Here's where and how you should be fishing to catch bass after the spring spawn and before full-blown summer sweeps across Oklahoma.
By M.C. Flint
Many Sooner State bass anglers consider the largemouth's pre-spawn and spawning stages in spring to be the very best of times for bass fishing. Most Oklahoma fish are in fairly shallow water, easily accessible by boat or bank. Most will hit if presented with the correct offering in just the right way. Air temperatures are typically moderate, making fishing quite comfortable. As a result, many really huge bass have been caught during that time of year.
But anglers in the know actually wait longingly for early-summer bass fishing, when fish have shaken off the spawning doldrums but have not yet fallen into their typical summer patterns. They're in transition.
In Oklahoma, that prime time generally occurs between mid-May and mid-June. While fishing can be tough at times during the period, anglers who know where to look for bass and how to fish for them can catch some of their biggest fish of the year - and some of their biggest stringers of fish.
Figuring out where to go to have the best chance at catching bass isn't necessarily a piece of cake. However, over the years some lakes have proved their ability to produce good bass fishing during this time of year. And while these aren't necessarily the same lakes you'd read about when preparing for a spring or fall fishing trip, they're tops right now. Try these lakes in the next week or so, and I believe you'll be glad you did.
Photo by Michael Skinner
LAKE TENKILLER One of the prettiest lakes in the state, in my humble opinion, Tenkiller is also a top bass producer during all seasons. And the transition period between spawning and summer patterns is definitely no exception.
Rocky points are among the best bass-holding habitat at this time of year. Find points that extend to a submerged creek channel or river channel and you'll almost certainly find bass at some depth along the point. Look for both slow-tapering points that gradually work out toward deeper water and quickly falling points that reach deep water over very little distance. Both are productive at times; anglers just have to discover which will produce on any given day.
My favorite tactic for working these points, whether deep or shallow, is to throw a jig-and-pig combination onto the point and crawl it down the ledge, whether I'm fishing the edge or the tip of the point. Once I find bass with the jig, I'll often try a quicker bait like a spinnerbait or suspending jerkbait to try to put fish in the boat a little faster. But if the bite stops I'll go back to the jig in a heartbeat. It's a time-tested producer that really works on early-summer bass, and big ones, too.
Anglers heading to Tenkiller in late May and early June should note that many of the bass still can be found in the same haunts where they hung out in the spring. Consequently, anglers should work some fairly shallow waters before moving out to mid-depths and applying more summer-like techniques.
Shallow shoreline brush is another hotspot to try. I like using a white spinnerbait with a single gold or copper blade to see if fish are in the area. Depending on water temperature and clarity, the fish might prefer it moved at a pretty fast pace just below the surface, slow-rolled along the bottom or somewhere in between.
As a general rule, if the weather's been stable and the water's warming, a quicker retrieve will work. If you are fishing behind a cold front or two, a little slower retrieve generally will be more productive. Give the bass plenty of different speeds and depths before giving up on this bait.
OOLOGAH RESERVOIR Another beautiful northeast Oklahoma lake, Oologah is becoming better known as a bass lake, especially during the May and June period. In addition to its largemouth bass, the lake has a good population of spotted bass. Early summer is a good time to catch both.
Look for Oologah spots and largemouths around mid-depth structure in proximity to deep water. A rocky point that goes out to about 20 feet in depth before dropping off into a river channel is an example of an excellent type of spotted bass structure. Start fishing the point and along the edges of the point in about 10 feet of water, gradually moving deeper and then right down the dropoff. If there are spotted bass in the area, you'll most likely catch them somewhere between 10 and 25 feet. Look for the largemouths a little more shallow. Once you catch a few fish of either species, look for other areas with the same structure and depth characteristics.
A jig-and-pig combination is one of the best baits for working these types of areas. I prefer black and blue, but any dark color works pretty well in the summertime. Work the bait along the top, down the sides and around the very tip of the point. Since you'll be fishing relatively deep part of the time, it's important to keep good contact with your lure and use a high-quality sensitive graphite rod so that you can feel soft strikes.
