Can you land big bigmouths in the sweltering summer? You bet! Just fish these northeast Oklahoma bass hotspots and use the tactics that our experts employ. (July 2007)
Caught on a hot night in July, the lake-record largemouth for McGee Creek -- this 12-pound, 11-ounce specimen -- is just one of 110 giant bass that Chuck Justice has taken there.
Photo courtesy of Chuck Justice
Green Country is a special area in our state, its picturesque stands of hardwoods typifying its scenic beauty. This northeast region of Oklahoma is well known for rolling, tree-studded hills, famous hideouts of notorious outlaws, river systems popular with canoeists -- and, of course, fabulous bass fishing!
In fact, Green Country is home to several nationally known bass waters that, according to at least a few well-known anglers, are as generous to bass fishermen as any waters nationwide. Alabama bass pro Timmy Horton believes Grand Lake, near Vinita, is one of the best lakes around. The site of several local bass tournaments and several prestigious Bassmasters tournaments, Grand is stellar.
The tailwaters below Grand give rise to a host of lakes holding phenomenal numbers of bass. Limited space precludes mentioning all of them, but what follows are some of my favorite bass lakes in the region. As an added bonus, I've invited local experts to enlighten you as to what these fisheries can offer.
So grab a cool beverage and sit back to glean the wisdom that this group of experts is about to impart. Use it, and your next trip might culminate in your taking the trophy of a lifetime at one of the lakes of fabulous Green Country!
GRAND LAKE O' THE CHEROKEES
Impounded by the Grand River Dam Authority, 55,000-acre Grand Lake is the top dog in bass fishing in the Tulsa area. According to ODWC fisheries expert Gene Gilliland, Grand is the favorite fishing location for many tournament anglers as well. That's due to its size, available structure, and its top-quality largemouth population said Gilliland, a tournament angler himself.
Another tournament angler, Mike Tyner, says Grand is the state's premier lake, due to what it offers bass anglers. "Grand has such a diverse habitat," he said. "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!"
Tyner's won several tournaments on Grand during his 33 years as a competitive angler. His tenure there has garnered him valuable knowledge about where to go when the pressure is on to catch a limit of big bass.
"The old adage on Grand is to follow the birds," he 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 "football-headed." 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 suggested that anglers preferring to fish stained water will find bass in 5 feet of water or less. He pointed to the area from Sailboat Bridge and up the lake as a good stained-water spot. Other notable spots are from Shangri-La to the Dam, 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 July 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 for night-fishing is to throw a large plastic worm or a spinnerbait, around a well-lit boat dock, as he believes that 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. He has learned what makes this prolific lake tick. It's the huge shad base that lends itself to the overall success of the fishery.
According to tournament data, the average bass weighed in is 2.4 pounds. Another notable fact: Many professional anglers choose Grand as one of the lakes they prefer to fish on the tournament trail.
Davis said that 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 in the downlake area. These 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 these bass on football jigs or Carolina-rigged plastics, or by drop-shotting finesse worms.
Davis' best largemouth weighed 10 pounds, 4 ounces and he says the lake typically yields several bass weighing 9 to 10 pounds.
Nestled in the hills of Green Country is Fort Gibson Lake -- 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 asserts confidently that there's not a bad spot to fish on the e
ntire lake, he 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, 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 piece 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," he said.
As public relations manager for several outdoor companies, Gary Dollahon works in an environment that affords him the privilege of fishing some of the finest bass waters in the country. Nevertheless, given a choice the Tulsan likes to fish Lake Tenkiller, about an hour's drive southeast of Tulsa. Dollahon, who fishes the lake often, considers July to be a good month for catching bass.
"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 pointed out that several of the big bass weighed in at recent tournaments have been smallmouths.
Dollahon recommends anglers target areas where creeks and underwater cuts form ledges, and prefers sunny areas to fish early and shaded areas later. He says he has his best success using shad-colored lures, and likes Carolina-rigging a 6-inch lizard in green, watermelon, or motor oil colors.
"In July, if I want to target largemouth bass, I generally find them from the midlake 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, Chicken Creek, Snake Creek, and Burnt Cabin are good spots for finding surfacing bass activity in summer. Dollahon's favorite topwater baits are Zara Spooks, and popper-type lures.
