancy at a motel in the town of Broken Bow, at one of the cabin-rental places along Highway 259 near the lake, or even at Beavers Bend State Park below the dam.
At many Oklahoma lakes, wintertime techniques and patterns are limited. But at Broken Bow you may employ a variety of lures and techniques for catching bass during winter months. Of course, the air and water-surface temperatures and the amount of wind and sunlight each day also are big factors.
If McCurtain County gets one of those multiday stretches of mild winter weather with bright sunshine and air temperatures in the 60s, the bass seem to think it's springtime. You might catch them on a variety of crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits or jigs in shallow water.
If the weather is cooler, with more overcast days and no sun to warm up the surface water, the more-active bass may be a few feet deeper. Fishing for them with jigs, tube-lures or other finesse baits might be best.
Whatever the weather, it's a good idea to have at least one or two spinning rods loaded with something smaller than 10-pound-test line rigged and ready to use with small jigs or tube baits.
Lots of Oklahoma bass fishermen never use anything other than level-wind baitcasting reels, but the truly versatile bass angler always has a rod and reel or two that can throw light lures on light line. Such a rig can come in handy in really clear water or in cold weather. And at this time of year, Broken Bow has both.
As I've mentioned in other articles, one of my favorite and most productive lures at Broken Bow, at almost any time of the year, is a bucktail jig having a brown head and a brown skirt with a small streak of orange in it. I tip it with a brown No. 101 Uncle Josh Spin Frog -- the smaller version of the popular pork frog. That bait has produced hundreds of smallmouth bass for me in places from New York to southern Canada and in clear-water lakes in Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee. It's a so-called "money bait" at both Tenkiller and Broken Bow in Oklahoma.
Tie one on and watch it work: It looks an awful lot like a medium-sized crawdad shooting from rock to rock as it moves down a sloping rock shoreline into deeper water. I use 1/4-ounce bucktail jigs most often with a baitcaster on 10-pound line. I use a 1/8-ounce version on a spinning or spincasting rig with 8-pound line. I've purchased the jigs made by several large and small manufacturers. Sometimes I've been reduced to buying the bare jigheads and tying my own brown/orange bucktail dressings.
These hair jigs will catch all three species of black bass found in Broken Bow, but I've found them especially effective on the smallmouths and spotted bass. For largemouths I'll often go to a larger silicone-skirted jig tipped with a plastic craw or grub or a pork trailer.
At Broken Bow, a small jig-and-grub or tube bait can be effective both for fishing the shorelines and for catching suspended bass around offshore structure. Depending on the size of jighead that you use with these baits, you may be able to fish them with baitcasting tackle, or you might have to use spinning tackle. When you get down to the 1/8-ounce heads, it can be difficult to cast them with revolving-spool reels.
Another option for winter fishing is big ol' Lake Texoma, its 88,750 surface-acres of water on the Oklahoma-Texas border impounding the Red and Washita rivers and numerous large creeks. While definitely best known as a striped bass fishery, Lake Texoma also is a darned good bass lake. It not only produces healthy catches of largemouths, but has yielded several recent state-record catches of smallmouth bass as well.
I've caught several large bass there by accident, while jigging spoons for stripers around submerged channels or humps during winter months. I can't seem to catch a big smallmouth at Texoma, but it produces 3- and 4-pounders pretty regularly for many other Oklahoma anglers.
One of my friends lives near Texoma on the Texas side and fishes Texoma frequently throughout the winter. He relies heavily on shad-colored crankbaits and on silver or shad-colored suspending jerkbaits durin
g cold weather. Quite a few Oklahoma tournament leagues have early-season tournaments at Texoma each winter. He says he's seen tournaments where virtually every fish weighed in was caught on crankbaits.
His advice is to fish coves and shorelines that have a dropoff to deep water but a stretch of shallow water between shore and dropoff. In the winter, he says, bass move up to feed in the shallows, especially if the weather's mild, and then move back down; the more active bass will be on top of the dropoff. ("If you're lucky," he added.) If cold fronts are blowing through, as they often do in January and February, you may have to fish below the dropoff with deep-running baits or suspending baits.
Sardis Lake, near Clayton, is another decent bet for a winter bass trip. At one time it may well have produced more double-digit bass than did any other lake in Oklahoma, but that doesn't seem to happen as often nowadays. There was a period that saw it cough up 10- and 12-pound bass like clockwork; today, even the 10-pounders are pretty rare.
However, Sardis is still a good bass fishery. Being as far south as it is, it usually has warmer surface temperatures throughout the winter than do many of the lakes just 50 or 60 miles farther north. Its water is relatively clear, too, when compared to that in Kerr, Eufaula and other lakes just slightly farther north. And that clear water allows the sunlight to penetrate more deeply, thus warming up a bigger slice of the water.
Still, I've never caught a lot of bass at Sardis on true shallow-water patterns. Yes, I've caught bass on spinnerbaits there, but usually by slow-rolling them 12 to 15 feet deep. And I've caught lots of bass on plastic worms there, too, but usually around timber and structure greater than 10 feet deep.
