If there's one thing you can count on from the Sooner State, it's our vast number of great places for catching catfish. These are just a few of the best. (June 2006)
I must admit to an affinity for catfish. As a child, I was drawn to the ugly ducklings of the fishing world, and frankly, I've never gotten over them. There's something intriguing about matching wits with a big ol' catfish -- something that gets me excited enough to head to my favorite lake each June to sack up a mess of the whiskered critters.
The range of the catfish spans the entire state, so that they thrive in abundance in most ponds, lakes, watersheds, rivers, and creeks furnished with suitable habitat. It's a fantastic month for catfishing -- so load up your gear and head to an aquatic venue near you.
In the space that follows, I'll run down a few of the top catfish holes in the state and advise you as to what to expect to find at each. But keep in mind that catfishing is addictive, and if you try it, these slick-skinned fish may move to the top of your list of angling priorities!
For decades a great place for catching catfish, Lake Texoma sits in the south-central part of the state. It harbors several species of cat, but in the last few years, the huge blues caught there have aroused a lot of attention in particular. The current rod-and-reel state-record blue is a 98-pound specimen caught there by Billy Nabors. Texoma also yielded the unrestricted-class state-record -- a real brute, caught on a trotline by Dan Grider, that weighed 118 pounds, 8 ounces.
Texoma can also boast a former world-record blue cat -- although it was caught on the Texas side of the lake. Weighing 121 pounds, 8 ounces, the monster was taken on rod and reel by Cody Mullenix. Although now surpassed as the world record, that huge fish still stands as the Texas state record.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's lake biologist Paul Mauck, Texoma's blue catfish are more highly sought after now than in past years. "Anglers recognize that Texoma is an old lake that has some big catfish in it," he said. "However, most people do not realize that on average it takes 12 years for a blue cat to reach 10 pounds, because they grow very slow. Since it takes a long time to produce a really big blue cat, I advocate releasing big blue catfish and eating the smaller ones under 10 pounds."
According to Mauck, the best baits for Texoma's blue catfish are cut shad and live sunfish. He believes that anglers on the hunt for blue cats should target the upper regions of the lake that are fed by arms or rivers.
The lake limit is 15 channel or blue catfish in any combination, with a 12-inch minimum-size limit. There is no limit on flatheads.
Another hotspot loaded with big blue catfish is Grand Lake, in the northeast part of the state. Catfish guide Jeff Williams, who catches some huge blue catfish there, knows Grand to be home to incredible numbers of larger-than-average blues. Like Mauck, Williams is a believer in photographing and releasing all blue cats over 10 pounds.
The lake harbors a mixed bag of catfish, Williams says, but he prefers to target trophy blue cats specifically. "Although I do catch some channel cat and flatheads," he offered, "95 percent of my catch is blue cats."
Williams, who has guided on Grand for the past 10 years, thinks that many guides and anglers statewide are overharvesting trophy blue cats. He recommends that during June, which he regards as a prime month for Grand Lake catfish, anglers should target the shallow mudflats near Sailboat Bridge as well as the areas around Twin Bridges State Park. Williams also mentioned the fishing platform at Bernice State Park as a good bet for bank-anglers.
Williams' clients generally catch blue catfish in the 3- to 10-pound range and occasionally larger ones, his best being a 47-pounder. The guide advises boat anglers to buy the best electronics they can afford to assist them in locating the baitfish that catfish feed on.
"I believe my fish locator is the most important piece of equipment on my boat," he said. "It helps me mark schools of shad, and usually there are blue catfish nearby."
Fellow guide Jim Wagner's many years of guiding experience on Grand Lake have taught him that Sweetwater Cove, Duck Creek and Drowning Creek are three of the primary spots on the huge lake for blue catfish. Wagner's best catfish taken there weighed 49, 50 and 51 pounds.
Night-fishing can also prove profitable at Grand. The lake limit is 15 blue or channel catfish in any combination; no length restrictions apply. There are no limits on flatheads.
EL RENO LAKE
Flatheads are no doubt the ugliest members of the catfish family; when, however, it comes to tasty filets, most aficionados concur: Flatheads are tops on the table. The homely critters inhabit most of the state's rivers, creeks and lakes, and can be caught on a variety of smelly baits.
