Here are 12 months of the finest fishing opportunities that the Sooner State has to offer in 2006! (February 2006)
I love living in Oklahoma, and fishing is one of the main reasons that I love it. From my house near Tulsa, I can find nearly a half-million acres of water within a couple of hours' driving time. That's a lot of fishing opportunity.
And it's not just fishing for a single species. There are largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, along with sunfishes of many varieties. There are channel, blue, and flathead catfish, striped bass and white bass, walleyes and saugers. Why, heck, we've even got rainbow trout year 'round and, if I'll drive a little farther (to the Lower Mountain Fork River), brown trout to boot.
I grew up in Western Oklahoma, where lakes of any size were few and far between. That may be one reason I appreciate the water resources and fishing opportunities that abound in Eastern Oklahoma.
Yes, there's some good fishing in the western half of the state, but there's so much water in the eastern half that it really is a great place for a fisherman to live.
Let's look at some of the top fishing opportunities available throughout the year in all parts of this great fishing state of ours!
Designated Trout Areas
Mmmm '¦ I can almost taste it now -- the delicate flesh of a rainbow trout cooked on the smoker just hours after it was pulled flopping from the water of one of Oklahoma's wintertime put-and-take trout fisheries. It's one of my favorite meals.
You can argue all you want about how hatchery trout aren't as good as wild trout, but when they come off of the smoker grill, they're as tasty as any trout caught anywhere.
Oklahoma has eight state-managed trout fisheries, and there's another at Pretty Water Lake in Sapulpa as well.
The Lower Illinois and Lower Mountain Fork Rivers are year-round trout fisheries; the others are wintertime fisheries that stock trout from November through March. Pretty Water is owned by the City of Sapulpa, which also stocks the trout there. A city-issued fishing permit is needed there. At the other state-managed areas, both a current-year trout fishing license and a current fishing license are needed.
Small jigs and spinners can be used to take trout in the flowing stream areas, while trout in the small lakes seem to respond better to live bait or prepared baits like Powerbait or homemade dough balls. The state wildlife department suggests adding oil from canned salmon or tuna to dough baits, since the fish were reared in hatcheries and fed on pellet food containing fish oils.
If it's trophy-sized trout you're after, the lower Mountain Fork is probably your best bet. It produces not only some hefty rainbows but also some enormous browns. The state-record brown, caught there last spring, weighed 17 pounds, 4.6 ounces. It was landed just below the reregulation dam on the river.
The lower Mountain Fork has three zones, and in the middle zone anglers must use artificial lures with barbless hooks. The record brown came from the third zone.
In the wintertime, a lot of electricity is needed to heat and light homes. Hydroelectric plants in many of Oklahoma's major dams must generate power pretty much every day to keep up with the demand.
And when the turbines start turning at several of those dams, it starts a feeding frenzy by a variety of fish in the tailrace areas below the dams. Striped bass are usually among the first to arrive and often are the most aggressive feeders.
Fishing tailraces is a specialized type of angling, usually calling for the use of rods 9 to 16 feet in length. The long rods are needed for the long casts that shore-anglers have to make -- to reach the most productive spots, maybe 50 or 60 yards
Boaters can tie up the cables stretched below the dams (to block further upstream navigation into the churning waters nearer the dam), and make slightly shorter casts. But even boaters may at times have to make those 50-yard and longer casts to reach the best areas.
Stripers can be caught on crankbaits, jerkbaits, topwaters, and big jigs, as well as on live bait. But often, the most productive method is to fish one or more smaller jigs beneath weighted casting corks.
It's not unusual for big snowstorms to hit Oklahoma in March -- but it's also not unusual to get several days of mild, sunny weather that can trigger a lot of action among farm pond bass.
Spinnerbaits, jigs, crankbaits and jerkbaits can all produce good results if you fish 'em in the right places at the right times in March. And one of the ways to find the right places and times is to carry a small thermometer that you can dip into the water to measure surface temperatures.
When the sun shines on pond water, it warms the surface layer several degrees. Winds that sweep the pond push the warmer water to the downwind side, forcing colder water out into other parts of the lake. The sun-warmed shallows on the downwind side of the lake may be 10 or more degrees warmer than the water on the opposite shoreline. Those conditions draw bass into those warmer areas where they may be very aggressive in striking your lures.
