October 05, 2010
Why travel great distances to find good bass fishing when you can enjoy fast action close to home? Save money and time by catching fish at these Oklahoma City and Tulsa-area hotspots.
By Mike Lambeth
Dave Smith took time out from a hectic work schedule to fish Wes Watkins Lake near Oklahoma City on the day he caught this 10-pounder. Lucky break for him, huh?
Photo courtesy of Brad Myers.
Our state boasts some of the finest bass fishing in the nation. Regardless of where you live in Soonerland, you can bet there's a lake, pond, river or creek near you with a feisty bass just waiting to bite a hook.
Many of the state's top bass-fishing sites are fairly near the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metropolitan areas. It's true: Bass aficionados can escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and retreat to the serenity of some prime bass waters without driving hours to do so.
While many of these fishing holes are within the lights of the big cities, others lie in outlying counties. Best of all, bass fanatics can catch fish close to home at any of these hot fisheries.
Gary Dollahon is one of the best bass anglers I know. Being a public relations expert for several fishing tackle manufacturers affords him the privilege of fishing some of the finest bass waters in the country. Nevertheless, given a choice, this Tulsan likes to fish Lake Tenkiller, about an hour's drive southeast of his home. Dollahon fishes the lake often and considers June a great month for it.
"This is one of those lakes where you can always have a good day bass fishing," he said. "Other than catching largemouths, you have a good chance at catching spotted bass and smallmouth bass."
Dollahon recommends anglers target areas where creeks and underwater cuts form ledges. He prefers sunny areas to fish early and shaded areas later. He says he has his best success using shad-colored lures, and likes a Carolina-rigged 6-inch lizard in green, watermelon, or motor oil colors.
"In June, if I want to target largemouth bass, I generally find them from the mid-lake area to the north part of the lake," Dollahon noted. "If I want to fish for spotted bass, I fish from Cookson Bend south toward the dam, and generally find the spots in clear, deep water."
Dollahon said the areas of Carlisle Creek, Sizemore Creek, Chick Creek, Snake Creek and Burnt Cabin are good for finding surfacing bass in summer. Dollahon's favorite topwater baits are Zara Spooks and topwater poppers.
When fishing the steep bluffs or the chunk rock banks that surround Tenkiller, Dollahon uses an 8-inch Gene Larew Hook Tail worm or a 4-inch Chub Grub in purple and red or tequila sunrise colors.
Dollahon catches numerous largemouths at Tenkiller weighing 6 to 7 pounds, with his best a 7-pound, 8-ounce trophy.
Tenkiller has 13- to 16-inch slot limits on largemouths and smallmouths
One of the state's most overlooked lakes is Bixhoma -- a deep, clear water supply lake near the town of Bixby. Bixhoma nestles between some hills that shelter it from the wind. The lake was stocked with Florida largemouths, and so anglers have caught some real dandies.
Brent Gordon, who oversees Bixhoma for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, says the lake's lunkers can be tough to catch at times. The lake yielded a 14-pound bass, and Gordon reports having electro-shocked several bass in the 8-pound category.
According to Gordon, catching 4- to 5-pound bass daily is common, though catching big numbers of bass can be tough. He does see anglers coming in with 7-pound bass.
For access to Bixhoma, anglers pay a user fee. The lake offers two fishing docks; some bank access is available, but most anglers fish it by boat.
What's the best area for big bass? Try the creek on the backside of the lake.
Another great fishery near Tulsa is Fort Gibson -- a river lake on the Grand River below Grand Lake. As such, Fort Gibson is affected by flow and depth fluctuations. According to lake expert George Toalson, the fish definitely bite better when the water is running.
"Flowing water causes baitfish to be more active, which in turn causes bass to feed and be more receptive to bite a hook," he observed.
President of the Gene Larew Bait Company, Toalson knows bass fishing and he rates Gibson as an excellent fishery, having plied its stained green waters most of his life. While he insists there's not a bad spot to fish on the entire lake, Toalson notes that many of the largemouths are caught in shallow water near the edges of flats.
"Having a good set of electronics is essential on Gibson," he said. "Other than pointing out the dangerously shallow spots that can ruin a boat's lower unit, good electronics can identify wads of shad, which will certainly have bass nearby."
