Don't let hunting take up all of your time outdoors in the Sooner State this month!. You'll surely want to hit these bass lakes to sample some of the year's finest angling. (October 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
If I ever get to create a new calendar, it'll have two Octobers. Because just one October -- and one November, for that matter -- is just way too short. Fall not only sees hunting seasons open up in rapid-fire succession, but it's also one of the best times of year for catching bass on Oklahoma lakes.
In terms of numbers of bass boated, some of my best days have been in October. A friend and I once took a couple of hundred bass -- a mixture of smallmouths, spotted bass and largemouths -- on an Upper Mountain Fork River float trip in McCurtain County. Another friend and I once caught close to 200 bass on Lake Tenkiller -- all from one narrow little arm where Terrapin Creek flows into the reservoir. Some late-October days at Grand Lake witnessed two of us landing two or three dozen bass apiece as we watched the sugar maples on the shoreline glowing so red that you'd swear the leaves were illuminated from within.
And topwater action? I've sworn for years that October is the best month of the year for catching bass on Pop-Rs, Zara Spooks, Lucky 13s, Tiny Torpedoes and other such plugs.
Then there are the schooling bass. I used to think -- probably because I did most of my fishing in the summertime -- that bass only schooled and surfaced in the hottest months of the year. But at some lakes, especially at McGee Creek Lake near Atoka and Antlers, you might find bass schooling at just about any time of the year. I've had some excellent days catching "schoolies" in the fall at McGee Creek on topwaters, crankbaits and on jigging spoons, and I've seen bass school and surface there in early January.
I've got to confess I've never been at the right place at the right time to catch big bass schooling. I've caught lots of 12- and 14-inchers schooling, but 2 1/2 or 3 pounds is probably the biggest bass I've ever caught that way. I've heard tales from other anglers who found 5- and 6-pounders schooling. I once was launching my boat on the Cushing municipal lake just as two anglers who said they were Cushing police officers were putting their small craft back on the trailer to head home.
I asked politely how they'd done; it appeared that they'd been dying for someone to ask. They opened the lid of an ice chest and showed me that it was completely full of bass that all appeared to weigh 5 pounds or more.
They'd been fishing a shoreline with plastic worms, they said, when they heard splashing behind them out in open water. Realizing that they were hearing the sound some kind of fish chasing shad to the surface, they moved closer and cast toward the splashing.
Over the next 30 minutes or so they caught numerous big bass out of the school; they'd catch a bass or two or three, and then the fish would disappear. Within minutes, though, they would see or hear splashing again and move in close enough to cast into the melee. The schooling action finally quit, and they fished for a couple of more hours without catching anything of any size. Plenty of daylight was still left, but they were headed home to put the big bass on a stringer and take some snapshots before dark.
Now, before everyone reading this magazine converges on Cushing's 600-acre lake, I should point out that the events described here took place long ago. I mention it only to point out that bass of all sizes can school in the fall, and that if you're in the right place at the right time, you can catch a lot of big bass in a hurry.
For some reason, bass don't seem to school at every lake. I've seen schoolers at McGee Creek many, many times. I've caught them schooling on some small municipal lakes, at Tenkiller, at Broken Bow and at Sardis. But at some of the lakes I've fished the most over the years -- Eufaula, Grand, Keystone, Hugo and others -- I've never seen black bass schooling.
I know it must occur. I've heard reports of it from Grand Lake, even though I've not witnessed it myself. For some reason, schooling seems to occur most often at lakes whose water clarity is good; at more-turbid lakes, it seems to happen rarely, if at all.
Enough about schoolies, though. You can't spend your time on the lake waiting for schoolies to appear. There are lots of fish to be caught in other ways.
At several of our lakes, black bass tend to move up into the flowing stream areas at the headwaters of the lakes in late summer and early fall. I've seen days in September when you could fish for several hours in the main lake with very few results, but then move up into the rivers and fish the shorelines, small coves, pockets and creek mouths and catch bass after bass on a variety of lures.
My friend T.J. Switzer, who has guided bass fishermen for many years on Hugo Lake, noted that fishing up in the Kiamichi River has been the ticket to winning many late-season tournaments at Hugo. He's found that worms, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and topwaters can all be effective when the bass are up in the flowing river. According to him, late-summer and early-fall bass fishing can be rewarding in the river anywhere from the Highway 93 bridge all the way up to Rattan Landing.
I've had some great bass fishing at Tenkiller in early fall, too, navigating upstream from Horseshoe Bend, which is the uppermost boat ramp on the lake.
Many Oklahoma anglers prefer smallmouth bass to just about any other fish. And some great places for getting into fall smallmouths can be found in Oklahoma.
Much has been written about Lake Texoma, where some of the more-recent smallmouth state-record fish have been caught. And Lake Eufaula has gotten some publicity recently, because it's now started producing some trophy-sized smallmouths.
But Lake Murray, just east of I-35 and south of Ardmore, is my favorite smallmouth lake in the state. It hasn't produced the number of really big smallmouths that Texoma and Eufaula have, but it consistently yields nice 2- to 4-pounders and can be fished with a variety of tackle and techniques. When the days are growing shorter and the water temperatures are gradually falling, I like to fish the lower end of the lake, where steeply descending rocky points, plus a few rocky humps and islands, attract smallmouths from the surrounding depths. Crankbaits can take a few fish, but jigs tipped with pork or plastic and small finesse baits like drop-shot worms and small tube baits are my favorites here.
Another lake that offers surprisingly good smallmouth action is one that I'm reluctant to spotlight, because of the fishing p
ressure: Oklahoma City's Lake Hefner. In recent seasons this body of water has surrendered lots of nice smallmouths to urban anglers. Much of the shoreline is riprapped, and those rocky stretches draw the fish in. Crawfish are one of a smallmouth's favorite foods, and riprapped shorelines usually teem with crawfish.
Another type of place at which to find excellent bass action at this time of year: small watershed lakes and farm ponds. If you don't own a fishing boat, smaller bodies of water are usually more productive than are larger ones. But Oklahoma has thousands and thousands of ponds and watershed lakes ranging in size from a fraction of an acre up to a few dozen acres -- and the great majority of them will hold largemouth bass. (Bear in mind that you should always obtain permission before fishing private waters.)
Ponds and small lakes can yield both big bass and big numbers of bass when conditions are right. Many can be fished thoroughly from shore or by donning waders. On some it helps to have a float tube or canoe or johnboat or other such craft for reaching areas that can't be fished from shore.
Pond bass fishing can remain strong right up through mid or late November; the action usually slows dramatically once water temperatures fall into the low 40s. Carrying a small thermometer can sometimes help you find the best action at these small bodies of water. Depending on wind direction and sunlight, water temperatures can be several degrees warmer or cooler from one side of a pond to the other.
Early in the fall, look for cooler water and shaded areas; as the weather gets cooler and the days shorter, use your thermometer to find spots that are a few degrees warmer, for those are frequently often where the most-active bass will be looking for a meal.
Fall bass fishing opportunities abound in Oklahoma -- I just wish October had more days for me to go fishing!