And hang on -- because the big egg-laden females may be at their heaviest weights of the year. You might just catch a real lunker!
Streams Above Lakes
It usually starts in mid to late March and then peaks in early April. I'm talking about the spawning runs of millions of white bass that inhabit our large reservoirs: Texoma, Broken Bow, Kerr, Tenkiller, Eufaula, Keystone, Kaw, Grand, Hudson, Fort Gibson -- and those are just a few of the largest; others produce big white bass runs as well.
Typically, the male white bass move up to the headwaters of the lakes -- the areas where river or creek currents are noticeable, but are becoming slack water in the reservoirs. The males may even move farther upstream, to those areas where shoals, waterfalls or other such objects block or limit upstream navigation, before the larger, female white bass move in. Sometimes you'll catch the males and females mixed together. Sometimes you'll catch mostly one or mostly the other, depending on what stage the spawning activity has reached.
If you see white bass splashing and thrashing in the shallows or on
the shoals, you'll know that you've hit the peak, when the males and females are paired up and actually spawning.
Some anglers troll with crankbaits or spinners; others fish with minnows. But probably most of the springtime sand bass are caught by anglers throwing small jigs, usually light-colored or shiny silver jigs. Some days a soft-plastic grub or shad body seems to work best. On other days, a jig tied with chenille and feathers or hair seems to be the key to getting lots of strikes.
Anglers often debate what's the tastiest freshwater fish, crappie or walleyes. As for me, give me a plate of fillets from sunfish -- bluegills, redears and related species -- for the finest meal fresh water has to offer.
And May and June may be the best months to catch sunfish. These species may spawn multiple times throughout warmer months, but the periods around the full moon in May and June seem to be when it's easiest to catch an ice chest full of big 'uns. That's when bluegills are nesting and may be concentrated in small areas.
They can be caught on a variety of lures and baits; you can catch them on a fly rod with popping bugs or nymphs, or on jigs, or small spinners, or crankbaits.
Earthworms, grubworms, mealworms, night crawlers and other natural baits can also do the trick. But if you really want to fill a big sack with bluegills in a hurry, take a bucket of crickets to the lake. Gray crickets -- the kind usually sold by bait shops -- seem to be irresistible to bluegills and redears. My favorite way to fish them is with a slip-bobber rig that uses a No. 8 or No. 10 hook, a split shot and a small bobber that allows you to see even the softest bite.
I like fishing clear-water lakes for bluegills because it's easier to spot the nests -- fanned-out depressions that can be seen as light-colored circles on the bottom. Bluegills often nest in clusters, so if you find a nest or two, there may be several close by.
Channel cats start spawning in May in Oklahoma; blue cats usually start in early June; flatheads are usually right behind the blues. The spawning periods often overlap, so you might find one, two or all three species nesting in the cavities along rocky shorelines or riprapped shorelines in many of Oklahoma's large reservoirs.
Trotliners can spread their lines along the faces of riprapped banks or rocky bluffs. Limblines can be set in the same kinds of places. Both will catch catfish moving in and searching for places to spawn.
Drifting a bait beneath a bobber and just inches over the rocks is another effective tactic, especially for spawning channel cats. A bait of shrimp, shad or even prepared baits often lures channels from the rocks.
Noodlers are fond of this month, too, because they know where to find the cats during spawning season and can probe the shoreline cavities for big blues and flatheads.
Professional guides often rely on shad or shiners to pull stripers from the roaming schools that are so abundant in this big Texas/Oklahoma border impoundment on the Red river. But jigging spoons, crankbaits and, sometimes, noisy, splashy surface plugs too can draw strikes from Texoma stripers.
The best advice for catching stripers at this time of year on Texoma is to get there early! By midmorning, the action is often tapering off or has completely stopped. But from first light until the sun's rays begin to shine directly on the water, you might find stripers in coves near the dam on both sides of the lake, or chasing shad along shorelines between coves. If you find stripers in a cove, the "walking" baits, or "chuggers," that make lots of commotion on the surface can trigger violent strikes.
By using sonar and keeping your eyes peeled for surface activity, you should be able to locate fish on your own. But some anglers just follow the crowd to success -- homing in on the flotilla of boats, usually found in midlake, that are loaded with anglers fishing live bait or slab spoons.