According to Toalson, Fort Gibson anglers are apt to catch largemouths in the 3- to 4-pound range while the lake's spotted bass average 2 1/2 pounds. His favorite spots on the lake are White Horn Creek, 14 Mile Creek, Jackson Bay, Toppers Area, Clear Creek, Jane Dennis and Flat Rock Creek.
Toalson, whose best Gibson lunker weighed 8 pounds, advises anglers to use a jig or a 10-inch plastic worm if they are seeking a trophy bass. The most popular colors for plastic worms are red shad and blue fleck, while the best colors for jigs are black and blue, or any combination with green.
One last pieced of advice Toalson offered is what he calls a guaranteed method of catching fish in Gibson. "If newcomers to Fort Gibson will use a Carolina rig with a 5-inch Mega Ring Shad in either green pumpkin or watermelon colors, they are almost guaranteed to catch fish."
Impounded by the Grand River Dam Authority, 55,000-acre Grand Lake is the "top dog" for bass fishing in the Tulsa area. Just ask any of the tournament pros and they'll tell you Grand Lake has everything a serious bass angler is looking for.
What makes Grand so special? "Due to its size, available structure, and its top-quality largemouth population" said Gene Gilliland, ODWC biologist and tournament angler, "the lake has everything an angler could hope for."
Another tournament angler, Mike Tyner, says Grand is the state's premier lake. "Grand has such diverse habitat," he s
aid. "There are a lot of boat docks, there are rocks, there are good stands of flooded willows, there is both stained and clear water, and there is a lot of brush and laydowns everywhere. If you want to night-fish, the lake is great. If you like shallow-water fishing, it's unbeatable. If you like to use a Carolina rig, it works well. You name it, Grand is the lake!
"The old adage on Grand is to follow the birds," Tyner said. "But I am a river rat, so I like to head up the creeks and look for stained water 3 to 4 feet deep, where I can pitch a jig or throw a spinnerbait."
His favorite jigs are the "football-headed" ones. His color preferences are black and blue for stained water, and watermelon for clear water, while his spinnerbait of choice is a 7/16-ounce Terminator in chartreuse and white, with gold willow-leaf blades. That rig won him two tournaments on Grand.
Tyner said anglers preferring to fish stained water would find the bass in 5 feet of water or less. He pointed to the area above Sailboat Bridge as a good stained-water spot. Other notable spots are from Shangri-La to the dam and Duck Creek, Drowning Creek, and Horse Creek, where bass will be found suspended in 10 to 20 feet of water near brushpiles.
Grand Lake can turn out big bass. Fishing guide Hank Souder holds the lake's largemouth record of 11 pounds, 12 ounces. Tyner said his biggest bass, a 10-pound, 4-ounce bruiser, was caught in Carey Bay.
According to Tyner, one of the best summer angling methods for Grand is fishing at night. "You don't have all the boat traffic and the wakes from big boats, and nighttime is really the best time to catch a big bass."
His favorite method of night-fishing is throwing a large plastic worm or a spinnerbait, around a well-lit boat dock; he believes the boat docks are big-bass magnets.
"You have the perfect nighttime ecosystem around any boat dock with lights," he explained. "The lights attract insects around the water, which in turn attracts baitfish, which attracts bass. The fishing can be incredible!"
Brent Davis works for the Grand River Dam authority as fisheries coordinator and tournament director. Davis says the lake has phenomenal numbers of largemouths, as well as good numbers of spotted bass. Grand holds the distinction of being one of the few lakes to have the Neosho River strain of smallmouth bass. These hearty bronzebacks average 1 1/2 pounds, but a 3-pounder comes to net occasionally.
The best spots for smallmouths are Elk River, Spring River, Honey Creek and Drowning Creek. The top areas for Kentucky spotted bass are Drowning Creek or anywhere downlake. Those areas yield spotted bass approaching 5 pounds, although the average is 2 1/2 to 3 pounds. Spotted bass have a penchant for deep, clear water in rocky areas. Most anglers catch them on football jigs or Carolina-rigged plastics, or by dropshotting finesse worms.
Davis' best largemouth weighed 10 pounds, 4 ounces and he says the lake typically yields several bass weighing 9 to 10 pounds.
Lake Arcadia is north of Oklahoma City near the town of Edmond. Fed by the Deep Fork River and a few small creeks, this lake spanning 1,820 acres serves as a water supply for several towns. Although the number of bass caught per hour as revealed in surveys isn't huge in Arcadia, the average-sized bass is larger than at most lakes.
