A cold snap early in the new year usually brings good fishing for stripers and hybrids across our state. To get in on the action, give these top-drawer venues a shot. (January 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Ice formed in my rod's eyelets as the bitter January chill permeated my bones. Some of my fellow Oklahomans would probably think I was crazy for going striper fishing on such a day, but after spending nearly two months at goose hunting, my psyche ached for a change.
I was bundled up in the warmest gear I owned as we trolled lively baits nearly 60 yards behind the boat. Without warning, my rod was almost ripped from my frigid grip; the fight was on. The graphite shaft nearly bent double as the hefty striper headed downstream with the bait. My drag sang as I reeled feverishly, making little headway against the tenacious fish. After a 10-minute tussle, my guide netted the 15-pound striper.
"You caught a small one, huh?" he quipped.
A sly grin on his face, the guide baited my hook with a lively 9-inch shad, and soon had it secure in the rod holder. Before long the rod tips iced over again as my rod awaited the next big hit.
Ah, yes -- January fishing is brisk! Temperatures are usually frigid, but some real rewards await anglers willing to bundle up and go catch a few stripes. Following is a review of some hotspots for Oklahoma's cold-weather stripers that you'll surely want to hit this month.
Lake Texoma is an awesome striper fishery; catching a limit of linesides there is generally easy. However, the winter months can be especially worthwhile, owing to the stripers' preference for cool water.
According to Paul Mauck, south-central fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, January is a superb month for catching a wallhanger. "Stripers like cold water and windy weather," he said. "They don't seem to acclimate themselves as well to warm water."
According to Mauck, January anglers should look for huge schools of shad that hole up in many of the lake's coves. "The shad are fat and lethargic in preparation for spawning later," he noted, "an easy target for the lake's stripers."
Several factors put the odds in the angler's favor. First off, fewer boats are on the lake to spook the stripers. Because the fish are less skittish, they can be found in shallower water, where they're easier to target.
"Traditionally on Lake Texoma, some of the top spots in January are Soldier Creek, Caney Creek, Alberta Creek, and the east end of Rock Creek," Mauck reported. Smart bait choices are live shad, and -- according to striper expert Ron Ludwig -- Prune Picker slabs.
For up-to-the-minute Lake Texoma striper reports, log on to the Web site SixOldGeezers.com.
One of the first lakes in the state to be stocked with stripers in the 1960s, Keystone, west of Tulsa near Sand Springs, hosts a prominent striper fishery. It peaked in the late 1980s, but still yields quite decent catches of stripers from time to time. Catching big numbers of fish there can be tough, though.
Guide John Harless reports that the average catch will be 4 to 6 pounds, and that morning fishing is the way to go for results.
The preferred spots to fish are generally the area near the Highway 64 Bridge and the Salt Creek area, which has some of the clearest water in the lake. Probably the top area on the lake for catching a trophy striper is that below Keystone Dam, which will be covered later on.
Recommended baits are live shad and large shad-colored lures, along with large Sassy Shads in white, yellow, and chartreuse colors.
LOWER ILLINOIS RIVER
Year after year, some of the Sooner State's largest stripers are pulled from the Lower Illinois River, which flows beneath Lake Tenkiller Dam to the Arkansas River. It's quite the ecosystem, teeming with several species of fish, including rainbow trout. Stripers in the Arkansas swim up the Lower Illinois to gorge on the trout and shad abounding in the cool waters.
The ODWC has been stocking the river between the Highway 64 Bridge and Marvel Trout Camp for several years with both rainbows and browns. Factor in the penchant stripers have for eating rainbow trout, and you have the makings of some of the best striper fishing in the state.
When water's being released from Tenkiller Dam, the fishing gets even better. Explained ODWC biologist Gary Peterson, "The water in the Lower Illinois is generally 20 degrees cooler than other areas, and stripers like to congregate in those waters. When the water is flowing, it triggers a striper's feeding instincts."
Keep in mind that river anglers generally won't boat large numbers of stripers, but the odds are way above average for catching a striper in the 20- to 40-pound range.
Most fishing is done from a boat. Caution is advised when navigating the river system, as depths vary between 12 inches and 8 feet.
Guide Delmer Shoults regards January as a fantastic month for anglers able to bear the cold weather. "The river can get very cold in the winter due to the water already being cooler than any other water around," he said. "I still catch some nice stripers, though my trips are limited, because not many people can stand the extreme cold temperatures."
