Oklahoma's 2009 Fishing Calendar
October 05, 2010
Oklahoma has been blessed with great fishing opportunities from border to border. To prove it, here's a closer look at a dozen of our finest angling trips of the year. (Feb 2009)
Where to fish, and what to fish for?
In Oklahoma, your choices are many. But not every species of fish cooperates equally well throughout the year. So here's a look at some of the more promising choices that can provide many fun and productive days of fishing -- as well as bags of tasty fillets for your freezer -- throughout the four seasons in the Sooner State.
Eufaula Blue Cats
When I began fishing for Eufaula's whiskerfish, channel catfish dominated the catch. But as the years passed, blues began to take over as the dominant slick-skinned species on this 102,000-acre reservoir sprawling across the map of Eastern Oklahoma.
The best way to start probing Lake Eufaula for winter blues is by finding schools of gizzard shad and throwing a cast net to capture enough of them to provide bait for the whole day. They don't have to be kept alive, but it helps to keep them on ice so that they stay fresh for several hours. Big shad can be cut into 2-inch pieces; smaller shad can be used whole.
A drifting rig -- a bell or spoon-shaped sinker or "bait-walker" sinker on the bottom of your line with a baited hook tied on a 12- or 18-inch dropper about 18 to 24 inches above the sinker, using a three-way swivel -- is great for drifting the flats, which is an excellent technique now as it is throughout the year.
But in midwinter, anchoring and fishing submerged channel edges or deeper structure can also be good. Some productive spots can be found on the downcurrent sides of highway bridges, where baitfish get swept through the channels beneath the bridges. Sonar can show you other spots that catfish lurk in.
Be sure to dress warmly. And a pair of textured rubber gloves can come in handy for handling those cold, slimy cats once you bring them to the boat.
The Lower Illinois River may be the best wintertime striper hole in Oklahoma. Oh, the tailrace fisheries below several major dams can be good also, and the Tenkiller tailrace at the upper end of the Lower Illinois can be good whenever high flows continue for a while. But that area below the Highway 64 bridges (two spanning two river channels) downstream to the mouth of the river is a bountiful fishery.
Because the Lower Illinois from the Tenkiller dam down to the highway bridges is a trout fishery, water is typically being drawn from the lake to keep that river in a comfortable temperature range for trout. Thus, it's usually cooler in summer there than in other area waters, and warmer in the winter.
That warmer water in January and February draws lots of game fish up from the bigger Arkansas River. Stripers and sand bass are sometimes drawn there in huge numbers.
If you really want some fun, rig a spinning outfit with 8-pound-test line and throw small jigs -- 1/8 to 1/4 ounce -- in the river. You may fill your limit of stripers and fill your livewell with big sand bass and the occasional walleye or sauger as well.
If you're seriously trying for a big striper, free-drifting live shad or small rainbow trout for bait can yield big results. A number of guides work the area that way.
You can launch at Gore Landing on the Lower Illinois or across the Arkansas at the Webbers Falls landing to navigate into this area.
But remember: If you fish above the Highway 64 bridges, you'll need to have a current trout fishing permit as well as a license.
Tenkiller White Bass
The Horseshoe Bend area at the headwaters of Lake Tenkiller is one of the state's most popular springtime sand bass fisheries. Tens of thousands of sand bass move up from the lake -- first the smaller males, and then the bigger females -- to spawn in the flowing currents of the upper Illinois River, which feeds the lake.
The action will drastically heat up at some point from mid-to-late March to early April (usually), and you may have to wait in line at the boat ramp on a busy weekend morning. But the fishing can be worth it.
Small jigs or spinners are probably the most productive baits. Some anglers troll the channel with crankbaits also, with deep-running white, silver or shad-colored baits being the most productive on most days.
One of Oklahoma's southernmost lakes is also one of its best crappie lakes. Known primarily for its black bass fishing, Hugo has always held a healthy crappie population, and April is a good time to search them out in the coves and shoreline shallows where they spawn.
It's handy to have a boat, but anglers walking the banks, wading the shallows or fishing from float tubes also fill stringers with slabs in Salt Creek, Long Creek and other small tributaries that flow into Hugo Lake.
Some good springtime fishing will be found as well in the coves and pockets along the Kiamichi River above the lake, all the way up to the shoals above the Highway 3-7 bridge near Rattan.
I always try to hit Grand Lake a time or two in May for some topwater largemouth action.
Depending on the water level in the lake, fishing a spinnerbait in flooded willow thickets or pitching a jig in those flooded areas can also be highly productive. But if the water level is normal or below, pulling off of the bank a little, and fishing Zara Spooks, chuggers and poppers, or even buzzbaits can yield some great results at this time of year.
I like the midlake area from Grove down to Drowning Creek, and back up in Horse Creek and Duck Creek. That's a great area for tossing topwaters at this time of year.
If the water is high, though, and the shoreline willow thickets have a foot or two of water in them, I'd recommend throwing a spinnerbait around the willow trunks and laydowns in the shallows, or pitching a jig-and-pork or jig-and-plastic to visible cover.
This is just about my favorite kind of fishing in Oklahoma.
It's hard to beat a day of floating, wading or tubing a southeastern stream like the Glover or Mountain Fork River or one of the many creeks in Le Flore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties to catch native stream smallmouths.
The streams are not always easy to float in a canoe or johnboat. Unlike the float streams in northeastern Oklahoma, like the Illinois River, which have a lot of deeper water and constantly good flows, the southeastern streams are steep. They rise fast when it rains an
d they drop fast when it doesn't, and so it's sometimes difficult to find a day when the water levels are just right for an easy float.
I actually prefer the streams to be a little low when I fish there. That way the currents don't carry you through the best waters too rapidly. And it's easy to stop, pull the boat up on the bank, and wade the shallows to probe the best stretches of water thoroughly before moving on.
