These half-dozen hotspots may be the best places for Oklahoma City- and Tulsa-area anglers looking to tangle with lunker largemouths this spring. (May 2006)
If anyone knows bass fishing from one end of Oklahoma to the other, it just might be Ken Cook, the one-time fisheries biologist turned pro angling legend.
Cook, a Meers-area resident who served as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's southwestern regional fisheries biologist during much of his 1969 to 1983 tenure with the agency, eventually decided to turn his hobby of tournament angling into his profession -- a move that he's had little reason to regret. And with the 1991 CITGO Bassmasters Classic title tucked in his back pocket -- not to mention five other BASS wins, a runner-up finish, three third-place finishes, and 31 Top 10 finishes on the circuit -- why would he? Add in four top-five finishes on the FLW Tour, and Cook's winnings as a pro come to more than $750,000 -- much of that won before the current era of big-money angling events began in earnest.
For all of that pro angling success, however, Cook's heart remains very much in Oklahoma, especially during the month of May. In fact, the month is one of his favorite times to target bass on waters found within a reasonable drive of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas.
"I've always liked (late spring)," Cook said. "It's a good (time) to fish, since the fish are active and they're out running around catching food. It may not be the best time to catch the biggest fish of the year, but it certainly is the time to catch the most active fish of the year, since all of a sudden they're off of the spawning mode and onto a feeding mode. And they're still shallow, too."
With that pronouncement in mind, here's Cook's assessment for the top bass lakes for an OKC- or Tulsa-area angler to consider tackling this month.
"Probably my first choice overall would be Grand," Cook said of 45,500-acre Grand Lake O' the Cherokees near Grove. "It had a little bump from the largemouth bass virus (a few years ago), but it seems to have come back to its old self faster than most lakes affected by the virus. It's got a good fish population, some big fish, and a lot of variety."
What's Cook's recommendation for fishing Grand at this time of the year? "It's a pretty standard thing -- if the water is up, you need to fish the flooded vegetation on Grand," Cook said, noting that willow trees and buttonbush (a.k.a. buckbrush) make up the majority of flooded vegetation here. "If it's not, then you'll have to fish what's there in the water like boat docks, laydowns, crappie holes, and things like that.
"Find the best habitat for bass, and generally, that's where you're going to find the bass."
Taking into consideration the variety of water clarity conditions present on Grand -- Cook says that the lake's lower end is typically clear and its upper end typically muddy -- what would the bass pro pull from his tackle box first?
"I'll start with spinnerbaits and buzzbaits for quick-moving active fish -- you want to cover the water and locate concentrations of fish," Cook said. "Then once you do, you want to slow down and work the heavier cover with a Power Tube or a 10-inch Power Worm.
"Earlier in the year I would have been using a jig more, but in May, the fish are post-spawn, and looking for the most available food. That will primarily be shad, along with some sunfish. When they're up there (shallow) looking for food, a tube and worm or even a spinnerbait better imitate a shad or a bluegill than a jig does."
Next up is a journey to sprawling Lake Texoma, a top entry on Cook's angling calendar this month -- and not just for largemouth bass, either.
"I've always been a big fan of Texoma, it's on my list of favorite lakes to fish," Cook said. "There are so many different species of predators there to fish for, so you can almost always catch something. And May and June are really good times for the lake's topwater bite -- you can get your stuff really busted up there."
At this time of the year, what's Cook's top lure for 89,000-acre Texoma?
"Chug Bugs, Chug Bugs, and Chug Bugs," he laughed. "You can throw a Chug Bug out there and you don't know what's going to hit it -- a largemouth, a spot, a smallmouth, or a striper -- but something's going to bite it."
Since threadfin and gizzard shad are the primary forage fish for Texoma bass, Cook likes to fish anything that resembles a shad in clear, white, or chrome colors.
"If the weather is clear, I'll use a clear bait or a chrome one with a blue back. If it is cloudy, I'll use a white or a white with chartreuse."
