Here's where you can find fishing action as hot as our July sun for stripers, hybrids and maybe some big white bass as well!
By M.C. Flint
Hot summer weather typically brings out the soft side of a lot of Oklahoma anglers. They decide to hang up their fishing tackle until fall weather brings more comfortable temperatures.
But that same hot weather tends to make me bleary-eyed with visions of big stripers dancing in my head. In fact, the first day of good hot weather always makes me think back to the first time I ever got into a bunch of sizable stripers on Lake Texoma.
My friend Jeff and I were in high school and new to the striper-fishing game. We didn't have all the gear and savvy we do now, but we had the desire. And we knew how to locate fish by locating the vast armadas of boats that were actively catching them!
On this particular hot July day, we were having our usual success, catching a 3-pounder here, a 4-pounder there, all the while wishing we'd put one of the big ones in the boat. That's when my buddy made the announcement.
"I read a deal in a magazine the other day about 'burning' spoons," Jeff said. "That means taking these same big jigging spoons we're using, but instead of jerking them up and letting them fall back to the bottom, just reeling them up from the bottom as fast as you can."
"A crazy idea," I declared. "These bait-casting reels are so fast, there's no way a fish could catch the bait if you reel it as fast as you can. Watch!"
Photo by Tom Evans
What happened next can only be completely understood by someone who has had a 10-pound striper hit a bait being reeled at full speed. It was a miracle that the rod wasn't ripped from my hand. Before I could get the big striper to the boat, Jeff started cranking, too, with the result that he hooked an 8-pounder of his own.
We soon learned that the best way to do it was to jab the butt of our rods into our bellies for support and then reel like heck. Before the day was over we'd caught more big stripers than we ever could have imagined. And we both had a bruise the size of a silver dollar just above our bellybuttons!
Fact is, big stripers, hybrid stripers and white bass are extremely active during the heat of summer and they're ready to hit your bait. If you'd rather catch some nice fish than sit at home under the air-conditioner, try some of these great Sooner State fishing hotspots.
WAURIKA LAKE Waurika Lake, located in far southwest Oklahoma near the town of the same name, just might be the best summer hybrid lake in the entire state. And it just might be the local anglers' best-kept secret.
The shallow, turbid, wind-swept lake was quite the hybrid hotspot when it first came on the scene, but anglers' love affair with it quickly died down. It had a brief stint as a pretty good bass lake and still provides some fair bass fishing, but it doesn't draw any large crowds of largemouth anglers.
But recent years have some anglers catching darned big hybrids at the lake - several a day in the 10- to 15-pound range. And that ain't nothin' to sneeze at!
Anglers catch Waurika hybrids wherever they find good concentrations of shad, which the hybrid stripers feed upon voraciously. Jigging a heavy, shiny structure spoon in schools of shad will often do the trick. Casting large leadhead jigs with sassy shad-type tails is a good way to locate the exact spot in which to start jigging.
Some of the best catches of hybrids reported at Waurika are taken with live shad, just like at other lakes where stripers abound. Drifting a large, live shad through a school of hungry stripers is almost guaranteed to draw a good hit. However, be aware that since shad are hard to keep alive in captivity, special baitwell equipment is required to be a live-shad angler.
LOWER ILLINOIS RIVER If a true trophy striper is what you're really looking for, then in my opinion the Lower Illinois River below Lake Tenkiller is the hottest of all our state hotspots. Although catching great numbers of fish there isn't likely, catching the biggest striper of your life is.
Large lures that look like rainbow trout can produce some amazing catches of stripers on the Lower Illinois. Other good baits include live shad and any shad-imitation lure. Remember, bigger is better, especially if you're after a trophy.
If you decide to troll trout-looking crankbaits in this area, don't be surprised to put a bonus "dinner" fish in the boat. The Lower Illinois is also home to some excellent walleyes, and they feed on the trout just like the big stripers do.
