October 05, 2010
Good thing we have 12 months in a year -- because with this much great fishing action, we'd never squeeze it into any fewer months. (February 2008).
Choices, choices, choices. If you're an angler living in Oklahoma, that's an ongoing problem: so many choices at just about every point in the year.
You've got a long weekend in February. What to do? Fish for stripers? For egg-laden largemouths? For blue cats? Or maybe for crappie?
Whatever you choose, one or more Sooner fishing holes probably produce good results if you approach your selection correctly.
Let's look at a few of the more promising options for each month of the year.
One of the best things that ever happened to me as a fisherman was meeting up with an angler from Okmulgee who showed me how to catch far more stripers and sand bass (white bass) in the wintertime than I had ever caught before.
J.B. Bennett, who is now a professional fishing guide after retiring from a career in politics, showed me how to catch stripers and white bass on small jigs. He also showed me that the Lower Illinois River can be a bountiful fishery in midwinter.
There are several ways to catch stripers and big sandies on the lower Illinois, but Bennett's methods always seem to be the most productive at this time of the year. He uses 1/4-ounce and 1/8-ounce jigs -- white, blue and occasionally red or chartreuse -- fished on 10-pound-test or smaller line -- to probe the lower Illinois River between the Highway 64 bridges and the mouth of the Illinois where it joins the Arkansas River.
Stripers and white bass move up out of the Arkansas into the relatively warm water that is flowing down the river from the Tenkiller Dam. Sometimes on chilly winter days the river seems loaded with line-sided fish.
If it's your first visit to the area, you might want to launch a boat at the Gore Landing ramp and motor downstream past the U.S. 64 bridges. Just a few yards below the bridges, two channels converge (the river splits into two channels farther upstream and then rejoins here). From the convergence downstream to the mouth is usually the most productive stretch. The water below a large powerline crossing the river is often a good area. Also good at times is a navigable slough, on the left side going downstream, that is near the river's mouth.
I started fishing Eufaula for crappie because I could have my boat in the water there within an hour of leaving my house. But it soon became my favorite crappie lake because I have always been able to catch bigger crappie there than at other northeastern Oklahoma lakes. I'm only talking about a few ounces' difference on average, but it's enough to produce bigger, meatier filets.
In February, few crappie are thinking about spawning yet. But they do seem to move toward those brushpiles that are fairly close to shorelines where they will spawn later in the spring. There are many brushpiles in Eufaula. Some are unmarked and are made by individual anglers. Some are marked with buoys and were created by the state wildlife department. Both can be great places to catch crappie at this time of year.
Minnows, jigs or even a combination of both can be used to probe the brushpiles here. And don't forget to check out the shallow water over the brushpiles. I've caught good numbers of crappie on a Eufaula brushpile one day and then been baffled why I couldn't buy a bite there the next day, only to raise my jig up to within a foot or two of the surface over the top of a brushpile and begin catching crappie.
Most of Oklahoma's large lakes have healthy populations of white bass -- "sand bass," as most of us Okies call them. And in each of those lakes, the sand bass swim up flowing creeks and rivers in the spring to spawn.
But the spawning run at the Horseshoe Bend area at the far upper end of Lake Tenkiller is one of the most popular and most bountiful sand bass runs in the state.
Depending on water flows and water temperatures, you might find only smaller males congregated in the area, or you might find larger females, or you might find both. Anywhere from a mile or so below the Horseshoe Bend boat ramp up to the mouth of Barron Fork Creek, you may find huge numbers of sand bass gathered.
Be careful, though, if you try to run upstream to Barron Fork Creek. That run's only possible in most boats if the lake's above normal level, which it often is in the spring.
Most of the time I'm a die-hard plastic-worm angler or jig-fisherman. I just like catching fish on falling baits. But for a short time each spring, usually late March and early April, I become a jerkbait fanatic.
