March 11, 2011
Now's the time to catch bass in size and numbers across Oklahoma, and these are the waters you should be fishing to catch them!
March is the best month for catching trophy bass in Oklahoma.
It's just biology.
Many female bass are laden with eggs in March as they near the spawning season, and so they weigh more in late winter/early spring than at any other time of the year.
As an example, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation keeps an ever-changing list of the "Top 20" bass caught in Oklahoma waters. On that list, 14 of the 20 were caught during the month of March.
The reigning state-record largemouth, a whopper weighing 14 pounds, 11.52 ounces, was caught in March at Broken Bow Lake. That catch was by angler William Cross in 1999.
The Wildlife Department also keeps "lake record" lists of big fish caught in numerous state lakes. And on those lists also, March is the most bountiful month for big bass. And not just for largemouths. Big spotted bass and smallmouth bass also tend to show up in March.
Last March, for example, the smallmouth record for Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City was set by angler Bryan Suchy who was fishing for walleyes when he landed a 6 1/2-pound smallmouth that stretched nearly 2 feet long -- 23.75 inches. That fish was released back into the lake after the catch was documented, so it may be even bigger this year.
The state-record smallmouth, an 8-pound, 3-ounce giant from Lake Eufaula, was also caught in March.
If you catch a lunker, you can learn how to certify state-record or lake-record catches by obtaining a copy of the current Oklahoma Fishing Regulations booklet at license vendors or by logging on to the ODWC Web site: www.wildlifedepartment.com.
Yet another list maintained by state fisheries biologists, a list of "trophy-sized" bass weighed in during bass tournaments, had 24 entries in 1999. Eight of those bass, a third of the total, were caught during a single month. You guessed it; it was March. I should point out, though, that 10 "trophy" bass were also weighed in during April tournaments.
Bass tend to spawn in late April and early May in Oklahoma. That's when the water temperatures in most of our lakes reach the preferred range for spawning activity. So even if you don't land that lunker you seek in March, April may still give you more chances for a wallhanger.
Where are the best prospects for catching big bass in Oklahoma?
Well, at this time of year, just about anywhere.
It is true, though, that lakes in the southern portion of the state tend to produce more double-digit bass than those in the northern half. There are exceptions, of course, but Oklahoma kind of straddles the latitudes where Florida-strain largemouths, the strain that accounts for so many big bass in Texas lakes, tend not to grow so rapidly -- or so large.
Oklahoma has had more success with Florida-Northern "hybrids," that seem to thrive better with the slightly shorter warm seasons.
Some of our lakes -- especially Sardis and Okmulgee's Dripping Springs Lake -- enjoyed boom periods in their early years when they were producing lots of double-digit lunkers, either from stockings of pure Florida bass or of Florida-Northern mixtures.
I don't know of any Oklahoma lake right now that is producing the numbers if really big bass that either of those lakes produced when they were new. But several lakes in Southeastern Oklahoma, like Hugo and Broken Bow and McGee Creek, and some of the smaller lakes in South-central Oklahoma near Ardmore and Pauls Valley, still produce the occasional 10-pound or bigger bass.
Last spring angler David Kinard landed a 13 1/4-pound bass on March 14 at R.C. Longmire Lake, Pauls Valley's 935-acre municipal water supply reservoir. That fish landed in the No. 17 spot on the state's Top 20 Largemouth Bass list.
And there are many lakes in northeastern Oklahoma that still give up plenty of hefty 7- and 8-pounders.
Before the introduction of Florida and Florida-strain crosses, an 8-pound bass was always considered a giant in Oklahoma waters. But we kind of got spoiled in the 1980s and 1990s when Hugo and Sardis and Dripping Springs and R.C. Longmire and Mountain Lake and a couple of others were popping out 11- and 12-pounders regularly.
There for a while, anglers like professional fishing guide Chuck Justice and his compadres at Sardis Lake were catching so many 10-pound-plus bass that anything weighing less than 10 pounds hardly seemed worth mentioning.
Angler Mark Wiles boated an 11-pound, 12-ounce lunker at Sardis last year on March 30 and said he spent the previous day catching 5- and 6-pounders.
I probably should mention Lake Murray, south of Ardmore, when discussing big-bass lakes in Oklahoma. Last April, angler Jeff Kriet landed a 12-pound, 1-ounce largemouth at Murray. That 5,700-acre lake has consistently produced a fair number of trophy largemouths, even though it is probably better known for producing big smallmouth bass during the last couple of decades.
The Wildlife Department's new Lake Records program is documenting big bass from a number of other lakes throughout the state. At Fort Cobb Lake in Western Oklahoma, for example, angler Charles Coffman boated a 10.6-pounder last April.
So while there are a handful of lakes with reputations for producing big bass, it's good to keep in mind that many Oklahoma lakes hold the occasional really big bass.
And there are many smaller private waters -- watershed lakes and farm ponds scattered throughout most of our 77 counties -- that have the potential for producing a double-digit lunker now and then. I would probably exclude those counties in the Panhandle and extreme northwestern areas, where the higher elevations and shorter warm seasons somewhat limit the physical growth of largemouths, but in three-fourths of the state or more there are many bodies of water capable of producing large bass.
What constitutes a "trophy-sized" bass is relative anyway.
If you're fishing Eastern Oklahoma creeks for native smallmouth bass, a 4-pounder is as rare as a 10-pound largemouth in our lakes. But that perception is distorted these days because when the Wildlife Department started stocking those Tennessee-River strain smallmouths that thrive in reservoirs, 5- and 6-pound smallmouths started popping up in many lakes, from Texoma down on the Texas border to Skiatook Lake north of Tulsa. Lake Eufaula, Lake Murray and several others are also giving up big smallmouths these days, but they aren't the streamlined little native "brownies" that populate the streams in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains and foothills.
