Whiskerfish angling heats up on Oklahoma rivers and reservoirs at this time of year, so you'd better get your favorite rod and reel ready for action! We'll show you where.
Blue cats the size of this 50-pounder that Jeff Williams caught at Grand Lake are old fish! The angler tries to release all his bigger catches, saving the smaller ones for eating.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Williams.
August in the Sooner State: Summer's winding down, but it'll be a while yet before cooler temperatures dominate, and you can expect quite a few more scorching 100-degree days in the meantime. Admittedly, the dregs of summer aren't that much fun unless you're sunbathing or relaxing in a cool swimming pool.
However, this month is tops for the catfish angler intent on catching a mess of whiskerfish -- and that's true for nearly any watery venue in the state. That's right: Now's the time to dial in some hot catfish action near you!
"Catfish really get active when the water heats up," said Gene Gilliland of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Their metabolisms really kick in, and they become more active feeders."
Enough said: Grab your tackle and go buy some catfish bait. But before you start fishing, read up on these primo August catfish waters.
Starting off our list of "hot" catfish spots is this huge impoundment in the northeast part of the state -- a real winner for big blue catfish. Catfish guide Jeff Williams plies his trade at Grand, and has built up a reputation for producing monster catches. "Grand is home to incredible numbers of larger-than-average blues," he said. "It's pretty hard to fish there and get skunked anytime!"
Astute when it comes to all things related to gargantuan blue catfish -- especially catching them! --Williams is sensitive to the substantial time it takes for a blue cat to reach trophy status, and thus photographs and releases all blues over 10 pounds.
Like Williams, ODWC biologist Jeff Boxrucker is a proponent of releasing big blue cats. "It takes at least 12 years for a blue catfish to reach 10 pounds," he explained. "So the really big blue catfish are really old, and should be released to get bigger."
The lake harbors a mixed bag of catfish, Williams said, but he prefers to target trophy blue cats. "Although I do catch some channel cats 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 overharvest of trophy blue cats by too many guides and anglers is a problem statewide. He recommended that summer anglers should target the shallow mudflats near Sailboat Bridge, as well as the areas around Twin Bridges State Park; he added that the fishing platform at Bernice State Park as a good bet for bank-anglers. Sweetwater Cove, Duck Creek and Drowning Creek are similarly promising sites for catching blue cats on the huge lake.
Williams' clients generally catch blue catfish in the 3- to 10-pound range, and the occasional larger one; his best exceeded 50 pounds. The guide advised that boat anglers 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."
Night-fishing can also prove profitable at Grand. The lake limit is 15 blue or channel catfish in any combination; no length restrictions apply.
This outstanding catfish water sitting in the south-central part of the state harbors all local species of cats, but in the last few years, the huge blues coming from here have garnered a lot of attention. Caught at Texoma: the current Oklahoma rod-and-reel state record -- a 98-pounder taken by Billy Nabors -- and the unrestricted-class state record -- a real brute (118 pounds, 8 ounces) that hooked itself on a trotline set out by Dan Grider.
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 now-retired lake biologist Paul Mauck, Texoma's blues are more highly sought now than in years past. "Anglers recognize that Texoma is an old lake that has some big catfish in it," he said. "However, as biologists we are concerned with the overharvest of big blue catfish." Blues grow slower than other fish species, so I hope anglers will release the big ones and eat 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.
EL RENO LAKE
Celebrated for monster flathead catfish -- and home of the state record for the species -- this lake just west of Oklahoma City was previously affected by the drought, but last spring's rains remedied the situation
Flatheads are no doubt the ugliest members of the catfish family, but when it comes to tasty filets, aficionados concur: Flatheads are tops on the table. These homely critters inhabiting most of the state's rivers, creeks and lakes 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. As noted, the current state-record flathead -- 72 pounds, 8 ounces -- was caught there by Ron "Barefoot" Cantrell on May 20, 2004.
Barefoot fishes El Reno Lake often, mainly because of its proximity to his home. His best luck comes 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 with live-bait offerings like perch and shad that he keeps lively in an aerated bait tank, he primarily uses cut shad.
Oklahoma City-area anglers looking to catch some eatin'-sized channel catfish need range no farther than Lake Hefner, nestled in the north-central part of the city. This lake offers some outstanding fishing for channel cats, with its 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 aromatic homemade concoctions.