If you want to catch a big flathead, look no farther than El Reno Lake, 30 miles west of Oklahoma City. The current state-record flathead, which weighed 72 pounds, 8 ounces, was caught there by Ron "Barefoot" Cantrell on May 20, 2004.
Cantrell, who fishes El Reno Lake often owing to its proximity to his home, has his best luck in the evenings and at night. He catches the flatheads in water 3 to 4 feet deep when they come in to the shallows to feed. Though sometimes bringing in the flatheads on live-bait offerings like perch and shad, which he keeps lively in an aerated bait tank, he primarily uses cut shad.
There are no limits on Reno's flatheads. The lake limit for blue and channel catfish is 15 in any combination; no length restrictions apply.
Anglers near the Oklahoma City area who are looking to catch some eating-sized channel catfish need look no further than Lake Hefner, nestled in the north-central part of the city. This lake offers some outstanding fishing for channel cats, with the typical fish weighing 1 1/2 to 3 pounds.
The long riprap areas on the north and east sides of the lake are worthwhile spots to investigate. Most anglers tightline favorite catfish baits such as cut shad, liver, shrimp, dead minnows and stink baits; some make use of homemade aromatic concoctions.
Carl Jones, a catfish expert who fishes Hefner regularly, works off the long, rocky dam area, and normally finds the catfish 6 to 8 feet deep. He reports that he can get a basketful of channel cats by using a slip-cork and a punch bait that he cooks up to sel
l at his nearby bait shop; he claims that his recipe incorporates "secret" ingredients that catfish go for even when other enticements fail.
"If anglers will stop in or call me at my bait shop, I will gladly tell them where the best spots to fish are, and give them up-to-the-minute fishing reports," Jones offered.
Larry Sikes, another regular at Hefner, prefers to fish at night, and has been rewarded with some nice catches; his favored spots are the points on the west and southwest parts of the lake. Sikes uses gourmet shrimp that he buys at his local grocery store because, he claims, catfish prefer that to bait-grade shrimp. Sikes also uses earthworms, but primarily relies on shrimp. Sikes uses a long pole with 50-pound braided line to hurl his bait to a weedline nearly 100 yards offshore
Hefner contains numerous channels and blues, but according to Cantrell, some huge flatheads can be caught by fishermen willing to work the area near the boat slips on the west side of the lake. Be aware, though, that some of these areas are private, and no fishing by the general public is allowed there.
The lake limit is 15 channel or blue catfish in any combination. Note that lake rules restrict anglers to the use of no more than three rods, with no more than three hooks on each line.
According to Delmer Shoults, enormous catfish swim the Arkansas River. The veteran fishing guide has hooked catfish both on rod and reel and on juglines that were too big to land -- and broken his line in the process!
GREAT SALT PLAINS
A channel-cat bonanza awaits catters at Salt Plains Reservoir, near Jet in the north-central part of the state. ODWC biologist John Stahl oversees the lake. A catfish angler himself, he reports that the catfish in Salt Plains will average 3 to 5 pounds, with some weighing 7 to 12 pounds. The best bait there, he says, is cut shad.
The lake limit is 15 channel or blue catfish in any combination. No limits exist for flatheads.
Canton Reservoir, sited near the town of the same name, is another worthy spot for channel cats; in fact, it yielded up the state-record channel catfish, a specimen weighing 34 pounds, 11 ounces that was caught by Barry Bond just a few years back.
The ODWC's Stahl also manages this fishery. He reports that the top baits for Canton's channel cats are earthworms, cut shad and large shiner minnows, and declares that the best angling method involves drifting baits over the suspended habitat found throughout the lake. The average-sized channel cat here will weigh 3 to 7 pounds, but catches in excess of 20 pounds are not uncommon
The lake limit is 15 channel or blue catfish in any combination; there is no limit on flatheads.