How do you fish for big bass? Do you do it differently than when fishing for bass of all sizes? That depends on whose advice you ask.
In covering outdoor sports in Oklahoma for more than 30 years, I've interviewed many professional bass fishermen and non-professionals who landed lake-record bass or bass that made the Top 20 list. And it's true that at times and at certain lakes there have been certain patterns and lures that seemed to be more effective at catching big bass during given seasons.
I recall reading an article in some outdoor magazine many years ago titled "Big Bass Want Big Baits." The gist of the article was that you need to use giant spinnerbaits tipped with pork frogs, or big crankbaits or noisy topwater plugs, if you are trying to catch a wallhanger.
But I've written about double-digit bass caught on everything from tiny spinners and crappie jigs to giant 12-inch soft-plastic worms and big plastic crawfish imitators, as well as spinnerbaits, crankbaits, chatterbaits and just about everything else.
My biggest Oklahoma bass, a 9-pounder from a farm pond near Bixby, was caught on one of those tiny little Rebel crawfish crankbaits less than 2 inches long. I was fishing a pond where I usually caught only little 9- and 10-inch bass, so I was fishing with a spincast outfit loaded with 6-pound line. I was convinced I had snagged my crankbait on a submerged log, until the "log" started moving.
The big bass had inhaled the tiny crankbait and was hooked far back in its throat. It didn't put up much of a fight and I was able to land it. Because it was so big, I wanted to know exactly what it weighed. I filled an ice chest with water and drove a couple of miles to a produce market and weighed in on accurate scales before rushing it back to the pond to turn it loose.
That wasn't a bait or the tackle I would have chosen if I were setting out to fish for a lunker, but I had no idea that the tiny little pond held a bass that large.
Over the years, I've come to believe that the most consistent bait for producing big bass is a jig tipped with some kind of plastic trailer. I think that's especially true early in the year, before bass start moving toward their spawning areas.
A bass jig fished around deep structure and cover in the first two or three months of the year may be the most promising technique for catching lunkers.
But when March rolls around, things change. Jerkbaits, especially the suspending models that can be worked slowly at depths of from 8 to 12 feet, often yield good results and produce big bass in the springtime.
Some of my fishing buddies and I have had mid- to late-March days on Grand Lake on which we boated two or three bass each, weighing from 5 to 7 pounds, on suspending jerkbaits. Genrally, we'd fish them a few yards from shore, 8 to 10 feet deep, near frequently used spawning areas.
These days you can purchase suspending jerkbaits that work very well. Twenty years ago, though, there weren't so many factory-made models that functioned as they should, so many Oklahoma anglers customized their own jerkbaits, drilling holes in the plastic bodies and inserting lead shot or lead wire, then epoxying the holes closed again.
Spinnerbaits too are one of the most consistently successful baits for taking big bass during the pre-spawn period. Spinnerbaits are especially great when early-spring rains swell our lakes and the brushy, timbered shoreline areas become flooded with new water.
Under those conditions, fishing spinnerbaits around tree trunks and bushes can be highly effective. And if the spinnerbaits aren't doing the trick, then flippin' or pitchin' jigs in and around the same cover is another excellent approach.
For many years Grand Lake was my favorite bass lake. It's not the closest to my home, but it's the lake where I've enjoyed the most consistent bass-fishing success among northeastern Oklahoma lakes for 20 years or more.
For most of the year, a day when I caught some 3- and 4-pound bass was a great day. But from February through May, especially if the lake was above normal elevation and backed up into the bushes and willows along the shorelines, I had lots of days when jigs or spinnerbaits would produce 6- and 7-pounders fairly regularly.
Many of the professional bass guides with whom I have fished, both in Oklahoma and other states, consistently recommend jigs or spinnerbaits for catching the bigger bass, especially in cooler months.
In the hotter months of summer, the good old Texas-rigged plastic worm may be the most dependable offering for bass of any size. But worms don't seem to be as effective early in the year, before the water temperatures climb into the 70s and above.
As I said earlier, there are many bodies of water in Oklahoma where a trophy-sized bass may be awaiting your presentation this spring. But the Wildlife Department's Web site can provide clues to waters that may be the most promising.
The weekly news releases, which can be read online at www.wildlifedepartment.com, frequently include items about big bass that qualify for state-record, Top 20 or lake-record listings. There are also publications like the annual bass tournament statistical summaries. That report shows at which lakes big bass were caught by tournament competitors in the previous year,
And, of course, there are the annual electrofishing surveys reports -- perhaps the most valuable report to examine if you're searching for lakes that hold lots of big bass.
Not every single lake is electrofished every year. But some of the most popular bass lakes are surveyed annually, and most lakes are surveyed every two or three years.
In the most recent report, for example, Lake Arbuckle yielded a 10.7-pounder for the electrofishing crews. Four other lakes produced 9-pounders: Fort Cobb, 9.6 pounds; Bixhoma, 9.0; Arcadia, 9.3; Bell Cow, 9.8.
The report also shows the number of bass greater than 14 inches caught per hour of electrofishing, and the total number of bass caught per hour.
The electrofishing reports are intended to give the fisheries biologists information on bass population trends, so that they can adjust creel and length limits and other regulations to better manage the bass populations. But they're also an informative resource for bass angl
ers to use when searching for good lakes to fish, either for numbers of bass or when searching for a spot to land a lunker.
No matter in which part of the state you live, or where you spend most of your days on the water, the next few weeks present the best opportunities for boating a real braggin'-sized bass.
Early spring is big-bass season in Oklahoma, no doubt about it!