However, diehard striper fans will be interested to hear that Shoults regularly lands some real trophies. In fact, the current state-record striper, which weighed 47 pounds, 8 ounces, was caught there by Louis Parker on June 10, 1996. Professional angler Jimmy Houston of Cookson came close to the mark when he caught a 45-pounder a few years back. And sources tell me that fish in the 50-pound range have been caught weighed and then released unharmed. (Locals tend to avoid spreading any news of large stripers caught, the idea being to keep a low profile.)
Anglers fishing the river within the designated trout stream area, which lies between the Highway 64 Bridge and Tenkiller Dam, must have a current $7.75 trout stamp.
EUFAULA DAM TAILRACE
The water discharged below Eufaula Dam, which runs to meet both the Arkansas and Canadian rivers, harbors substantial numbers of stripers and hybrids. I've fished beneath the dam when the turbines weren't running, and though the fishing
was supposed to be dismal, we still caught plenty of both stripers and hybrids.
The area can be accessed by bank-anglers or by boat. For safety reasons, a buoy-marked area is off limits to boat anglers.
The baits of choice here will be large shad, herring, and artificial baits ranging from large spoons to large plastic baits in shad colors.
Striper expert David Mitchell prefers to fish below Lake Eufaula, where the Canadian and Arkansas rivers meet. He's found that large stripers congregate in those areas in January. His primary bait: live shad. His best cold-weather striper: a brute caught from the wall below Eufaula Dam that weighed nearly 44 pounds.
KEYSTONE DAM TAILRACE
Keystone Lake striper fishing can be rugged -- but fishing beneath Keystone Dam is a different story. The discharge flows into the Arkansas River, a favorite spawning area for stripers. When water's released through the giant turbines, it's filled with shad minced or mortally wounded from having been sucked through. The resulting "chum" triggers a feeding response in stripers swimming the cooler, highly-oxygenated waters.
Bank-anglers working this area should be prepared to use heavy tackle and to make long casts. The cold-weather lures you want to use include large spoons and shad-colored plastic baits. As for live-bait anglers, those using live shad will score big.
Another area downriver near Tulsa is the Zink Low Water Dam, near 31st Street and Riverside Drive. This low-water dam area on the Arkansas River sometimes holds incredible numbers of stripers, and much of the fishing there can be easily accessed from the shoreline.
Tulsa's Mike Thornberry regularly fishes that area, and catches some big stripers and hybrids. He stated that the fishing there can be excellent, with little fishing pressure.
Now: some really great spots for taking Oklahoma hybrids in cold weather.
I recently fished Foss Lake with area guide Dale Eagon -- who operates Eagon's Hi-Point Rentals, where he rents boats, and so knows the lake intimately -- and enjoyed an outstanding trip. My dad and I fished with Eagon and his sidekick Mike Bullard on a day of terrible weather, yet we sacked up a nice limit of "sunshine bass" in a couple of hours. The first fish my dad caught was a 10 1/2-pound hybrid that took nearly 15 minutes to land. The remaining limit weighed 5 to 8 pounds.
Foss Lake has a strong shad base, which hybrids forage on daily. Most anglers enjoy optimal results by drifting large shad in any of the lake's deep waters. Bank-anglers profit by fishing from the long dam's riprap area on the east side of the lake.
Be advised that the lake is fairly open, so the surface can get rough on any wind.
The chief areas for fishing Foss are the areas between Pitch Creek and Lakeview Recreation Area, as well as the dam area, where schools of hybrids herd wads of baitfish into the shallows to feed.
Hybrids are tenacious fighters and a challenge on ordinary bass-fishing tackle, which is what many anglers use to catch them.
This 10,100-acre lake near the town of the same name in the southwest part of the state is nearly a two-hour drive south of Oklahoma City. Waurika, an exceptional hybrid venue, boasts a lake-record fish that weighed nearly 20 pounds. (Rumors of one weighing even more that was caught there but not reported have been heard.)
The lake's considered shallow, its average depth around 15 feet; some 60-foot-deep water is present near the dam, however. Hybrid fishing is good in the winter, as the hybrids traverse the lake in search of schools of shad.
