There's never been a shortage of great bass fishing in the Sooner State, but these may be the very best bass lakes in our region right now. (March 2010)
Although a few other states get more publicity, Oklahoma offers some of the best bass fishing in the country.
That's partly because of excellent management of our bass fishery by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, but good fortune has a lot to do with it, too. Our state's lakes have profited from some excellent year-classes of bass over the last few years. There's a steady succession of fish of various ages and sizes in our lakes, and anglers are seeing the benefits in both numbers of fish and quality of individual bass. Right now truly is a golden time for Oklahoma bass fishing.
We had another good spawning and recruitment year in parts of the state in 2009. Lakes where spawning and recruitment conditions were less than optimal are still holding strong. That all adds up to another year of great fishing ahead in the Sooner State.
Traditionally, the ODWC uses two methods to evaluate the quality of its respective bass fisheries and the quality of fishing. One is the spring electrofishing survey results, a study conducted each spring on a collection of lakes around the state. The results are divided between lakes smaller than 1,000 acres and those larger than 1,000 acres.
For fishing quality, the ODWC annually compiles a document called "Oklahoma Bass Tournaments Annual Report." It's full of information that provides an accurate view of the number and quality of fish that bass tournament anglers catch on each lake in the state. In simple terms, the electrofishing survey provides a glimpse into the future. The tournament report tells us what happened among dedicated bass fishermen the previous year. Together, they provide an accurate snapshot of the respective bass fisheries in each of our lakes.
Statewide, the ODWC encourages bass anglers to keep spotted, or Kentucky, bass by removing size and creel limits from almost all of the state's waters.
Also, the ODWC is conducting a three-year survey at lakes Arbuckle and Sardis as part of an attempt to fine-tune its stocking formula for Florida-strain largemouths. Gene Gilliland, the ODWC's bass biologist, said the purpose of the evaluation is to see whether it's more effective to stock more, but smaller Florida fingerlings as opposed to fewer, but larger fingerlings.
"Instead of stocking 3-inch fish at 20 per acre, we're looking at stocking 1.5-inch fish at 100 per acre," Gilliland said. "We did some work in the '90s on some of our original Florida bass work, and we saw some pretty decent results with mass stockings. It would be easier on our hatcheries, and it'll take a lot less time and a lot less effort."
Here's how the picture looks in your region.
As home to some of our state's most famous lakes, northeast Oklahoma is a top destination for bass fishermen. That's likely to continue because the bass fisheries in that region are in prime condition. Covering 59,000 acres, Grand Lake is the flagship of the bunch. It regularly hosts national tournaments, and maintains a stellar reputation for bass fishing.
Gilliland said there's no big secret to Grand's productivity. It has the right mix of good water levels for recruiting young bass into the general population, food and habitat.
"It's an extremely fertile system with a tremendous forage base, so its bass get really good growth," Gilliland said. "Typically, the high water events we have on the Grand River system tend be late spring on into summer. The water level management plan we negotiated with the Grand River Development Authority requires them to hold the water a little later in summer months, so we get that good nursery area that you have to have for those little bass. It also drives good plankton production, and that translates into more pounds of shad, which translates into more pounds of bass. From terms of an average size, it's got to be one of the top lakes in the state."
Although the ODWC didn't electroshock Grand last year, it ranked sixth among tournament anglers. An average of 55 boats participated in 12 reported tournaments. They weighed in an average of 106 bass per event. Anglers caught an average of 1.4 bass per tournament, and each event produced 2.5 bass weighing more than 5 pounds. The average winning weight was 18.07 pounds, and the average big bass per tournament weighed 5.67 pounds. The average weight per bass was 2.39 pounds. Anglers recorded a 79 percent success rate.
Lake Tenkiller should also remain a solid bass performer this year, especially for smallmouth bass.
"It's holding its own, and it's been doing pretty well the last few years," Gilliland said. "Smallmouth bass have really made a strong showing there. It's gotten to be a place where a lot of people are targeting just smallmouths. It's had a 13- to 16-inch slot length limit on it forever, and it's one of those lakes where recruitment and harvest seem to balance out pretty well."