For anglers with the right equipment, live rainbow trout are the premier bait on the Lower Illinois River, and you can catch them right there at the river before fishing for stripers. Be aware, however, that you have to catch them by legal means before using them for bait. Or you can buy hatchery trout in nearby Arkansas and use them for bait, but you must have the receipts on hand proving the fish were purchased in case a game ranger decides to investigate your bait.
Fish these lip-hooked trout - the best ones range from 6 to 12 inches in length - in the deep holes along the length of the river, all the way down to where it empties into the Arkansas River. Heavy equipment is a must here, not only because fish are big and strong, but also because the current makes the fight from even a medium-sized striper feel like you've hooked a monster.
THUNDERBIRD Lake Thunderbird, just south of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, ranks in my book among the best summer white bass lakes in the state. And luckily for anglers in the Oklahoma City and Norman areas, the lake is just next door!
Thunderbird's summer sandies take up residence on submerged islands and along submerged river channels anywhere from 12 to 25 feet deep. Such areas are easy to find, but an individual hump may hold barrels of sandies, or it may hold no fish at all. So just finding a hump or river channel ledge doesn't necessarily mean you'll have filets frying in the pan that evening. Locate such areas and then carefully scan them for schools of shad and/or schools of white bass. Find either and you've likely found a fine place in which to begin fishing. Be sure to mark your spot once you find fish or hook into them. It's easy to get confused about your whereabouts when you're several hundred yards from shore and the fish are keeping you busy.
spoons are among the most productive summer white bass lures at Thunderbird. Remember, you don't have to buy an expensive spoon to catch these active fish. The cheapest heavy, shiny spoon you can find generally will work wonders. And you won't be so upset if you hang it up and break it off.
Most of the feeding fish will be just off the bottom or at least relatively close to the bottom. My favorite tactic is to drop the spoon down to the bottom, reel it up about a foot and work it with a sharp up-and-down action. Fish will generally hit it on the fall, and you'll know when a scrappy sand bass takes your bait.
When fish are suspended up off the bottom and feeding on shad, they're a little harder to catch with jigging spoons. In that scenario, casting and retrieving a leadhead jig with a soft-plastic shad-looking body at the correct depth is a great way to score. Trolling with medium-running crankbaits is also very effective when fish are suspended. Two that I've found to be excellent in this situation are a No. 7 Rapala Shad Rap in shad or shiner finish, and a Bomber Model A in white or shad colors.
TEXOMA As I mentioned earlier, Texoma is the site of some of my earliest striper-fishing adventures. It's also home to some of my most productive ones.
I'm not alone there. Perhaps the best known of all Oklahoma's striper waters, this lake commonly produces nice limits of medium-sized stripers. Although the 20-pound-plus monsters many people are fishing for aren't as plentiful at Texoma as they used to be, more and more of the larger fish are starting to show up these days. Some regular fishermen think that is a sign the lake is making a comeback!
At Texoma it's not uncommon to find summer stripers roaming open waters, feeding on schools of gizzard and threadfin shad. Find a place where the stripers and shad are together and you've found the hotspot du jour.
Live shad are probably the most productive bait at Texoma, although they're often hard to find and catch. They're also just as difficult to keep alive as they are anywhere else. But they're the closest you can get to a sure thing in the bait department at the sprawling border reservoir. Drop a lip-hooked shad down into a school of feeding stripers, and you'd better not set your rod down for even a minute. Big stripers will hit a shad like a freight train, and if that happens your favorite rod could just be a fond memory.
Texoma stripers can be caught by anglers using live baits or artificial lures. Large topwater lures are very effective when you find schools of stripers that have pushed shad to the surface and are feeding on them. A long rod with a heavy-duty reel that holds lots of line is required for this fishing, as you often must make very long casts in order to get your bait out to and in front of the surfacing fish.