You've got to be tough to spend a whole day under the August sun as you fish for sand bass (a.k.a. "white bass") in open water on Lake Eufaula -- but if you can slather on enough sunscreen and stay with it, you may be able to catch enough to sink your boat. Schools of sand bass roam the lake, chasing schools of shad. On occasion they chase the shad to the surface, creating a noisy, frothy splashing that attracts seagulls.
Seeing seagulls dive toward the water is often a signal that hungry sand bass are right below. It helps to keep a pair of binoculars on board to watch for gull-feeding activity.
But if the gulls aren't working, you can use your sonar to locate the schools, or troll crankbaits until you catch a fish or two, and then stop and fish where you caught them.
Even bank-fishermen sometimes can share in the action on this big lake. Find a shoreline with lots of open water in front of it, and where the wind is blowing across the lake onto the shore. In such spots, sand bass often chase shad into the shallows and feed within easy casting distance of shore.
Slab spoons -- painted or shiny silver -- are perhaps the lures used most often for this kind of fishing. Another fun technique is to put three or four jigs a few inches apart on a line and throw them into the feeding fish. Sometimes you can catch two or even three fish on a single cast!
A fall float trip on the Mountain Fork or the Glover River or one of many other coolwater highland streams in McCurtain and neighboring counties can be a fun way to spend a day -- or two or three. Most anglers floating these streams are after smallmouth bass, but Kentucky spotted and largemouth bass are in them as well, especially in the larger ones like the Mountain Fork.
Small jigs dressed with plastic grubs are probably the top baits. Buzzbaits, topwaters, in-line spinners and spinnerbaits can also produce. Small crankbaits are great at times.
If there hasn't been much rain, just wading the shallows or fishing the deeper holes from a float tube might be a better option. But if the streams are flowing adequately, a canoe or johnboat can let you cover miles of water in a day.
Good ol' Hugo Lake has bounced back and become one of Oklahoma's best bass lakes in the past season or two. And fall is one of my favorite times to fish there. How to fish it depends largely on the water level, says veteran Hugo bass guide T.J. Switzer.
"If the lake is at normal level or higher," Switzer offered, "fish a spinnerbait or a worm on the main lake, either along the shorelines where there's a lot of brush
and vegetation in the water, or around other visible cover."
But, he added, "if the water is low, you might do better fishing up in the river (the Kiamichi). I'd fish a worm or a jig or a crankbait up there. You may catch more Kentuckies than largemouths -- but there's some pretty good-sized Kentuckies up there."
For years I thought catfishing was a summertime sport. But I learned quite some time ago that winter's catfishing may be even better than summer's, especially at our bigger reservoirs that hold good populations of blue cats. Blues seem to feed just as voraciously in the winter as they do in summer -- maybe even more so.
In the summer, many catfish anglers drift the flats to catch blues. But in colder months, it may be even more productive to fish around submerged creek or river channels or around bridge cuts through which current flows.
Anchoring and fishing channel-side structure or using a trolling motor to "drift" your baits along the edges of submerged midlake river channels can fill your stringer with big blues at Eufaula, Texoma, Grand, Keystone and other large lakes.
Lake Eufaula has long been my favorite lake for crappie fishing. Not only are there lots of crappie in the lake, but they seem to average just a wee bit larger than is the case at most other lakes as well.
I rarely fish for crappie until after deer season, but when December rolls around, I try to head for Eufaula at the first opportunity. More often than not, the crappie I find are located around artificial brushpiles, usually at depths of 10 feet or greater. I rarely fish deeper than about 20 feet at Eufaula, even in the winter when I have to fish deeper at other lakes.
Jigs or minnows? It doesn't matter. I rarely fish with minnows, but there are days when they'll catch far more crappie than jigs. From December through February, I'll usually fish old-fashioned, chenille-and-marabou crappie jigs. From March through May, I seem to have more luck with tube jigs and small plastic grubs.
If fishing is tough, go with smaller jigs. You may have to add a split shot a few inches up the line in order to get the jig down there where it is supposed to be, especially if it's windy, but the smaller jigs seem to get results on days when normal-sized jigs aren't getting bites.