Even though many Oklahomans are still sitting at home dreaming of the fishing to come this spring, we're passing up some great early angling adventures.
Speaking for myself, I caught the bug while talking to some friends that fish winter bass tournaments. The bass they caught were chunky and fat, and we all know that the fishing is only going to get better as the weeks progress.
Yep, it can get mighty chilly outside right now. The woods are still and quiet. I don't even hear any birds, so I've got nothing better to do than think of all the great times I'll be having on waters close to home and far away. We've got excellent largemouth bass fishing all over Oklahoma — and some dandy places to catch smallmouths, too! We might even get a hankering for a limit of spotted bass for the skillet.
Speaking of skillets, we've got fine walleye fishing in some of our lakes, and even better crappie and bream fishing. If I want to give my tackle a real workout, I can catch big stripers and hybrids, and some great big catfish, too. Trout fishing should be excellent on our tailwaters, but I could also be fishing for sand bass and saugeyes. I think it's time to stop thinking about it and just go fishing!
Lake Tenkiller Smallmouths
It can be bitter cold and windy in the Cookson Hills during this month, but it's also a great time to catch some fat, broad-shouldered smallmouth bass on Lake Tenkiller.
In the winter, smallmouths often congregate under bluffs and on main-lake points. Finding them is the hard part, but a good electronic graph can help you pinpoint their locations and determine holding depths.
You can catch suspended smallies by jigging small spoons, with small worms or grubs on drop-shot rigs. The spoon bite can be epic, and it seems like it's best in the coldest, windiest, nastiest weather Oklahoma can throw at us.
Ozark region anglers also know that you can catch smallmouths on deep flats in the winter on deep-diving, wide-bodied crankbaits like the Storm Wiggle Wart. If you can find one, the discontinued B43 pattern is a legendary smallmouth catcher in highland reservoirs.
There will be some days when smallmouths get active, and they'll hit suspending jerkbaits and sometimes even topwaters. That often happens when it snows, and it makes a beautiful scene all the more memorable.
Lower Mountain Fork Browns
When water flows fast and high from the hydropower generators at Lake Broken Bow, it can be pure magic for catching giant brown trout in the Lower Mountain Fork River.
The waters below the re-regulation dam are the most accessible and most popular, but the holding reservoir above the re-regulation dam has some big trout, too.
They are entirely different fishing environments, though. The re-regulation dam tailwater is very rocky, with a lot of boulders. You'll do some stalking to cast to trout in the eddies behind the boulders.
The pool above the re-regulation dam is like a small lake, deep and wide, but with strong current.
You can catch browns with big stickbaits if that's your thing, but Ethan Wright of the Wright Guide Service catches some giants every year with fly-fishing tackle.
Lake Broken Bow Largemouths
Every year it seems that some angler catches a giant largemouth bass from Lake Broken Bow. It happens often enough to establish this deep, clear, rocky reservoir as a legitimate destination for catching big bass.
In March, largemouths are staging in major tributaries for the pre-spawn period. They are in peak condition and will take a big lure fished slow and deep. Think 10-inch Zoom Ol' Monster worms, heavy jig-and-trailer combinations or crawdad imitators like a Luck-E-Strike Drop Dead Craw on a standup jighead. The Drop Dead Craw has air chambers that make it stand up in a defensive posture. Split the claws for an even more lifelike appearance.
Later, when bass move into the shallows to spawn, you can catch them by sight-fishing. You can also catch them away from the banks near rocks and standing timber with squarebill crankbaits like the Luck-E-Strike RC3, and with jerkbaits like the Luck-E-Strike RC STX or the Lucky Craft Gunfish.
Kerr Lake Blue Catfish
This big Arkansas River impoundment has some giant blue catfish, and April is a prime time to catch them in a variety of environments with a variety of methods.
One of the best ways is fish a big chunk of cut skipjack herring on a Coach's Rig in deep scour holes behind wing dams and revetments. You'll need a heavy weight to hold your bait rig tight to the bottom in heavy current. Anchor above the hole and let the current carry it down.
The strike will be violent, and if you have trouble getting your rod out of the holder, you'll know you've got the kind of fish that makes it worth getting up at 4 a.m.
If a lot of water is running through the Webbers Falls Dam or the Robert S. Kerr Dam, you can anchor in the froth and catch large numbers of smaller blues with cut bait.
Periods of heavy flow are also good opportunities to catch blue cats from the bank. You'll need heavy tackle and long, thick rods to cast as far into the river as you can.
Lake Hefner Walleyes
This water supply reservoir in the middle of Oklahoma City is best known for largemouth and smallmouth bass, and for hybrid stripers to a lesser degree, but it also has a surprisingly strong walleye population.
They don't get that much pressure, so a fair number of them grow very large. I learned about Hefner's walleye fishery while accompanying Gene Gilliland on an informal electroshocking survey there. At the time, Gilliland was a fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. That day the riprap on the east side of the lake teemed with big walleyes, but it's the kind of place a lot of anglers would bypass.
To catch them, you'll want to visit on a windy, overcast day, preferably when its raining lightly. You can catch them with small crankbaits like the Flicker Shad, or Wally Diver, with small swimbaits on 1/4-ounce swimming jigheads or with suspending stickbaits.