Catching hybrids up to 15 pounds is not uncommon, though the average hybrid will weigh 6 to 10. Hybrids can be caught on live shad, shad-colored lures, and white and pearl Sassy Shads.
For January, experts suggest fishing near the eastern parts of the lake around the islands, off long points, and flats. Another area that holds lots of hybrids is along the dam, at the south end of the lake.
Frankie Phelps, a nearby resident, uses shad-imitating baits like the Sassy Shad. When the hybrids are biting, he believes, artificial baits work as well as live baits; he further maintains that most fish caught on artificial baits are not hooked as deep, and thus can be released unharmed.
Like Foss, Waurika has little cover around its banks, so its surface can get rough if any wind is blowing.
Sooner Lake, a 5,000-acre warm-water lake owned and operated by Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company, is in the northern part of the state near Perry.
Sooner is smaller than most hybrid lakes, but don't let the size fool you. Actually, Sooner was the original stocking point for hybrids in our state, and has produced several state records in the past.
The northeast corner of the lake can be very productive when the generators are pumping water. The lake contains numerous points and islands that can yield very serviceable fishing as well.
David Mitchell often fishes the lake and has photo albums that bulge with pictures of his successful trips. Mitchell prefers to use live shad in the 4- to 5-inch size.
Bank-fishermen can enjoy success by fishing the warm-water discharge area at the northwest end of the lake. To reach this coveted area, anglers should park in a special parking area beside Highway 177 near the lake. Anglers can reach the discharge area only by making a mile-and-a-quarter trek -- but at the end of that well-worn path they'll find fantastic fishing.
Known chiefly for its walleye fishing, this 7,900-acre lake in the northwest part of the state near Watonga also boasts a respectable complement of hybrids.
According to ODWC fisheries biologist Gene Gilliland, this lake overlooked by many anglers can be a very rewarding place to fish. "Good numbers of hybrids can be found by fishing around the islands and rocky points," he offered. "Basically, find the shad and you will find the fish." He suggested that anglers also try fishing the river channels entering the lake from the north and south.
Bank-fisherman can do quite well by fishing both rocky and windy points. Owing to heavy deep-water predation, shad like to congregate in these areas for safety.
In far southwest Oklahoma, Altus-Lugert Reservoir is the rocky home to healthy populations of hybrid striped bass. It has the distinction of having surrendered the current state record, a 23-pound, 4-ounce hybrid caught by Paul Hollister on April 1, 1997.
The best spots
to fish at this lake lie off the rocky points in depths of 15 to 30 feet. Look for sharp dropoffs, humps, and big schools of shad in deep water -- all likely indicators of a hybrid-friendly site.
Once likely cover is located, anglers can generally probe the area by casting chrome or brightly colored jigging spoons and slabs. Another savvy choice: large, deep-diving, shad-colored crankbaits.
An excellent hybrid lake 20 miles northwest of Tulsa, 10,000-acre Skiatook is prodigally timbered, but locating fish there can sometimes be difficult. A fish locator will prove a valuable tool at any hybrid lake, and is an absolute must at Skiatook.
Skiatook's average-sized hybrids weigh 4 to 6 pounds; an occasional fish goes over 10. "Trophy potential for hybrids in Skiatook in future years is excellent," the ODWC's Gene Gilliland opined.
The most promising spots in January are Turkey Creek, Armadillo Island, and the area from Dad's Creek to the dam.
Skiatook attracts numerous local hybrid enthusiasts, so fishing pressure can be heavy at times. For anglers who can keep shad alive, drift-fishing with 6- to 10-inch shad can be very productive, usually near the 20-foot mark.
LOWER ILLINOIS RIVER
Reputed more for giving up big stripers, the Lower Illinois also turns out catches of some dandy hybrids. Both striped bass and hybrids get in the river by swimming up the Arkansas from Kerr Reservoir. Just like the stripers, hybrids inhabit the deep pools in the river and devour the rainbow trout frequently stocked in the river.
Hybrids can be caught by drift-fishing with live 6- to 8-inch rainbow trout or shad, or by trolling shad- and trout-colored crankbaits. I even caught a nice hybrid once while trolling a clown-colored crankbait for walleyes.
Delmer Shoults believes that the river holds hybrids that will rival the state record. And why shouldn't he? Shoults' best hybrid there weighed more than 18 pounds!