The ODWC didn't electroshock Tenkiller in 2009, but it ranked 20th among tournament anglers. From 42 tournament reports, it ranked 12th for average winning weight (11.72 pounds) and 12th for the average number of fish caught during an eight-hour day (1.5). The average number of boats per event was 20, and they weighed in an average of 51 bass. The average weight per fish was 1.86 pounds, and the average big bass weighed 4.26 pounds. Anglers recorded a success rate of 54 percent.
Gilliland had a lot of good things to say about Fort Gibson Lake. It rebounded well from the largemouth bass virus that hobbled its fishery in 2001-02 and regained its place as one of the state's premier bass lakes.
"Fort Gibson is producing a lot of really nice fish now," Gilliland said. "It's typically taking 20-plus pounds to win tournaments. I don't see a lot of 7- to 9-pound fish yet, but I think that's a matter of time. We've got some strong year-classes of fish coming on in the 3- to 6-pound range. They haven't had time to become 7-pounders yet, but I think they will."
The ODWC didn't electrofish Fort Gibson in 2009, and with only four tournament reports, it didn't register as a top tournament lake in 2008. In those four tournaments, however, an average of 73 boats weighed in an average of 122 fish per event. The average number of bass per angler was about one, and the average winning weight was 15.39 pounds. The average bass weighed 2.49 pounds, and the average big bass weighed 5.84 pounds. Although the 2009 data hasn't been recorded yet, it was even better last year.
Lake Hudson was the star of the northeast. The ODWC
didn't electrofish it in 2009, but it ranked first among tournament anglers in 2008.
An average of 23 boats competed in 11 events, and weighed in an average of 76 bass per tournament. Anglers caught an average of 1.5 bass per event, and the average winning weight was 18.34 pounds. The average weight per bass was 2.5 pounds, and the average big bass weighed 5.41 pounds. The angler success rate was a whopping 84 percent.
"It's not a lot different than Grand except for being a lot smaller," Gilliland said. "It doesn't have near as many arms and coves and bays as Grand and Fort Gibson, so it gets a little more of a flow-through situation. It still produces some good numbers, but overall it's smaller."
Among small lakes in the northeast, the ODWC electrofished Bixhoma, Bristow, Chimney Rock and Stroud. Lake Bixhoma produced 105 fish per hour, of which 38 per hour were larger than 14 inches. The biggest fish in the sample was a 9-pounder.
Lake Bristow produced 45 fish per hour, of which 9 were longer than 14 inches. The biggest fish weighed 6.2 pounds. Chimney Rock also produced 45 fish per hour, but 23 were longer than 14 inches. The biggest fish weighed 6 pounds. Stroud Lake produced few fish of any size, but it did yield one that weighed 7.8 pounds.
Among lakes larger than 1,000 acres, the ODWC electrofished Broken Bow, Pine Creek and Wister in 2009. Lake Broken Bow produced 30 fish per hour, of which about six were longer than 14 inches. The top bass in the sample weighed 5.6 pounds.
In 2008, eight tournaments reported from Broken Bow, with an average of 26 boats competing. They caught an average of 83 bass per event, with an average of 1.8 bass per angler. The average winning weight was 14.88 pounds, and the average weight per fish was 1.8 pounds. The average big bass weighed 4.48 pounds.
Pine Creek Reservoir was surprisingly productive during 2009 spring electrofishing efforts. It yielded about 79 fish per hour, of which 18 were longer than 14 inches. The biggest bass in the sample was 7.1 pounds.
Only one tournament submitted a report. That group weighed in 38 bass with an average weight of 3.3 pounds per fish. The winning weight was 5.53 pounds, which was also the weight of the biggest bass. The angler success rate was 58 percent.
Among lakes smaller than 1,000 acres, Cedar Lake stood out in electrofishing surveys. It produced 81 fish per hour, of which 39 were longer than 14 inches. The biggest bass weighed 6.6 pounds. Lake Raymond Gary produced 47 bass per hour, with 14 longer than 14 inches. The biggest bass there weighed 6 pounds.
Lake Eufaula is the prominent bass destination in this region. The ODWC didn't electrofish it in 2009, but it ranked 12th overall among tournament anglers in 2008.
A total of 25 tournaments reported, with an average of 60 boats weighing in 164 bass per event. Anglers caught an average of 1.3 bass and the average winning weight was 18.15 pounds. The average weight per bass was 2.26 pounds, and the average big bass per event weighed 5.7 pounds. The angler success rate was 78 percent, and it took anglers a total of 520 hours in an eight-hour day to catch a five-bass limit.