The Sebile Stick Shadd is one of my favorites for fishing in rocks. It's more like a twitch bait. A MirrOLure twitch bait is very good for this kind of fishing as well.
Lake Texoma Stripers
This giant Red River impoundment is the Sooner State's best striper fishery. It's not known for trophy stripers, but you can't beat it for numbers, and honestly, a day catching 8- to 12-pound stripers is about as much fun as you can have in freshwater.
Live gizzard shad are probably the most popular and dependable bait for catching stripers. You can drift them under balloons or by tightlining, but you also can catch stripers on a variety of artificial lures.
Mornings can be great for catching schooling stripers on the surface with topwater plugs like Zara Spooks or C-10 Red Fins.
If stripers are suspending, you'll first need to determine the depth at which they are holding. A good graph will take care of that. Then, you can catch them all day long by trolling heavy, yellow or white horsehead jigs on downriggers.
When trolling, it's important to troll a foot or two over the fish because stripers like to strike upward.
If you don't have downriggers, you can catch suspended fish with heavy spoons.
Keystone Lake Sand Bass
Fishing can be tough in the heat of an Oklahoma summer, but sand bass are almost always willing to play.
You can enjoy some sensational sand bass action near Tulsa on Keystone Lake. You'll find heavy concentrations of sandies near the Cimarron and Arkansas River arms of the lake.
The key to finding white bass is finding baitfish, and the best way to find them is to watch for birds. Stay close to birds because they follow shad, and big schools of white bass are always nearby.
I don't know what triggers it, but throughout the day an occasional white bass school will tear into a shad ball. When they do, the birds dive bomb from above, and the result is waves of pandemonium that can last from 15 to 20 seconds to as long as a minute or two.
Position your boat in front of the school. Turn off your electronic graph and your outboard and let the action come to you. As soon as the school is in casting distance, let fly with whatever lure you want.
I love a bone-colored Zara Puppy in that situation, but an Excalibur Zell Pop or any kind of small topwater plug will work.
Bigger whites stay deep and pick off stray or wounded shad. You can catch them with a spoon that falls through the school quickly. I let it hit the bottom and then reel it up. Most of my strikes come on the rise.
Lake Overholser Hybrids
My goodness, it's hot, but fall is coming soon, and in the meantime you can enjoy battling white bass/striped bass hybrids at Lake Overholser.
This Oklahoma City reservoir gets overlooked to a degree, but it supports a decent hybrid fishery that provides a lot of fun for the lake's devotees.
To catch them, use live bait under a slip-bobber at depths of 6 to 10 feet. Shad or bluegills work well, but brooder minnows are excellent if you don't have the equipment to keep shad alive and frisky.
Hybrids often school the way white bass do, and you can catch them with the same lures and methods. I've found that hybrids are more responsive to spoons than white bass seem to be. Don't be shy about size. A 2-ounce spoon painted chartreuse/white works great when cast on medium-weight spinning gear.
Cast it as far as you can past a school. Let it sink to the bottom and then reel it back quickly. Hybrids will follow the spoon to the bottom and strike it on the way back as it nears the surface.
Lake Eufaula Crappie
Covering right at 100,000 acres, Oklahoma's "Gentle Giant" is considered by national media to be one of the best crappie lakes in the country.
It's loaded with great crappie habitat, both natural and artificial. In September, you can catch big crappie on deep brushpiles on main-lake points and secondary points with small tubes on light jigheads. We're talking 1/16 to 1/32 ounce over brush that might be 15 to 25 feet deep.
Anchor downwind of a brushpile, cast long, and count the jig down to the top of the brush. Your tube should pass over the top or nick the brush. You won't catch big numbers of fish, but the sizes will be impressive.
Grand Lake Largemouths
Oklahoma's best bass fishing lake is ready to show out this month with some excellent fishing in pleasant and beautiful weather.
Largemouths are feeding voraciously right now as they put on weight for winter. You can catch them any way you want, with squarebill crankbaits in timber, deep-diving crankbaits on deep points and with Carolina-rigged worms, lizards and soft-plastic crawdad imitators on flats.
Lake Arbuckle Smallmouths
This secluded reservoir in the Arbuckle Mountains is my favorite smallmouth bass-fishing destination in Oklahoma, and November is a prime time to catch a giant.
Launch at Guy Sandy Recreation Area and work the steep banks with Carolina-rigged worms and soft-plastic crawdad imitators. You also can catch them with a Luck-E-Strike Drop Dead Craw on a Spot Remover or any other kind of standup jighead.
Verdigris River Flatheads
The flathead is the best-eating catfish, but it's also the hardest-fighting catfish. Find out this month in the deep channels and cuts of the Verdigris River.
Flatheads inhabit deep structure like log tangles and rootwads on the bottom. Unlike other catfish, they have a distinct preference for live bait. A live bluegill on a dropper line over a bottom rig is an excellent way to entice one to bite.
Of course, the water is cold in December and flatheads are likely to be sluggish, so you'll have to be patient. The payoff is that any flathead you catch in these conditions is probably going to be huge.
The aforementioned trips and the suggestions in the graph that accompany this article comprise a mere sampler of all the fishing opportunities available to anglers in the Sooner State this month. We've also got great fishing in many small lakes across the state, as well as in our many farm ponds.
That's enough fishing opportunity to keep you busy for a lifetime!