Waurika Lake, in the southwest part of the state, is quite serviceable for catching channel catfish. According to ODWC biologist Larry Cofer, Waurika's channel catfish will average from 2 to 5 pounds. Most of the fishing is done by boaters, since bank-fishing access here is limited. The spots to fish will be found off windy points; bait up with cut shad. Offering a big contrast in size are the blue cats, which can vary in weight from 3 to 30 pounds. They too prefer cut shad.
"Waurika Lake is one of the best up-and-coming blue catfish lakes in southwest Oklahoma," said Cofer. "It is also one of the most fertile lakes due to the run-off it receives from area agricultural operations. Combine that with a good shad forage base, and all you need are anglers willing to make the drive in order to get their rods bent."
Waurika's obviously a sleeper among Oklahoma catfishing hotspots. Usually the only real fishing pressure that it feels comes during the spring, when the lake's trophy hybrid bass are "spawning."
The lake limit is 15 channel or blue catfish in any combination; as usual, there's no limit on flatheads.
If you want to catch big numbers of channel catfish, then Konawa Lake, an hour's drive southeast of Oklahoma City, is the lake for you. It's home to incredible numbers of catfish. The average-sized channel cat caught there will be small, but catching a limit is generally easy. The most productive spots will generally be windy points.
The lake limit is 15 channel or blue catfish in any combination; there is no limit on flatheads.
Arcadia Lake, near Edmond, is another apt choice for catching channel catfish; it's normally easy to take a mess of fish there. I visit Arcadia during the hot months, and the catfish bite is fantastic. I've had my best success by drifting cut shad over several of the ODWC's submerged fish attractors, which are marked with buoys; these structures are very attractive to the whiskerfish.
The average-sized Arcadia channel cat will weigh from 2 to 5 pounds. On my last trip there, I hooked an 8-pound channel cat on light tackle, and had a tough time boating the scrappy fish.
The turbid Arcadia is also great for blue catfish. I've fished the impoundment many times and never failed to catch fish.
I fish from a boat, but bank-anglers can do equally well. Generally, my buddy and I unload our boat on the north side of the lake and then proceed across to the cove by the 15th Street boat dock to cast a net for shad. When we've collected an adequate amount, we cut the shad in half and rig them on a hook suspended 20 inches beneath a 1-ounce egg sinker. While drifting across the deepest parts of the lake, we don't have to wait long before one of the whiskered critters has hold of our lines. Most blues I catch there range from 3 to 8 pounds.
The lake limit is 15 channel or blue catfish in any combination, while there is no limit on flatheads.
Lake Overholser in northwest Oklahoma City is a sleeper lake when it comes to catfishing. It's home to all catfish species, and the inlet canals flowing into the small city reservoir are promising spots for tangling with a large flathead, though other species too are also present throughout the lake, and generally eager to bite a smelly offering.
As at Hefner, the lake limit is 15 channel or blue catfish in any combination, but anglers are prohibited from using more than three rods with three hooks on each line.
Lake Eufaula, the state's largest lake, is fabulous for flatheads. While fishing one hot summer night in an indoor fishing marina there, I hooked a giant flathead, a yellow-green monster that broke my line after I'd managed to get it partially out of the water. I've always wondered what that huge fish might have weighed -- and I recall that occasion when I want to tell others about the big one that got away!
For river anglers, the Arkansas River system is a great destination: It's loaded with all sizes of
catfish. According to Delmer Shoults, enormous catfish swim the Arkansas River. The veteran fishing guide has hooked catfish both on rod and reel and on juglines that were too big to land -- and broken his line in the process! Shoults' favorite bait for blue catfish is cut shad. The guide says that the point at which the Arkansas River begins forming Kerr Reservoir is a likely locale for catching a mess of blue cats.
The Canadian River -- both North and South -- as well as the Washita and Cimarron are homes to good numbers of big flathead catfish. These vast river systems offer relatively easy access, and most hold all three catfish species.
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Though this list isn't exhaustive, most state waters will provide hours of fishing enjoyment. Remember: Fishing is a great tradition -- so take a youngster and pass on the legacy.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Here are a couple of contacts that might come in handy: Carl Jones, Hefner Bait and Tackle, (405) 720-9922; Delmer Shoults, (918) 773-5213.