Keep in mind that on a vast lake with as much variety as this monster impoundment near Durant offers, other patterns warrant consideration. "If I find myself on the lower end of the lake where smallmouths are predominant, I will throw a topwater early and late in the low-light period," Cook said. "But up in the upper two arms of the lake, where there is more stained water, I'll often go back to a spinnerbait, a buzzbait, or again, a Power Tube or worm."
Thanks to the lake's preponderance of bluffs, rocky points, and bouldered shorelines, Cook isn't afraid to switch to a crankbait either. "When I do, I'll throw a Rapala DT 6 or DT 10. I like to fish a crankbait real fast to trigger a reaction strike. When it goes by real fast, they'll slam it."
Keep in mind that Texoma's creek channels, stumps, laydowns and -- when the water is up -- flooded shoreline vegetation make the lake a top spot for a spinnerbait. "I'll always have one tied on there," Cook remarked. "I like to use a multi-colored bait that resembles a shad in something like a white, chartreuse, and blue combination."
Situated in the drought-plagued southern part of the state, 8,000-acre Hugo Lake was struggling with drought conditions as of press time.
"It's way low," Cook admitted. "But, hopefully, by May and June it will be up again."
Even if it isn't, the news might not be all bad. The exposed lakebed will grow plenty of vegetation, which will provide solid nursery cover when rains do fill the lake again. And the lake's smaller acreage pens predator species like largemouth bass in close quarters with prey species like shad, so the bass should come out of the winter well fed and healthy. Even if the lake level doesn't bump back up this spring, Hugo's bass are "hemmed up" (as Cook puts it), making it easier for anglers to find active
Low or full, Hugo remains one of the state's bassin' diamonds in the rough. "It's a spinnerbait paradise, although it's also a good flippin' and crankbait lake," Cook remarked.
Once again, shad colors should rule the day in your tackle box selections. "There are a lot of crawfish in there, but in May and June, the shad are in there spawning and since the bass are post-spawn, they're hungry, so shad are the key at that time of the year," Cook said. "That's not to say that you can't catch one on a jig in a crawfish color. But I think it's always good to try and imitate the primary forage base at that time of year."
If the color selection is an easy one for Cook, then so too is his lure choice. "There's a lot of timber there with submerged trees, stumps, laydowns, logs, and bushes," he said of the oft-stained lake lying on the Kiamichi River. "The spinnerbait is the perfect bait to fish those with. Besides, if you live in Oklahoma, you need to have a spinnerbait tied on, especially on Hugo."
Keep in mind, however, that, depending on the daily conditions and habits of the fish, other lures will work. "I've been using a new bait by Rapala, the DT 4 shallow crankbait, which comes through shallow cover extremely well for a crankbait," Cook said. "It's not too big, it's not too small, and it runs about the right depth, at about 4 feet, which is perfect on Hugo. When I throw one of those, I'll use something like a chartreuse with a blue back -- I'm still imitating a shad, but with a little brighter-colored lure."
While Cook acknowledges that it's been a while since he's personally fished at 5,400-acre Sooner Lake, he says that since the water body has a fair number of catchable fish and lies reasonably close to Oklahoma City, it remains solidly on his May to-do list.
This is a power-plant lake, but Cook says that warm-water discharges don't define the environment at Sooner as much they do at other such lakes. "The majority of the lake is not dominated by heated water," Cook said. "There is some effect, but it does not dominate. In May, it's still going to be a post-spawn bass pattern, (on Sooner) and the shad are going to spawn at that time of the year no matter what, due to the length of day."
How would Cook fish there? "I'll be fishing my Chug Bug there a lot too since it imitates shad pretty good," said the BASS angling legend. "Beyond that, I'll go back to a spinnerbait or a Power Worm around grass."