Crankbaits, especially crawdad and shad patterns, also catch bass on these points. You'll need a couple of different types of these lures on hand - one to fish the shallow water, and another one or two that will stay near the bottom when you're working deep water out near the end of the point.
LAKE TEXOMA Think Lake Texoma is just a striper and blue catfish hotspot? Better think again, because it's a hotspot for three species of bass, too. Anglers can catch largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass at Texoma.
One of the best early-summer patterns at Texoma involves two of my favorite things - crankbaits and riprap. Find a good stretch of riprap with a good slope, break out a chrome or shad-colored medium-running crankbait, and you're in business. I like to fish a crankbait parallel with riprap at Texoma to keep the lure in the strike zone longer. Start shallow, running the bait parallel to the bank in only a few feet of water. Then gradually move deeper until you strike pay dirt. Once you've caught a fish or two, you can concentrate on that depth to catch a mess of them.
Boathouses and soft-plastic crawfish baits make up my other hot Texoma combination. Many boathouse owners have planted brush under their boathouses in order to draw in crappie and other game fish. After the spawn, bass will often move from their spawning locations out to the first good cover away from those locations, and sometimes that will be a boathouse. Favorite line colors vary among anglers, but be sure you use heavy quality monofilament when fishing these boathouses. A big bass can wrap the line aro
und brush or pilings quicker than you can grunt "Bucketmouth!"
SKIATOOK LAKE Another good bass lake that just keeps getting better is Skiatook. Impounded in 1984, it provides some fine bass fishing, and the transition period is a great time to hit it.
This lake, located about five miles west of Skiatook in Osage County, encompasses 10,540 acres of prime bass water, and while it's not widely known for producing lunker largemouths, it always has had a good bass population.
Boasting fairly clear, fertile water, Skiatook has acres of standing timber in coves throughout the lake and in coves and creek channels in the upper reaches. Many large fish-attractor brushrows were constructed in the cleared area of the lake prior to impoundment and have been refurbished since, yielding even more good bass-holding cover.
Anglers who catch Skiatook largemouth bass mostly agree that fishing near plenty of cover is the key. And while timber provides much of the available cover, simply fishing large stands of timber isn't always the answer. Look for irregularities in the timber - creek channels running through, points extending from shallow to deep water, and timbered humps. These are the places where you'll catch the most fish.
As is the case with anglers at other lakes that have an abundance of timber, Skiatook bass fishermen prefer salt craws, plastic worms and jig-and-pig combos for much of their fishing. Spinnerbaits worked in shallow timber are also good, as are crankbaits when worked along timber edges and timbered creek channels. Rocky points and chunk rock banks along the lake's shore also provide excellent angling spots. Any crawfish-imitating lure works well in these areas, as do crankbaits that imitate shad.
CHICKASHA LAKE An easy drive from the Oklahoma City metro area, Chickasha Lake was a favorite of mine when I briefly lived in that area. Shallow points and shorelines at the northern portions of the lake are excellent during late spring and early summer. Little-known points and humps extending from the western bank of the lake about halfway between the dam and the upper reaches also are dynamite for largemouth at this time.
Anglers also shouldn't overlook the lower end of the lake. Excellent areas at both ends of the dam are really great producers. A quick trip casting a crankbait or jig-and-pig along the dam can be really productive when fish are on the rocks.
Don't overlook cattails and any other growth in the water when fishing at Chickasha. And remember, as is the case at other lakes, when you see a stand of cattails out away from other cover, there's a good chance it's on a small hump. Fish will hold both along the dropoff and in the brush.
In addition to fine bass fishing, Chickasha also has great walleye and crappie fishing, and a pretty darned good white bass population. In fact, when fishing some area of the lake with a crankbait, you won't know what kind of fish you've hooked until you get it to the boat.