So when I fish Sardis in the winter, it doesn't seem as if the difference between winter's techniques and those typically used in other seasons is such an extreme one. It's still pretty much a matter of fishing water 10 to 15 feet deep, but instead of plastic worms I use jigs. Instead of small, two-bladed spinnerbaits I use heavier, single-bladed baits for fishing deeper and slower.
Jigs and spinnerbaits are my two most dependable lures at Sardis in cool weather. In summer I may throw topwater plugs and lots of plastic worms, and maybe the occasional jerkbait. But when both weather and water are cold, jigs are a good bet.
|PLASTIC OR PORK?|
|Whenever I talk about using pork trailers on jigs these days, I often get reactions that indicate the listener thinks I'm awfully old-fashioned or out of touch. I'll admit, using pork instead of plastic can be a pain. But I still believe there are times, especially when fish are reluctant to bite or when they're spitting baits out quickly, that pork outshines plastic.|
I was readying my bass jig tackle box last night for a trip. It contains eight jars of pork baits -- twin-tails, eels and two sizes of frogs. I'll admit I use plastic far more often than pork, just because it's not as messy to handle and you don't have to worry about plastic trailers drying out and stiffening. But at this time of year, and until the lake water temperatures warm up into at least the high 50's, I have a lot of faith in old fashioned pork, -- Bob Bledsoe.
Slow-rolled spinnerbaits fished below 10 feet can be good, too, but it's hard for some anglers to keep throwing them unless they get immediate results. It just doesn't seem like a winter technique, but it is.
I've had a couple of friends who've caught good bass at this time of year on Sardis using structure spoons, although I don't believe I've ever fished a spoon there. I know they used hammered chrome spoons -- Hopkins spoons and imitations -- to catch their bass.
Another promising winter bass fishery is Konawa Lake, between Seminole and Ada just a short drive southeast of Oklahoma City. Last spring, for the seventh straight year, Konawa Lake ranked No. 1 for the number of bass caught per hour by ODWC electrofishing crews during the annual springtime bass population surveys of Oklahoma lakes.
This 1,300-acre lake is a cooling-water reservoir for a power plant operated by Oklahoma Gas and Electric, the Oklahoma-based utility company. It has both numbers of bass -- crews captured 155 bass per hour there last spring -- and good-sized fish.
"Konawa has a great reputation as a great bass lake and this survey certainly reflects that," said Kim Erickson, fisheries chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "The lake is also well balanced -- it ranked third in the number of larger bass (over 14 inches) in the survey."
Quite a few anglers come away frustrated after reading about the numbers of bass that survey crews capture at Konawa and then visiting there in hopes of some really easy fishing. I've never found Konawa to be an easy lake. I've fished it a number of times over the past 28 years, almost always in the wintertime, and I've caught lots of bass there, too, but I've never had one of those days on which two guys catch 50 bass -- the kind of days that used to be fairly common at some of our better bass lakes.
But I've never been skunked at Konawa either, thanks again to my favorite wintertime bass bait -- a jig.
Many anglers go to Konawa in the winter and, because it is a cooling-water reservoir, head straight for the outlet, where the warmed-up cooling water flows out of its channel and into the lake. I've caught hybrids and sand bass there, and a few largemouths as well. But I've always caught more bass in the winter by fishing a jig along the riprapped shorelines on the dam.
The warm water coming out of the power plant discharge channel seems to attract baitfish and, in turn, catfish, hybrids and sand bass. But I've never caught as many bass in that area of warmer water as I have in other parts of the lake in January and February and March.
I've read about guys having great days fishing for black bass in the discharge area of at least one East Texas cooling-water reservoir, but it's never worked for me, either at Konawa or at Sooner Lake farther north.
I will say, though, that if you fish either of those lakes -- both owned by OG&E, both known for their hybrid striper fishing -- you might want to keep one rod rigged with a white jig and trailer or a shad-colored crankbait and give the hybrids a few casts around the mouths of the discharge channels. Unless you're just one of those diehard guys who want to catch nothing but black bass, you can add considerable excitement to your trip by hooking into some of those hard-fighting hybrids. Hold onto your rod when you do!
The lakes I've featured here are often among the best for wintertime bass fishing in Oklahoma, but don't completely ignore our other lakes. Bass fishing can be surprisingly good at almost any of them in the winter, especially if we get those stretches of m
ild temperatures and bright sunshine to warm up the surface water.
When temperatures get up into the 50s and 60s and the sun shines for two or three days in a row, water can warm up 10 or 15 degrees, perhaps more. The warming is usually more pronounced in smaller bodies of water -- ponds, watershed lakes and the like -- than it is in big lakes, but it can happen on big lakes, too.
Take note of wind direction. The wind pushes the sun-warmed water to the downwind side of the lake, where bass move up into the comparatively warm shallows to feed and soak up the warmth. They can get downright aggressive there, hitting spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jigs.
So just because you can't make it to deep South Texas or Mexico this winter, don't feel deprived. You can still have some bass fishing fun without ever leaving the Sooner State.