October 05, 2010
That's just what you can catch at these prime Oklahoma venues this month.
By Mike Lambeth
As a writer and fishing enthusiast, I've had the privilege of fishing some of the best striper lakes in North America. I've caught all sizes of striped bass and rate them along with their crossbred offspring - the hybrid bass - as the hardest-fighting game fish I've ever had on the end of my line.
Oklahoma has gained a well-deserved reputation for having some of the best striper fishing in the nation. Here, I'll be covering some of the best places in the Sooner State for catching stripers and hybrids - and I'll even throw in a few white-bass hotspots, to boot. (Ironically, striped bass are a member of the white bass family.)
TOP STRIPER SPOTS Oklahoma is blessed to have a lake that is known nationwide as the striped bass capital of the world: Lake Texoma. Considered the premier striper lake, it garnered that reputation back in the 1970s, when it consistently produced real lunkers. Things have changed a bit since then, but day in and day out, the lake still yields unbelievable numbers of this hard-fighting fish.
There are other places in Oklahoma that harbor good numbers of stripers and, though they may not get their due respect, still produce some outstanding catches.
LOWER ILLINOIS RIVER Diehard striper enthusiasts have known for a long time that the Lower Illinois holds the largest stripers found in Oklahoma waters. The Illinois River is also home to the current Oklahoma state-record striper - a 47-pound, 8-ounce fish caught by Louis Parker on June 10, 1996. Professional angler Jimmy Houston of Cookson came close to the mark when he caught a 45-pounder shortly thereafter. And sources tell me that fish in the 50-pound range have been caught and, after weighing, released unharmed. (Locals tend to avoid spreading the news of any large stripers caught, so that the place can keep a low profile.)
I asked Gary Peterson, a fisheries biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, what makes the Lower Illinois so special for stripers.
Clarence Boatman caught this impressive striper at Keystone Lake, one of the first places in the state that stripers were introduced into. Photo by Mike Lambeth
"Stripers like to congregate in these waters" he replied, "due to the water being 20 degrees cooler in the late-summer months. The flowing water triggers their feeding instincts."
According to Peterson, stripers were originally introduced to Oklahoma reservoirs like Texoma, Keystone, Eufaula and Tenkiller in the early 1960s, but most have gone over the dams and through the floodgates since. Those fish now populate Eastern Oklahoma rivers like the Arkansas, the Canadian, and the Lower Illinois. The hearty species tends to populate rapidly and has adapted well to Oklahoma waters. As a result, stripers can be caught virtually anywhere in these river systems.
In the 1980s, Peterson says, some Oklahoma State University graduate students tagged some stripers, caught below the dam at Keystone Reservoir near Tulsa. Six weeks later one of those fish was caught and identified in the Gulf of Mexico, nearly 1,000 miles away.
"Stripers are opportunistic feeders, and will eat virtually anything, including small catfish," he said. "I even received a report one time of a fisherman finding a baby possum in a striper's belly."
Trout are caught and used widely by bait-fishermen, Peterson reports, adding the cautionary note that anyone using or catching trout in the designated trout area, which comprises the stretch below Tenkiller dam to the Highway 64 bridge, must have a $7.75 trout stamp.
David Mitchell, a fishing guide from Oklahoma City, fishes the Lower Illinois often. He agrees with Peterson that the best fishing is found between the Highway 64 bridge and the mouth of the Arkansas River. Both experts say that the river has deep holes - easily located with sonar equipment - in which you'll find some of the biggest stripers around.
When water levels are high at Lake Tenkiller, Mitchell says, and the hydroelectric turbines exploit the conditions by running 24 hours a day, pumping water into the Lower Illinois, he opts to fish the natural mudline that forms at the junction of the Illinois and Arkansas rivers. Large schools of shad and herring congregate in that area, he notes, and attract large schools of stripers.
"I like to catch herring using small crappie jigs fished near the edge of the mud line," Mitchell offered. "They are one of my favorite baits for big stripers"
Mitchell catches several stripers each year that weigh between 20 and 30 pounds; some have approached the 40-pound mark.
EUFAULA DAM TAILRACE Below Lake Eufaula dam, the discharge channel flows into the Canadian River and at times offers some fine striper fishing. When the turbines are running, big stripers congregate to forage on huge schools of shad drawn to the highly oxygenated water.