That's because at Grand Lake you can tie on a suspending jerkbait, like a Smithwick Rogue, Rebel Minnow, Rapala Husky Jerk, etc., and lay waste to some lunker bass that are cruising just offshore in a pre-spawn mode.
Twenty years ago we all fashioned our own suspending Rogues, drilling holes in the lures and inserting lead shot and sealing the holes up with epoxy. Now, though, you can purchase suspending baits that work fine.
Using 14-pound-test or lighter line (I may go down to 10-pound test if bites are few and far between, as using smaller line can sometimes increase the number of strikes), make a long cast and pull the bait down below the surface. Some days, a depth of 7 or 8 feet seems to be the most productive, while on others the fish seem to hit best at 11 or 12 feet. A little trial-and-error can help you find the best depth.
You can tailor the target depth by choosing the right lure and the right line size.
After you pull the bait down to the correct depth, fish it slowly, with twitches and pauses, until it gets close to the boat. I've had numerous strikes just as I started to raise my rod tip and crank the lure back for another cast.
I've had my best luck catching pre-spawners on jerkbaits in the midlake areas.
Oklahoma has a lot of small lakes with relatively clear water and lots of emergent shoreline vegetation like smartweed and water willow. Those lakes seem to be the best at producing hand-sized bluegills and redear sunfish. April, May and June -- with May usually being the best -- are often the leading months for catching lots of these tasty sunfish in a hurry. That's because the fish, especially the bluegills, are concentrated around spawning beds at that time of year.
There are many baits and lures and fishing techniques that
can be used to catch bluegills. If you have a favorite method that works, go for it. Personally, I'll put a slip-cork rig and a bait of live crickets up against just about any technique when it comes to high-yield bluegill fishing.
George Edwards, from Oklahoma City, talked me into my first sunfish fishing trip using crickets. It used to be that I didn't use live or cut bait for anything except catfish. My bluegill and redear fishing was done primarily with small jigs and spinners. But when I accompanied George on a bluegill expedition in western Oklahoma many years ago, I became a devoted convert to fishing with crickets.
Use a small slip-cork -- just big enough to be visible on the surface -- a split shot or bell sinker, and a small No. 8 or 10 hook (even big bluegills have small mouths). Rig your tackle so that your bait stays just inches above the bottom.
In clear, shallow water, you can often see the bluegill nests -- circular depressions fanned clean -- on the bottom. But they may also spawn in water too deep for you to see the nests, so try a deeper spot now and then.
Oklahoma's biggest reservoirs were once loaded with channel catfish, but year by year the channel cat numbers have grown much smaller even as blue catfish populations have increased tremendously.
A lot of small lakes -- municipal water-supply reservoirs, watershed lakes and the like -- still hold good populations of channel cats. And when it comes to catfish for the table, I still prefer channel cats to other slick-skinned species.
From late May through early July, channel cats tend to move toward shorelines to spawn in crevices and cavities and caves. A riprapped shoreline is often a great place to fish for spawning channel cats because the cavities between the large rocks are attractive spawning sites.
You can tightline, hang your bait beneath a bobber, or even run the shorelines with your trolling motor and lob baited hooks gently toward likely looking spots. I've caught spawning channel cats on Lake Eufaula by flippin' the shorelines using shrimp (the frozen kind from the grocery store) for bait.
Summertime surface action is great on many Oklahoma lakes where schools of white bass chase shad in open water. If you can find a spot where the sand bass are attacking shad, you can enjoy some fast action by throwing a variety of baits into the feeding area.
Finding them can be done in several ways. Some anglers troll with crankbaits or spinners, and then when they hook up with a good sand bass they either throw out a marker and cast around it or they troll back through the same area repeatedly. Some watch for splashing or for seagulls diving toward the water. Both can mark the spot where sand bass have shad pushed toward the surface. And you can also use sonar to find roaming schools of sand bass and shad.
Once you've found them, casting jigs, spinners, slab spoons, crankbaits or even topwater plugs into the feeding area can produce results. I like to tie three or four small jigs about a foot apart on my line and then toss the multi-jig rig into the schools to catch two or three fish at a time.