Large jigging spoons also catch feeding stripers at medium depths and deeper. They're best when let down to the level where stripers are located on your depthfinder and then pumped up and down. You can adjust your jigging to either quick or slow, depending on the mood of the fish. Large Sassy Shads on heavy jigheads are good baits for casting and retrieving through Texoma striper schools.
LAKE HEFNER Lake Hefner, an Oklahoma City water supply reservoir right in the metropolitan area, also offers good summer white bass fishing. Known for being one of the first lakes in the state to harbor good numbers of trophy walleyes, Hefner often yields its good white bass to walleye anglers who catch them as a bonus to their regular quarry. However, if you look in the right places and fish the right baits, it's not too hard to fill a stringer with tasty Hefner sandies.
I've found summer white bass at Hefner that have chased schools of small shad to the top and are slashing and feeding on them. If you find the fish in such a situation, a shallow-running Rapala floating minnow will often catch a bunch. A short (3- to 4-inch) soft-plastic jerkbait like the small Slug-Go also works wonders at catching fish from these schools.
Look for summer white bass at Hefner at the deep ends of points or along submerged structures. At times they'll be slashing shad in open water where there's little or no structure. One thing's for sure, though: You're going to have to look hard to find white bass at this reservoir. However, once that's done, catching them isn't very difficult.
The best way to locate the sand bass is to troll a medium-running crankbait along points, riprap, submerged ridges and any other likely places where you've caught Hefner white bass in the past. Be sure to double you chances of locating feeding fish by putting out more than one type of lure behind your boat. If you are going to fish a shad-colored crankbait that runs 8 feet deep, have your partner fish a chartreuse one that runs at 15 feet. When one of you catches a few fish, you'll be able to determine what the fish want and establish a workable pattern.
CHICKASHA LAKE Another darned good summer white bass lake, Chickasha Lake is just a hop, skip and jump from Oklahoma City. And the relatively short ride there can be well worth the trip!
One summer hotspot at Chickasha is the dam area. Fish sometimes move in great numbers up along the dam riprap to feed on shad there. Crankbaits and soft-plastic grubs on jigheads fished parallel to the riprap are just the ticket for catching a load of summer sandies in that area.
Anglers should also look for Chickasha white bass along the long points extending well out into the lake, especially those at the northern end of the lake. When strong south winds blow microscopic organisms up against the south bank and baitfish come in there to feed, it creates a white bass magnet. And when the fish move up on these points in big schools, you're in for some good white bass action.
Matching the hatch, so to speak, is important in that situation. Since the white bass feed primarily on shad, any lure that resembles a shad is a good thing to try. That would include shad-colored jigging spoons, soft plastics, crankbaits - even small spinnerbaits. All of them fished in the types of areas just mentioned have a good chance of catching fish.
ALTUS-LUGERT A close neighbor to Waurika Lake, this reservoir in far southwest Oklahoma is better known for its winter rainbow trout fishing below the dam and for producing a record walleye in 1995. But Altus-Lugert is also a dandy hybrid striper lake.
Altus-Lugert hybrids can be found and caught much like hybrids at other, similar lakes. Look for summer hybrids in fairly deep water, usually from 20 to 30 feet. Anyplace where there is a good depth change - points, humps, channels and the like - is a good place to start looking. As with a lot of fishing these days, to find hybrids here you've got to have good electronics. Once they're found, though, getting them to hit usually isn't overly complicated.
Live shad and jigging spoons both work great for taking hybrids at the lake
. Both techniques also take the lake's abundant white bass, so a mixed catch is common. For white bass, trolling crankbaits is another productive tactic, as is fishing small curly-tailed jigs.
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Any of these lakes, and a handful more across the state, can be your ticket to a dandy day of fishing for Oklahoma's fish with stripes - whether they be stripers, hybrids or white bass. Regardless of which species you fish for, the fight you get at the other end of your line will make the discomfort from being outdoors during the hottest part of the year well worth your time and effort!
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