Later in the summer, when flows are even lower, it may be best to "pot hole" the river. That is, access some of the best spots by utilizing the maze of logging roads in the area to drive to your fishing spots. You fish the local water, and then load up your gear and drive to another spot.
My most productive bait is a 1/8-ounce jig tipped with a plastic, curly-tailed grub. Smoke without glitter is my No. 1 choice in color of grubs, especially on cloudy days. Smoke with glitter is good on sunny days. But bring a variety of colors. You never know what may work best on any given day.
Small safety-pin spinnerbaits, in-line spinners and small crankbaits can be very effective, especially in the deeper holes. And big, noisy buzzbaits also produce exciting strikes from smallmouths, spots and largemouths in the deeper, calmer waters.
Lake Texoma may be the most productive inland striper fishery in the country. It is definitely among the best in terms of sheer numbers of striped bass caught. Some among the legions of guides will take two or three parties out per day to catch limits of stripers in the summertime.
Many of them rely on live bait, fishing gizzard or threadfin shad, big shiners, or even sunfish to catch stripers. But jigging spoons, topwaters, crankbaits and other lures can put stripers in your boat just as well.
You often see flotillas of guide boats and private boats gathered at midlake where schools of stripers are working. But you can also find stripers by trolling or simply by cruising and watching your sonar.
Kaw Sand Bass
This Arkansas River impoundment that begins at the Kansas border is a great white bass fishery, as are most of the other Arkansas River impoundments. As they do at many large lakes, the sand bass roam the open water in the summer in voracious schools, chasing shad to the surface and sometimes create an acre or more of splashing that sounds like falling rain. You can either watch for surface activity, look for diving seagulls that are homing in on the surface action, or use sonar to locate submerged schools. You also can troll crankbaits or spinners to find them.
Once you find a hungry school of sandies, you can throw slab spoons, or -- one of my favorite techniques -- put three or four small jigs on your line a foot or so apart and, sometimes, hook two or three fish at a time. That combination makes for a heck of a battle as you reel them in.
Eufaula Blue Cats
In summertime, the livin' is easy -- or so the song goes. And so is the fishing for blue cats at giant Lake Eufaula. Anchoring and fishing structure is a good wintertime technique, but in late summer, drifting the flats may be the most productive. Some areas that are often good lie east of U.S. 69 and north of the town of Eufaula. That entire big, open expanse of water from the highway east to "the gap," as locals call that place where the lake narrows down and heads toward the dam, holds a lot of blue cats. You can drift just about anywhere out there and find catfish, too, or you can use your sonar to find blips hanging close to the flat or gently sloping bottoms.
Many times, using a drift rig, as was described earlier for catching blue cats, and fresh shad will prove the most productive technique for catching blue cats in late summer.
It's crankbait time at Grand Lake -- and what fun that brings! It happens every fall: The gizzard shad that roam the big lake all year move into the coves as the water in the main lake starts to cool; soon the bass follow, and it's time to tie on a chartreuse or fire tiger or shad-pattern crankbait, and work the coves over. You can throw to the banks, across the coves, parallel to the banks: You never know which cast will draw a strike. But the coves that are working with balls of shad are usually the best ones to fish.
I've seen several October tournaments won with this pattern, and I've caught a lot of bass this way myself. I'm not usually a crankbait guy; I mostly go with single-hook baits. But in October, especially the second half of the month, "crankin' the coves at Grand" (as we call it) can be a winning pattern.
This lake gets more than its share of fishing pressure. It's pretty and it's close to a large population center. And that draws a lot of boats and anglers to the lake. So sometimes it can be difficult to find big crappie on this lake. But plenty of crappie are here, and in late autumn you can find them suspended around timber in the coves, or sometimes in the creek channels off the main lake.
Later in the winter, quite a few anglers move into the creeks at night to catch the crappie that move up into the narrow channels in the winter. I don't know why the fish move up there in colder weather, but they've been doing it since the lake was impounded. You can bet they'll do it again this year.
I've spent a few nights myself, bundled up in layers of clothing and tied up to a tree along the edge of Hominy Creek at the lake's headwaters, pulling 10- and 11-inch crappie into the boat.
At night, fishing with minnows seems to work best. But in November, you still can fish jigs in the daytime to catch those slabs in the coves and along creek channel edges.
Grand Blue Cats
Fishing for blue cats is repeatedly mentioned as a good bet for in our calendar, as fishing for blue cats has improved tremendously in Oklahoma in the past 20 years. The fish have gotten increasingly prolific in many of our largest lakes -- and Grand Lake's certainly in that category.
As at other lakes, fishing with fresh shad usually is the key to success. But at this time of year, fishing the dropoffs and channel edges is probably the most dependable technique. Almost anywhere along the Neosho (Grand) River channel in the upper half of the lake can be good. But if you can find a spot where the river bends and the submerged channel banks are steep, that's the kind of place I've had my best luck at Grand in the winter.
Make sure your rods are securely held in rod holders; a big blue cat can jerk a rod completely out of the boat if the rod is merely lying on the deck. If you're holding onto the rod yourself, keep a tight grip on it!
The fishing opportunities described here certainly aren't the only ones you can find each month. The Sooner State has a lot of fisheries resources. You can fish for trout at the many winter put-and-take trout areas. Or you can fish for them year 'round in the Lower Illinois or lower Mountain
Dozens of big lakes, dozens of small lakes and hundreds -- no: thousands of farm ponds populated with fish of many kinds are waiting for you. So no matter the time of year, you can find fish of one species or another that can provide angling fun in Oklahoma.
Don't forget to carry your 2009 Oklahoma fishing license and any local fishing permits, trout permits or other such requirements.
See you at the lake somewhere!