GRAND LAKE Bass anglers within a decent driving distance will want to be sure to put this lake on their late spring and early summer to-fish list.
Just as at Texoma and some other large reservoirs, a boathouse pattern can also be very effective on Grand Lake in early summer, as the fish use the docks for both shade and ambush cover. Flip a jig-and-pig combination or Texas-rigged soft-plastic crawfish to every dock piling until you find out at what depth the fish are holding. On subsequent docks, you can concentrate more on pilings and walkways in that targeted depth.
Relatively flat rocky banks with rock from gravel-sized up to fist-sized are also among the spots to try. Find such a spot with standing timber or submerged stumps, and you're in an even better location. Baits that work best in these areas can vary. Working a plastic worm or jig-and-pig combination parallel to the bank can be productive once you discover at what depth the fish are holding. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits also produce bass in these areas.
Rocky points, of which Grand Lake has a vast abundance, also are great. My favorite lures for working these are shad- or shiner-colored crankbaits. Be sure to begin fishing them slowly, and then work up in speed. Spend some time in your fishing area. If you move on too quickly, you may simply be passing up fish that are ready and willing to make a meal of your offering.
THUNDERBIRD LAKE Just a hop, skip and jump from Oklahoma City, Thunderbird is a lake that many Oklahomans wouldn't even consider for bass. I never thought much of it either, until one day when I took my dad out there to try a new rod and reel outfit I'd just gotten him for Father's Day.
A couple of 5-pounders later, and I had moved Thunderbird much nearer the top of my list. And since then, I've gotten some really nice bass, and some really nice numbers of bass, on several different occasions - a good many of them in that May/June timeslot we're talking about.
Abundant aquatic vegetation is one key to finding and catching Thunderbird bass. In May and June, check shallow points and bays with plenty of aquatics and warming shallow water. If there are a few stumps or brushpiles, that's even better. Work Thunderbird shallows with spinnerbaits, soft-plastic jerkbaits, plastic worms or jig-and-pig combinations to catch bass moving from their spawning beds.
Anglers fishing creeks at the north end of the lake will also find some good action. Another favorite spot of mine is the Clear Bay area. Points, channels, ridges and humps in that portion of the lake hold good numbers of bass for anglers willing to look around a little and try a variety of baits and techniques to locate the fish.
LONGMIRE LAKE A Pauls Valley city lake located southeast of Oklahoma City, Longmire is among the newest lakes in the state. It's probably one you won't want to miss if you're serious about catching transition largemouths.
Fishing the riprap at Longmire is a hot early-summer bass pattern. Crankbaits are particularly productive when worked on shallow riprap. I'd try both crawdad and shad patterns and let the bass tell you which one they prefer on any particular day. If the water is particularly off-colored, a chartreuse or orange bait can be good. The best method is to fish perpendicular to the riprap until you catch a few bass and can determine at what depth they are holding. Then, move to that depth and fish parallel to the riprap. This ensures that you'll keep your lure in the strike zone the maximum time possible.
Working spinnerbaits in medium-shallow water with plenty of weeds, wood or other cover is also a proven early-summer pattern at the lake. If fish aren't biting, remember to vary the retrieve speed of your spinnerbaits, ranging from very slow to very fast. You may be passing by fish that would be glad to hit a faster- or slower-moving bait.
Anglers should be sure to check for any special regulations pertaining to bass harvest on Longmire, as well as any of the other lakes mentioned.
MORE HOT WATERS Of course, there are any number of other lakes that are good bass producers during this time of the year. In fact, I've had dynamite action myself on several others during the transition, including Murray, Waurika, McMurtry, Sooner, Konawa, Broken Bow and McGee Creek.
Whatever you do, and regardless of what you think of our list of top lakes, don't let June pass you by without hooking up the boat and heading for your favorite Oklahoma bass lake. And if you have the time, take a kid or two along for the fun.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Oklahoma Game & Fish