If you're fortunate enough to be there when the water is flowing, the fishing can be fast and furious. When the floodgates are closed, the flow stops, but sand bass and hybrid bass can generally be caught there year 'round, with an occasional striper added to the mix.
Anglers fishing along the wall generally make long casts and throw artificial baits into the turbid water below. Some guides, however, use live shad caught with the use of a net. Either bait can offer a chance at the striper of a lifetime. Be prepared to hang up often and to lose lots of hooks and sinkers, as well as costly artificial lures.
David Mitchell often fishes below the Eufaula dam. He in particular likes working the last three or four miles of the Canadian River before it joins the Arkansas River. This stretch of the Canadian receives very little fishing pressure, as finding the scattered deep holes can be discouragingly tough for newcomers.
Mitchell assured me that there are holes in the river system that hold huge stripers. One of his favorite techniques is to pitch shad at brushpiles along the edge of the river and along the rocky banks. Good fishing is also to be had along the riprap areas as shad congregate there to eat the insects feeding on the algae growing on the rocks.
LAKE TEXOMA Texoma, situated on the Oklahoma-Texas border, is a two-and-a-half-hour drive southeast of Oklahoma City. The massive lake is home to a huge striped bass population, and annually yields an esti
mated 800,000 of these fish to anglers. Estimates translate that into 2 million pounds of stripers!
Daily catches of lunkers, on the other hand, do occur less often than they did in the late '70s and early '80s, when they were commonplace - but don't think that they no longer happen. Striper guides Gary Hart and Lloyd Jennings believe that big stripers still swim Texoma, just waiting to be caught by lucky fishermen.
The best baits for Texoma are large, brightly colored jigs and spoons called "slabs." Large deep-diving crankbaits in shad colors work magic when trolled. And for live-bait fishing, 4- to 8-inch shad are unbeatable.
Anglers can receive up-to-the-minute lake reports by logging on to www.sixoldgeezers.com. While you're on the Web site, check out some of the hottest striper baits on Lake Texoma: Prune Picker Slabs made by Ron Ludwig.
LAKE KEYSTONE Last on the list of our striper lakes is Keystone, which is near Sand Springs, a suburb west of Tulsa. Keystone, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake that spans nearly 24,000 acres, gained prominence as a striper hotspot in the '80s.
Sand Springs' Clarence Boatman, who guides on Keystone, rates the lake as good for striped bass. Having fished the lake for many years, he's learned from experience where the most promising areas for taking big stripers lie.
Boatman recommends that newcomers to the lake hire a guide. However, he was willing to share a few of the hotspots to which his clients go to catch nice limits of striped bass.
"The riprap area near the Highway 64 bridge is one of my favorite spots," Boatman said, "as well as an underwater island that can be located with a depthfinder. I believe the Salt Creek area of the lake has the clearest water and holds stripers year 'round."
The bait of choice for most striper anglers is live shad, but stripers can be caught by jigging spoons and large jigs, and by trolling large deep-diving crankbaits.
HYBRIDS Several Oklahoma lakes and rivers are home to large schools of hybrid striped bass, sometimes called "wipers." The fish were "invented" by crossing striped bass with white bass, resulting in a hearty, fast-growing fish that really puts up a hard fight.
Below are a list of some of my favorite hybrid hotspots and the best places for catching fish on those waters right now.
Skiatook Lake Skiatook Lake, 20 miles northwest of Tulsa, is a 10,000-acre lake comprising some heavily timbered areas. Clarence Boatman is a regular on the lake. He admits that locating fish in those timbered areas can be difficult, and for that reason advocates investigating open-water areas in which there's an abundance of shad. "When you find the shad," he explained, "you can bet there are hybrids nearby."
Boatman, who regards a fish locator a must, spends a considerable amount of time on Skiatook in the spring and summer. His clients normally have no problem reaching the lake limit of five hybrids, which may contain only two over 25 inches. This 25-inch restriction was imposed to make this lake a trophy hybrid lake. Consequently, most fish caught are in the 4- to 6-pound range, with occasional fish weighing 10 to 12 pounds. The trophy potential of this lake will should be very high in the future.
Boatman's clients fish with live shad, generally at depths of 20 feet. The guide's tackle of choice consists of medium to medium-heavy rods topped off with baitcasting or spinning reels loaded with 10- to 15-pound-test line. He himself fishes with live bait almost exclusively, preferring 3- to 5-inch shad. "If the shad are too small," he noted, "you will attract sand bass instead of hybrids."