Stillwell City Lake was the only small water the ODWC electrofished in this region in 2009. It produced 80 fish per hour, but only eight per hour were longer than 14 inches. The biggest bass surveyed weighed 3 pounds.
The ODWC electrofished four big lakes in the central region last year, including Bell Cow, Arcadia, Konawa and Dripping Springs. Of that bunch, Gilliland singled out Dripping Springs as being an excellent lake for catching trophy largemouths.
"Dripping Springs has really come on in the last year with quite a few trophy-sized bass," Gilliland said. "It's age and timing from the Florida bass stockings we did there. Eight to 12 years later, you get this flush of trophy-sized fish that are a result of those stockings. Dripping Springs was drawn way down for repairs a few years back. Weeds and brush grew up, and when it refilled, it was like a new lake."
Its 2009 electrofishing data also was impressive. It produced 110 bass per hour, of which about 34 per hour were longer than 14 inches. The biggest bass in the survey weighed 7.7 pounds. No tournaments reported data from Dripping Springs in 2008.
Lake Konawa also presented itself well in the 2009 electrofishing survey. It produced 156 bass per hour, of which 70 were longer than 14 inches. The biggest bass was 7.6 pounds.
Gilliland said Konawa has become a harder lake to fish lately because the power plant isn't used as much. Without the warmwater discharge from the power plant, the lake produces fewer baitfish for bass to eat, and there's less vegetation. Anglers have to work harder now to find and catch bass.
That trend showed up in 2008 tournament data, when four tournaments reported an average of 15 boats that caught an average of 43 bass per event. Anglers caught an average of about two bass per tournament. The average weight per fish was 1.56 pounds, and the average winning weight was 10.78 pounds. The average big bass per event weighed 5.24 pounds. The angler success rate was 76 percent, and it took 122 angling hours per eight-hour day to catch a five-bass limit.
To encourage anglers to keep some fish at Konawa, Gilliland said the ODWC removed the minimum length limit. Anglers can keep just one fish longer than 22 inches.
"The bass population was getting so dense that growth rates slowed down," Gilliland said.
Wes Watkins Reservoir is a shadow of what was once a fine trophy bass lake. During 2009 electrofishing results, it produced only 14 bass per hour, but about 12 were longer than 14 inches. The top bass in the sample weighed 6.9 pounds.
Arcadia Lake was similar. It produced 19 bass per hour, but 14 were longer than 14 inches. The biggest bass surveyed weighed 9.3 pounds.
Good bass water is scarce in this part of the state, but Gilliland mentioned Sooner Lake as a good place to catch big bass. It also cools a power plant, which makes it suitable for Florida-strain largemouths.
"Sooner Lake has been cranking out a lot of big fish in the last year or so," Gilliland said. "It's had weeds for years. It's the farthest north we stock Florida bass, but that's because it's a power plant lake."
Arbuckle Lake and Lake Texoma are the two major bass destinations in this part of the state.
During the 2009 electrofishing survey, Arbuckle Lake yielded 124 bass per hour, with 53 measuring longer than 14 inches. The biggest bass sampled weighed 10.7 pounds.
One reason Arbuckle is doing so well, Gilliland said, i
s because of new habitat. "Arbuckle has hydrilla now," Gilliland said. "The National Park Service is not going to control it unless it becomes a problem around boat ramps and swim beaches."
An average of 20 boats competed in 30 reported tournaments at Arbuckle in 2008. They weighed in an average of 34 bass per event; anglers caught an average of two bass. The average weight per bass was 2.17 pounds, and the average winning weight was 15.41 pounds. The average big bass weighed 7.45 pounds. The angler success rate was 60 percent, and it took 117 hours of fishing in an eight-hour day to catch a five-bass limit.
Lake Texoma keeps chugging along at its customary high level. The ODWC didn't electrofish it in 2009, but an average of 33 boats competed in 17 reported tournaments. They weighed in an average of 92 bass per event, and anglers caught an average of about one bass. The average weight per fish was about 2 pounds, and the average winning weight was 16.48 pounds. The average big bass weighed 5.25 pounds.
That's a good sample of what to expect in your bass-fishing trips around the state. Wherever you go, the fishing should be good to excellent.