Summer bass fishing can be rewarding at these Tulsa and Oklahoma City-area lakes, but you need the right tactics to make it happen. Here, we discuss where and how to increase your catch this summer.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Last June I fished a small pond near Marshall with my good friend Chris Box. Box owns a farm in Logan County, and is blessed to have several waterholes dotting his property. The weather that morning was not what I would consider optimal for bass fishing: gray skies and temperatures in the high 60s, and a north wind howling at nearly 25 miles an hour -- just the kind of conditions that every backlash-prone baitcasting angler loathes.
Nevertheless, we went -- and I had my best day of bass fishing ever, culminating in my taking my personal-best bass, a chunky post-spawn 6.10-pounder. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't miss the trip because of what I (incorrectly, apparently) felt was irredeemably unfavorable weather.
Many Okie anglers will again be rewarded this June as the state's largemouth bass settle in to normal routines and begin to feed again, more aggressively now that their offspring are started out in life.
This time of the year is a great one for catching a real wallhanger bass -- and without suffering heat stroke while you fish! Most of our state's waters will heat up with bass activity, and anglers fortunate enough to be on hand will find area bass receptive to a number of lures and fishing methods. So grab your tackle and lake maps and head to some of our state's best June hotspots -- after, of course, you read the rest of this article, so that you can gather tips and tactics from area experts.
MCGEE CREEK LAKE
"McGee Creek is one of the best big bass lakes in Oklahoma," opined big-bass expert Chuck Justice, who in fact has several McGee Creek largemouths weighing 10 pounds or better to his credit. This savvy angler's familiarity with the lake enables him to know just where to find the bass in June -- and just how to catch them.
"June is one of my favorite months for catching big bass," he said.
"The big bass will generally be shallow and actively feeding. I catch most of my big fish on a 6-inch soft-plastic jerkbait, or on one of my recently designed jigs I named the 'Justice Jig.'"
The innovative jig (which is being marketed by Hart Tackle Company in Miami) adds a 1/4-ounce floating worm to the hook's shank. This produces a flat, slow descent quite different from the rapid, headfirst plunge seen in most jigs.
Anglers new to McGee Creek will find water varying in clarity from site to site, all of it teeming with both threadfin shad and perch -- classic big-bass forage. The lake has three main creeks, all of which are likely spots for catching big bass this month.
Justice recommends that anglers use heavy tackle when fishing the brushy areas abounding in McGee Creek. "I use 50-pound braided line on my reel with the drag tightened down," he said. "When you hook a fish in deep cover, you have to get him out before he wraps you up and you lose him. I also use a 6 1/2-foot heavy-action rod."
Pitching jigs into and working Texas-rigged plastic worms at the brushy areas will lead to the most desirable outcomes. Top colors include pumpkinseed, motor oil, black/blue, and junebug.
Those who prefer crankbaits should be prepared to hang up often in brushy areas. A way to avoid that problem is to cast parallel to cover with a shallow- to medium-running crankbait that will run 3 to 5 feet deep. Keep in mind that in the early months of summer, before water temperatures soar, bass will be shallow early and then retreat to shaded areas later.
The lake has a 16- to 22-inch slot limit; generally speaking, this means that most bass 2 1/2 to 6 pounds will have to be released. However, every cast at McGee Creek has the potential to result in a lunker -- and Justice knows about lunkers. His record is 137 bass over 10 pounds, with his best hawg on McGee Creek weighing 12 pounds, 11 ounces.
Justice offered this final advice for anglers fishing this awesome southeastern lake: "I would concentrate my efforts near the backs of the lake's main creeks, and be prepared to possibly catch the fish of a lifetime."
FORT GIBSON LAKE
Nestled between Lake Hudson and the Arkansas River in the northeast hills in what's widely known as "Green Country" lies Fort Gibson Lake, a river lake prone to fluctuations in flow and depth. According to lake expert Gary Dollahon, the fish will definitely bite better when the water's running.
"Flowing water causes baitfish to be more active," he explained, "which in turn causes game fish to pursue the active forage and become more receptive to bite a hook."