Carl Jones, a catfish expert who fishes Hefner devotedly, works off the long, rocky dam area, and normally finds the catfish 6 to 8 feet deep. He reported that he can get a basketful of channel cats by using a slip-cork and some punch bait that he cooks up to sell at his Edmond bait shop. He claims his recipe incorporates "secret" ingredients that catfish go for even when other enticements fail.
"If anglers will stop in or call me at my son's bait shop, I will gladly tell them where the best spots to fish are, and give them up-to-the-minute fishing reports," he offered.
Larry Sikes, another Hefner regular, prefers to fish at night, and has been rewarded with nice catches; his favored spots are the points on the west and southwest parts of the lake. He uses gourmet shrimp that he buys at his local grocery store -- catfish prefer them to bait-grade shrimp, he claimed -- and, from time to time, earthworms. A long pole with 50-pound braided line is his choice for hurling his bait to a weedline well 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 that some of these areas are private, and that no fishing 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 three rods, with no more than three hooks on each line.
GREAT SALT PLAINS
A channel cat bonanza awaits catfishermen at this lake near Jet in the north-central part of the state. ODWC biologist John Stahl, who oversees the lake, is a catfish angler himself. He reported that Salt Plains' catfish will average 3 to 5 pounds, with some weighing 7 to 12 pounds. The best bait here is cut shad, he asserted.
Near the town of the same name, this reservoir is another noteworthy spot for channel cats; in fact, it yielded 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, who manages this fishery as well, noted that the top baits for Canton's channel cats are earthworms, cut shad and large shiner minnows, and declared that the best angling method involves drifting suspended baits throughout the lake. The average-sized channel cat here weighs 3 to 7 pounds, but cats in excess of 20 pounds are not uncommon.
If you want to catch big numbers of channel cats, Konawa Lake, an hour's drive southeast of Oklahoma City, is for you -- it's home to incredible numbers of whiskerfish.
Waurika Lake, in the southwest part of the state, is quite a spot for catching channel catfish. According to ODWC biologist Larry Cofer, Waurika's channel catfish average from 2 to 5 pounds. Boaters do most of the fishing, since bank access is somewhat limited. The hotspots to fish are 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 is 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 attempting to spawn.
If you want to catch big numbers of channel cats, this locale an hour's drive southeast of Oklahoma City is for you -- it's home to incredible numbers of whiskerfish. The average-sized channel catfish here will be small, but catching a limit is generally easy. The most productive spots: windy points.
Another fine choice for catching channel catfish -- it's normally easy to take a mess of fish here. I visit this lake near Edmond 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 -- structures very attractive to whiskerfish.
The typical Arcadia channel cat weighs from 2 to 5 pounds. On my last trip there, I hooked an 8-pound channel on light tackle and had a tough time boating the scrappy fighter.
Turbidity makes Arcadia highly suitable for blue catfish as well. I've fished the impoundment many times and never failed to make some catches.
I fish from a boat, but bank-anglers can do equally well. My buddy and I ordinarily 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 gets hold of our lines. Most blues I catch here range from 3 to 8 pounds.
When it comes to catfishing, this sleeper in northwest Oklahoma City is home to all catfish species. The inlet canals flowing into the small city reservoir are also 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.
Here, 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.
This is the state's largest lake, and it's fabulous for flatheads. While fishing one hot summer night in an indoor fishing marina here, I hooked a yellow-green beast that broke my line after I'd managed to get it partially out of the water. I've always wondered what that huge flathead might have weighed -- and that's the occasion I recall when I want to tell others about the big one that got away!
The Arkansas River system is a destination positively loaded with all sizes of catfish. According to Delmer Shoults, enormous cats swim the Arkansas River. The veteran fishing guide, whose favorite bait for blue catfish is cut shad, claimed to have hooked catfish, on both rod and reel and juglines, that were too big to land -- and broken his line in the process! He designated the point at which the Arkansa
s River begins forming Kerr Reservoir as a likely site for catching a mess of blue cats.
|FOR YOUR INFORMATION|
For updates on fishing conditions at Lake Hefner, call Carl Jones at (405) 359-9886
The Canadian River -- both North and South -- as well as the Washita and the Cimarron are home to big numbers of big flathead catfish. These vast river systems offer relatively easy access, and most hold all three catfish species.
This list isn't exhaustive. Bear in mind that most state waters can provide hours of catfishing enjoyment. Remember: Fishing is a great tradition -- so take a youngster with you next time; pass on the legacy.
Don't forget the sunscreen -- and leave the catfish bait outdoors!