Wyly Kenneda of Edmond fishes Arcadia all year and catches bass nearly every outing. In June, he fishes it two or three times a week. "The bass are big," he said. "The average fish I catch is close to 4 1/2 pounds." His best was a 7 1/2-pounder.
Kenneda considers certain areas on the lake to be better for bass fishing. He advises Arcadia anglers to target rocky areas like the riprap near the 15th Street boat ramp, and the rocky areas near the dam. Another good spot is the submerged tree rows clearly marked with ODWC buoys.
"I like to cast a medium-diving Bandit crankbait parallel to the rocks, and then stop the bait periodically while making the retrieve," he offered. "Normally, when I pause is when the bass bite. If the water is stained, I use a chartreuse-colored crankbait with a green back, and if the water is clear, I use chartreuse with a blue back. Another good choice is to throw a spinnerbait."
Leon Mixer oversees Arcadia for the city of Edmond and advises that fishing around the enclosed fishing dock can be good too. "In fact," he added, "we had a crappie angler catch a 10-pound bass there."
South of Oklahoma City in Norman, 6,000-acre Lake Thunderbird once had the reputation of being one of the finest big-bass lakes in the nation. Anglers caught huge stringers of fish, and the lake became extremely popular for bass tournaments. Unfortunately, fishing pressure on T-Bird, combined with muddy water, made a huge dent in the lake's lunker population.
Enough of that pessimism: The good news is that the lake is showing signs of rebounding. More than half the lake is clearing up, and the once-lifeless lake bottom is now greening. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has supplemented the lake's moss growth with aquatic vegetation, and so the results look promising.
Jim Malicott of Oklahoma City is an expert on Thunderbird, having fished there for 35 years. Malicott has hosted a bass tournament at the impoundment every Wednesday evening for more than 25 years. Each week attracts up to 60 entrants who fish as two-angler teams.
According to Malicott, the lake's bass fishing is always good, but he adds, certain times are better than others. "In June, T-Bird's bass fishing heats up in the morning, and as water temperatures warm, the bass retreat to deeper water," he said. "I have always done real good with plastic worms, and use a spinnerbait as a reaction bait to get strikes."
He points to Duck Blind Cove, Little Ax, Clear Bay, Snake Pit, and generally, areas near any gravel banks as the best spots for bass fishing.
Malicott, who has caught 9 1/2-pound bass at Thunderbird, encourages anglers to fish the lake before forming what may turn out to be wrong conclusions.
West Watkins Reservoir is located 20 minutes east of Oklahoma City and is becoming a promising bass lake. Gilliland has high hopes for Watkins to become another of Oklahoma's premier big-bass lakes. The ODWC designated the lake as catch-and-release only for largemouths.
Though not a deep lake, Wes Watkins has lot of brush and cover, and so its water clarity is excellent, allowing ample sunlight to penetrate and foster aquatic vegetation.
The lake has been open for 10 years, yielding some double-digit-sized bass. When the lake filled, it incorporated two or three older ponds that were teeming with large bass, so the potential for catching big bass there started early.
Like Bixhoma and Arcadia, Wes Watkins is a fee-use lake that's under limited fishing pressure. It was stocked with both northern bass and Florida bass to increase future trophy potential. The bass there forage primarily on gizzard shad and sunfish.
Gilliland likes the reservoir's potential and fishes it regularly. He says one reason for his appreciation is the variety of natural structure available, including an old railroad track, a creek channel, numerous roadbeds, flooded brush and timber, and several weedbeds -- all, he says, easily located on a depthfinder.
On Wes Watkins, Gilliland's favorite baits are a jigging spoon in silver or chrome that he drops vertically into brushpiles, and plastic grubs that he fishes on a Carolina rig.
Wes Watkins can be reached by taking I-40 east of Oklahoma City to the Harrah/Newalla Road exit; go north a half-mile, and then follow the signs east to the lake.
With gasoline prices finally at some of the lowest prices in years, June is a great month to go fishing. With the abundance of waters available to them, Tulsa and Oklahoma City bass anglers shouldn't have to go far to find excellent angling.
Consult the 2009 ODWC fishing regulations booklet for lake limits and size restrictions before going fishing.
And then gas up your vehicle, load your tackle, and go have fun catching largemouth bass. Maybe you'll catch a wallhanger to boot!