Gibson, a shallow lake, usually has green-stained water. As with other river lakes, depths vary here, but anglers equipped with electronics can find ample structure. The lake was at one point hit hard by largemouth bass virus, but it's showing clear signs of returning to normal, and with better age-classes of fish than formerly.
Dollahon's pattern in June sees him fishing topwater baits in the Ranger Creek area early in the day. He then concentrates on finding schools of shad; once they're located, he works them with shallow-running square-billed crankbaits in the shad colors that normally get the best results. He targets rocky points and the edges of flats with these shad-replicating baits. His picks for topwater baits are Chug Bugs and Pop-Rs when fished near the banks.
"In years past, bass numbers were not good," Dollahon said, "but the average-sized bass I caught was bigger. Now the bass numbers have increased, and several of the bass I take weigh between 2 and 4 pounds. My best bass taken at Gibson weighed 7 pounds."
In the middle of the day, Dollahon fishes 7- to 8-inch Texas-rigged plastic worms in junebug color in water less than 6 feet deep, and targets shallow areas near flats and the areas off long points. Using tackle lighter than Justice's, he opts for 14-pound-test line.
When the fishing slows, Gibson anglers should try downsizing their baits and making slower retrieves. This is a good time to use split-shot weights on smaller plastic finesse baits. When you find one bass, chances are good that a concentration will be in the same vicinity.
Dollahon generously named some of his favorite bass-fishing areas on the lake. "In June I fish Long Bay, Jackson Bay, Wahoo Bay, Paradise Cove, Sequoyah Bay, and the entire flat in front of Western Hills State Lodge," he said. "Some guys like to flip the river areas, and enjoy suc
cess doing so."
By way of closing remarks, Dollahon said, "Historically, Fort Gibson has always been a good largemouth lake, but lately good numbers of spotted bass, or Kentuckies, and smallmouth bass are showing up, which makes the fishing exciting. I would invite any angler to come fish this beautiful lake that is overlooked by many."
A great bass lake just 15 miles west of the Tulsa skyline -- but amazingly, one that feels little bass-fishing pressure: That's Keystone, home to considerable numbers of both largemouths and smallmouths. Combine all this with one of the largest shad populations to be found in any Okie waters, and you have the core elements of a fantastic fishery.
Water clarity here will depend on whether you fish the upper or the lower areas. According to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation fisheries biologist Gene Gilliland, the oxygen levels also vary, making certain areas on the lake better than others in the hot months.
June's better fishing can be found near the rocky points and secluded coves in the upper end of the lake, which boasts the clearest water. Sonar will locate places of interest like underwater timber, brushpiles, dropoffs, and rocky ledges. Most anglers target these areas, probing them with either a medium-running crankbait or a spinnerbait. Once fish are located, anglers ordinarily reach for a rod rigged with a plastic bait and either pitch or cast in hopes of landing a respectable bass.
Roy Dodd, a tournament angler who fishes the lake often, says that the best lures are shad-colored crankbaits, chartreuse and white spinnerbaits, and soft plastics like worms, lizards, and craws in green pumpkin, blue-flecked, and green mixed colors.
"Basically, Keystone is a river lake that is affected like other river lakes by water level fluctuations," he remarked. "If the lake is down, then I usually go up the river channels and fish near the rock jetties. I look for off-colored water and like to fish laydowns and channel bends.
"Buzzbaits and spinnerbaits will do tremendous in these areas, and I catch a lot of bass on a shad-colored crankbaits. Just remember: When the water is dirty, bass prefer to feed in shallower water."
The spots to hit are Bear Creek, up the Cimarron and Verdigris rivers, in Shriner's Cove, and at several of the lake's long rocky points, which offer big concentrations of bass in 3 to 5 feet of water. Be aware that the water becomes more turbid toward the midlake areas and near the dam. When the water's low, fishing near the exposed buckbrush can yield some agreeable outcomes.
BELL COW LAKE
Off the Turner Turnpike north of Chandler, 40 minutes east of Oklahoma City, lies Bell Cow Lake -- 1,000 acres of water swum by solid numbers of bass.