When Cook does fish a Texas-rigged worm, he'll usually throw one in the 6-, 7-, or even 10-inch category. "That time of year, bass are looking for a mouthful, so I tend to go with a bigger worm so they think they can get more in their stomach," Cook said. "You can't go wrong in a Power Worm with blue fleck -- that's the main one I throw, day in and day out. If the water is clear, I might go with a green pumpkin, and red shad is always a good choice. In fact, one of those three is always pretty good."
While this giant Eastern Oklahoma reservoir also was struggling with low-water conditions at press time, Cook said that he'll always have Eufaula on his "A" list for Sooner State bass waters.
"I grew up near Lake Eufaula, so I have a real soft spot in my heart for this lake," he offered. "In fact, I learned to bass fish there. It's not at its prime right now, but it should be good in the next two years or so. And with the smallmouths that have been stocked, they give it kind of a bright spot right now. I'm hearing of guys catching smallmouths in the 5- to 7-pound range these days, and it has always got largemouths in there."
In May and June, Cook likes to fish a spinnerbait in Eufaula's shallow water around stumps, logs, laydowns, boat docks, and other woody cover. He'll also flip a Power Tube or Power Worm around such cover along with throwing a Rapala DT 4 or DT 6 crankbait around the lake's riprap, over rocks, and near scattered cover. And when conditions allow, he'll also throw his beloved Chug Bug topwater bait.
Since shad rules the day in terms of the 102,500-acre lake's primary prey species, Cook will opt for shad-colored patterns most of the time. He'll also try to "match the hatch" with baits approximating the actual size of shad that Eufaula's bass are feasting on.
"In a mild winter, threadfins over-winter there, although it's looking like this may not be a mild winter this year," Cook said. "And there is always going to be gizzard shad in there. There's not a whole lot of difference between the two other than their maximum size."
Cook's strategy for a May outing this year? Take a Chug Bug to 'em early, and follow up with a move to deeper water. "On the lower end where the smallmouths are becoming more abundant, I might drop back a little deeper (after the early bite)," he said. "Those smallmouths will have been done spawning long enough that you might go to a Carolina-rigged Power Lizard in green pumpkin and fish that on pea-gravel banks, points, and ridges in about 8 to 12 feet of water."
LAKE OF THE ARBUCKLES AND LAKE MURRAY
For his final choice of hot bass waters this May, Cook had difficulty choosing between these two waters in south-central Oklahoma.
What to do? Simple -- he chose them both.
"I'd have to put Arbuckle and Murray together," he stated. "They're a couple of (smaller) systems, but together they make a pretty good fishery. One can not be going without the other one going and there are a lot of fish in both."
At 5,728-acre Lake Murray, near Ardmore, smallmouths are the fish most often targeted, while at 2,300-acre Lake of the Arbuckles, near Sulphur, largemouths -- including the occasional double-digit lunker -- keep anglers coming back for more.
"Murray -- it has traditionally been one of the state's overall best for numbers of smallmouths," Cook said. "If I had to catch a smallmouth bass, that's probably where I would go.
"As for Arbuckle, there are some big ones in there, although the post-spawn is not necessarily the best time to catch them. Still, there are some up roaming around in the shallow water, and if you can find shad spawning, you'll find some of those big fish around them. You want to be there real early, try to find where the shad are spawning, and fish that Chug Bug on main-lake points and on rock banks." The Oklahoma bass pro also recommends targeting Murray's grass patches with a topwater early in the day.
After the early bite is over, Cook will go deeper and lighter by fishing a 4-inch Power Worm or drop-shotting a similar-sized Gulp Worm in either watermelon or green pumpkin shades on 6- to 8-pound-test fluorocarbon line.
"You can drop-shot a worm out there on structure most of the day in 15 to 30 feet of water," he said. "In both of these lakes, the water is clear, so I'll be out there using my Lowrance electronics to find good bottom structure like dropoffs, brushpiles, etc. And then I'll drop that worm down in there and shake it -- you'll
catch a lot of fish that way."
In fact, if you'll fish with the baits and tactics suggested by Cook, then the guess here is that you'll probably catch a lot of fish on just about any of these red-hot Oklahoma bass waters!