Boatman recommends that newcomers to Skiatook Lake fish the Armadillo Island area, Turkey Creek, and the area that runs from Dad's Creek to the dam. Fishing pressure can be heavy at times, he warns, and allows that some of the best action is found by those fishing with guides, who have an everyday familiarity with the lake.
An overabundance of fish means that hybrid fishing is generally pretty good on Skiatook year 'round.
Sooner Lake A warmwater lake owned and operated by Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company, Sooner lies in the northern part of the state, 20 miles northeast of Perry.
At 5,000 acres, it's is smaller than most hybrid lakes - but don't let the size fool you: Sooner was the original stocking point for hybrids, 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 has numerous points and islands that also can produce good fishing.
Guide David Mitchell fishes Sooner quite frequently, and his successes there - as captured in his photo albums - are not few. Like Boatman, he uses live bait, preferring 4- to 5-inch shad. Gene Gilliland, a fisheries expert with the ODWC, recommends that artificial-bait enthusiasts try jigging shad-colored slabs and spoons in the deeper areas.
Bank-fishermen will meet with success by fishing the warmwater discharge area located at the northwest end of the lake. To reach this coveted area, fisherman leave their vehicles in what Gilliland refers to as a parking area (located beside Highway 177 near the lake) and then trek 1 1/4 miles to the end of the well-worn path leading to the discharge area Here, anglers can at times get into some fantastic fishing.
The daily limit is five hybrids with no length restrictions.
Waurika Lake Marlow resident Frankie Phelps, a part-time hybrid and crappie guide at Waurika Lake, believes that the hybrid fishing there is "as good as it gets." He fishes the lake year 'round.
Though guides Boatman and Mitchell fish almost exclusively with live shad, Phelps opts for artificial lures. "Shad fishing is too easy," he asserted. "Because hybrids are so aggressive, when they hit a live shad, many times they swallow the bait and can't be released, due to injury. Due to the high mortality rate with live bait, I use artificial lures so I can release fish unharmed."
Waurika Lake is 20 miles south of Duncan in south-central Oklahoma. Opened in the late 1970s as a water-supply lake for the city of Duncan, the lake covers 10,100 acres containing both open-water areas and heavy timber.
"Waurika" Phelps said, "is the best lake in Oklahoma for crappie and hybrids."
Waurika has a combination limit of 20 hybrids and white bass daily, of which only five can be over 20 inches. The lake has a solid food base of both threadfin and gizzard shad. Phelps' clients catch fish in the 5- to 12-pound range; the guide repots that his personal best is a 16-pounder.
Phelps points to the main body of the lake to the lower end as a likely place in which to find hybrids. He recommends using "bass-fishing" equipment, 15-pound-test line being adequate to the purpose. One of his favorite baits is a 4-inch Sassy Shad in pearl and chartreuse colors.
WHITE-BASS HOTSPOTS Most Oklahoma lakes have huge populations of white bass (called "sand bass" or "sandies" by most Okies), and several of the lakes already mentioned will be smart choices for anglers wishing to sack up a mess of these fish.
Tactics for white bass are very similar to tactics for stripers and hybrids. The same types of baits will work well on sandies, though as a smaller-sized offering. Sand bass generally range in size from a half-pound to nearly 3 pounds, with the world record weighing just over 5 pounds.
Last year my wife and I had the opportunity to fish Grand Lake - it's near Grove in northeast Oklahoma - with Mike and Cokis Chain, taxidermists from Oklahoma City. The lake was beautiful and the fishing superb; we found school after school of surfacing sand bass, and the action was fast and furious, resulting in us catching a boatload of 2-pounders.
While the surfacing activity was hot, we cast shad-colored spoons and white and chartreuse Road Runners rigged in pairs, but before the fish started "blowing up," we caught several sand bass by trolling. Grand Lake is clear and very deep, and is home to many large boats, some measuring in excess of 50 feet. The lake can get very rough when the big yachts are cruising, but that usually occurs during the weekends.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION For information on Lake Texoma striper fishing, contact Gary Hart at 1-888-758-5050, or Lloyd Jennings at (580) 924-0907.
For information on striper fishing below the dams at Eufaula or in the Lower Illinois River, contact David Mitchell at (405) 720-2494.
For information on striper fishing in Keystone, or hybrid fishing in Skiatook, contact Clarence Boatman at (918) 245-3696.
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