The best Bell Cow bass taken by Oklahoma City angler Nick Sadler, who has fished the lake often since it first opened, weighed 8 pounds. "I would rate the lake as fabulous," he stated. "It has lots of cover, which holds big bass. Anglers will catch good numbers of fish that are also quality fish, with the average-sized bass caught there weighing between 3 and 3 1/2 pounds.
"In June, the best areas to fish are the north end and the west side. After the spawn, the fish seem to hold in 3 to 5 feet of water, and I do very good when using a chartreuse-and-white spinnerbait with gold blades."
Bell Cow normally has dingy water, so Sadler suggests that anglers using plastic baits stick to lighter colors on bright days and darker colors on dark ones.
The lake has a fair amount of standing timber, so anglers who like to flip or pitch will find ample wood to cast to.
Practically since it opened, Thunderbird has been nicknamed "Dirty T" in token of its perennially muddy water. The lake just south of Oklahoma City, near Norman, grew turbid when much of its aquatic vegetation died.
However, don't let a little staining keep you home -- because beneath the surface here lurks a considerable complement of mature bass, many of them over 10 pounds. Said Royce Harlan, who owns the nearby Nichols Marina, "The lake can be tough to fish at times, but when a fish is caught, he is normally 3 1/2 pounds or better."
According to Harlan, Thunderbird's best spots are the Hog Creek arm and the Little Axe area, where, he claims, the lake's biggest bass come from. He catches bass there on a variety of soft-plastic baits and white crankbaits.
Crowder Lake is one of the best big-bass lakes in the western part of the Sooner State. Although largely kept secret, this small municipal lake has surrendered some real trophy largemouths, and it always rates high in the ODWC's spring electrofishing surveys.
Crowder's 16- to 22-inch slot limit is geared toward producing trophy bass. Also, anglers here allowed only one bass daily over 22 inches.
The hotspots of this small lake are the northeast side of the lake, where promising weed cover will be found near the shore, and a flats area on the southwest side of the lake. Lake experts recommend fishing Possum Hollow Creek; some enjoyable action is apt to await those working lures parallel to the dam.
Anglers with sonar capabilities may well want to try to image the structure, which consists of humps, creek channels, and sharp dropoffs, to be found throughout the lake. These areas are ideal for Texas-rigged plastic baits, while the long lake points can be fished effectively with crankbaits. My favorite is a shad-colored Lee Sisson medium-running crankbait with a blue back.
A taxidermist for nearly 30 years, I have had the pleasure of mounting numerous big bass, some of them nearing 14 pounds. The majority of these were taken from farm ponds and small watershed lakes -- older waters, most of whose fish had been given time to grow to trophy size.
While I was pond-jumping with Chris Box this past summer, I caught three of the biggest bass of my life -- oddly enough, on days that I regarded as inauspicious for bass fishing. One was dark and cloudy, with a strong north wind. While I was busy getting a backlash out of the reel, my black plastic worm was inhaled by a bass that later turned out to weigh nearly 7 pounds. On another less-than-gorgeous day, Box and I were fishing the ponds when I tied on a bright chartreuse-and-orange crankbait and was rewarded with two nice bass weighing nearly 7 pounds apiece.
When it comes to catch-and-release, I try to practice what I preach, so all three of those bass went back into those waters. After all, I hope to catch the very same fish this summer, only transformed into super-sized versions.
Most landowners are receptive to allow access to anglers who knock civilly on their doors and ask politely for permission to fish. There are literally thousands of ponds scattered throughout our state, an
d plenty of them host tremendous angling.
June is a marvelous month for cashing in on some great bass fishing at a venue near you. The bass will be biting, and can be caught on virtually any lure in your tackle box. Your chances for catching a wallhanger are good.
So grab your tackle, load up the family, and head out for some of Oklahoma's bass fishing at its finest. First, remember these words to the wise: Start putting aside some money right now so that you won't be caught by surprise when the taxidermist hands you that bill for mounting your lunker bass!