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 has caught several largemouths in Tenkiller that weighed 6 to 7 pounds with his best being a 7-pound, 8-ounce trophy.
Tenkiller has a 13- to 16-inch slot limit on both largemouths and smallmouths.
McGEE CREEK: LUNKER-BASS CENTRAL
OK, so why is McGee Creek mentioned in an article highlighting Green Country's big-bass lakes? Well, this small 5,000-acre lake is nestled in the pine hills east of Atoka, and annually produces some of the biggest bass caught anywhere in the state. Frankly, most of them seem to come on the end of one of Chuck Justice's rods.
Justice could be the ambassador for McGee Creek. In fact, Justice -- "the big-bass guru" as some call him -- has yanked 110 bass over 10 pounds from this lunker factory, and he has the distinction of being the only angler ever to have multiple entries in the state's Top 20 Big Bass list. He had four listed there at one time.
Bo may know football, but Justice knows big bass!
So what makes this small lake so prolific for trophy bass? "McGee Creek is the only state lake I know of that is stocked almost exclusively with Florida bass," said Justice who expects someday to catch a state record from the brushy lake. "The bass here just get bigger because their metabolisms are made for warmer water. When the water heats up, so does the bass fishing."
Justice is one of the savviest bass experts I have ever interviewed, and he freely shares his knowledge . . . with an ulterior motive.
"I have been blessed with the ability to catch big bass, and I want to share my techniques with other anglers," Justice said convincingly. "I like to help people."
Justice's clients can attest to that fact; one of them, Lewis Chestnut, caught the previous lake record -- a 12-pound, 9-ounce bucketmouth -- on a hot July afternoon when the mercury was hitting 104 degrees.
Five years later on an oppressive 103-degree July night, Justice had a gut feeling that it would be a good night for fishing. The weather had been dangerously hot, with daily temps of 100 degrees or more for over a week. The previous evening, Justice boated three keepers weighing 7 pounds, 6 ounces; 8 pounds, 11 ounces; and 11 pounds, 6 ounces. He had a feeling this night would be good too.
At 8 p.m., Justice motored to the same tree that had produced the previous trio of lunkers, and dropped his 11-inch Gene Larew Salty Snake into the timbered honeyhole. He diligently fished the spot for 40 minutes without so much as a bump while his wife sat in the back of the boat reading in blissful silence. At 8:40, the exact time that his biggest lunker had been hooked the night before, Justice noticed a slight movement in his line and set the hook. The fight was on, and for nearly 20 minutes Justice wondered what was on the other end.
"I thought to myself, I either have a 25- to 30-pound catfish or a lake-record bass," he said.
Finally, the big bass rolled on the surface allowing Justice to grab it. He'd just lipped the new lake record bass, weighing 12 pounds, 11 ounces!
How can you catch a big bass of your own? Chuck's advice is simple. You have to fish where big bass like to be, and you need to use the right baits. In a nutshell, Justice says big bass prefer big baits.
"In the hot summer months, big bass thrive in warm-water conditions, while eating up to 1/5 of their total body weight each day," Justice believes. "I learned more about big bass from John Hope, a Texas big-bass expert. He taught me that big bass have spots where they like to hang out to rest, and other spots where they hang out to eat. I also learned that there are two types of bass -- ambushers and flushers. As bass get older and heavier, they like to lie in wait for their food, while younger bass like to go
flush their prey before eating them."
Hope acquired his knowledge after spending several years underwater filming and researching the habits of big bass.
Justice advised that all of the creeks feeding into the lake are good spots to catch bass. He also suggested that anglers should target the edge of channels in brushy creeks as well as the deeper main-lake points such as Community Point.
Justice fishes his own jig marketed by Hart Tackle -- but, he confessed, 109 of his 110 big bass were caught on a Gene Larew soft-plastic bait.
Justice dispelled the notion that all big bass hit hard. "It is simply not true," he said, "most of my biggest bass have hit very lightly. You have to keep a good eye on your line. Sometimes it will only twitch slightly when a big bass is picking up your bait."
A final bit of advice from this bass expert is for anglers to fish at night when it is hot. "It is more comfortable and I believe, like most animals, big bass are nocturnal.
So if you're in the mood for a class in catching lunker bass, call Justice at (580) 889-6742 to book a fishing trip. You might just possibly catch the biggest bass of your lifetime!