Perhaps the best inland striper fishery in the nation is Lake Texoma. While it rarely produces the giant 40-pounders found at lakes in other states, it consistently churns out thousands and thousands of limit catches of stripers in the 5- to 15-pound range. The fishery keeps a hundred or more guides busy pretty much year 'round, and that number swells in the summer.
The hardest part about catching stripers at Texoma is finding the fish. Stripers are usually open-water roamers and so can move about the lake from day to day. One can usually find active fish using sonar, but many anglers also just "follow the fleet," watching for guides and good local anglers who have found fish already.
Live-baiting with fresh shad is typically the easiest way to catch stripers at this time of year here, but slab spoons, deep-diving crankbaits and jigs can also produce results. Sometimes you can entice stripers to the surface with topwater lures also.
Hugo Lake is one of Oklahoma's best bass fisheries, and in late summer some of the best fishing action is in the Kiamichi River at the upper end of the lake. The winding river channel that stretches up toward Antlers has several creeks and sloughs where both spotted bass and largemouths tend to gather in August and September.
In 2007, lake levels were still so high in late summer that anglers could motor many miles farther than usual up the river. Typically, though, navigation isn't possible too far above Rattan Landing. From Rattan Landing downstream to the lake, though, plastic worms and spinnerbaits are both good tools for probing the river bends and shoreline pockets for bass.
An October float trip or a weekend of wading on one of southeastern Oklahoma's smallmouth bass streams can be an idyllic outing and can produce a lot of exciting action on light tackle.
The Mountain Fork and Glover rivers, portions of the Kiamichi River, Eagle Fork Creek and several other creeks in LeFlore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties can all provide lots of good smallmouth action.
Spinning tackle, small jigs and plastic grubs are probably the most consistent producers of smallmouths, spotted bass and big sunfish in these streams. But a baitcasting rig and a big, noisy buzzbait can yield surprisingly good results too.
Kaw Lake is one of Oklahoma's best crappie fisheries. And in late autumn some local anglers sack up the slabs using slabs. That is, they catch lots of good-sized crappie using heavy slab spoons to jig around
deep-water structure in the middle of the lake.
Yes, you can use small jigs and minnows too, but I've seen some awfully impressive stringers of crappie that averaged a pound or more each caught with slab spoons.
These flashy pieces of metal catch fish because to the crappie they resemble a baitfish of some sort -- a shiner, common minnow or shad. And here's another tip you can file away for future use: They catch more than crappie!
I mentioned earlier that blue catfish have all but taken over many of Oklahoma's larger reservoirs. In the early to mid-1980s, channel cats were still the dominant catfish species in most large lakes. But year by year -- first at Texoma and Eufaula, then at other large lakes, one by one -- blue cat populations blossomed and channel cats declined.
That's good in one way, though, because blue cats are aggressive predators that typically strike hard, whereas channel cats, even really big ones, often nibble and nibble and toy with a bait without ever really taking it in their mouths and getting the hook.
Throughout much of the year, the most productive way to catch blue cats is drifting the flats with cut shad or live shad. But in the winter, it often pays to anchor atop the dropoff where a major river channel flows through the lake and then fish around that submerged structure. Some days the fish will be on top of the dropoff. Some days they'll suspend on the vertical area. And some days they'll be close to the bottom of the river channel. Sonar, and trial-and-error fishing, can tell you where to find them.
Many anglers, myself included, are surprised to learn what really great catfishing action is available during the colder months. I grew up thinking of catfishing as a summertime pursuit, but I believe fishing for them in winter is even better.
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The options described above certainly aren't the only ones for fishing in Oklahoma through the year. The accompanying graphic shows other promising choices. No matter whether you prefer noodling for flatheads in a snake-infested logjam in a muddy Oklahoma creek or drifting nymphs through a riffle in the lower Mountain Fork River to catch trout, Oklahoma has a fishery to fill the bill.