Oklahoma Catfishing! Hotspots for Rod-Bustin' Cats

Oklahoma Catfishing! Hotspots for Rod-Bustin' Cats
Gary Doak Jr. shows off his state-record channel catfish from Taft Lake. Caught on Sept. 11, 2005, it weighed 35 pounds, 15 ounces and was 39 1/4 inches long. More monsters are out there! Photo courtesy of www.wildlifedepartment.com.

While drifting across the turbid waters of Arcadia Lake one early August morning, I spent a blissful few hours catching catfish. My fishing buddy and I were trying desperately to beat the scorching heat. Knowing the temperature would soar to nearly 100 degrees around noon, I insisted on an early start. We were on the water by 6 a.m. and fishing on that 80-degree morning — aided by an occasional southern breeze — was nice.


A few casts of the shad net yielded enough bait to get us through the trip. I impaled a freshly cut piece of shad and let my 1-ounce egg sinker take my offering down to catfish country. When my line reached bottom, I reeled up a few turns and then kept a firm grip on the rod. Our boat hadn't drifted very far when my taut line got jerked with a vengeance, nearly taking the rod out of my hands. I set the hook and soon found my bass gear was terribly inadequate for the big blue catfish that angrily fought at the other end. After 10 minutes of carefully manipulating the big whiskerfish and letting it run, I managed to coax the blue into the net.



My catfish weighed only 12 pounds, yet it fought as hard as a 20-pound striper I'd once caught. I can truly say that catching a big catfish on a rod and reel is one of the most challenging forms of fishing.

Our state boasts some incredible spots for taking some rod-busting catfish. Read on for a rundown on some of my favorite catfishing spots. But first, let's take a closer look at the fish we are talking about.


CATFISH BIOLOGY

Three species of catfish — blues, channels and flatheads — thrive in Oklahoma waters. Four, if you count black bullheads.


The blue catfish is easily identified by its slate blue body color fading to white on the lower body. Its diet consists solely of fish; the preference is for shad, minnows and sunfish. In some lakes, blues have grown to more than 100 pounds.

The channel catfish's colors vary from greenish brown to slate blue, fading to silver-white on the lower body. Its deeply forked tail is a dead giveaway.

According to biologists, channel catfish are nonselective and will eat almost anything. However, after growing to 6 or 7 pounds, channels prefer live fish as their main diet.

Flathead catfish exhibit a relatively slender body with a wide, flat head, hence their common name. They are yellowish-brown in color with a mottling on the upper body, their bellies ranging from white to yellow. Their main diet consists of live fish.

Catfish in general are tolerant of higher temperatures; their metabolisms speed up and they feed actively when the water warms. That's one reason so many Oklahoma anglers pursue them with such vigor during summer months.

Now, here's where to find the fish this month.

NORTHEAST HOTSPOTS

Arcadia Lake

Arcadia is one of the finest lakes in the state and overlooked by way too many anglers, asserted Leon Mixer, who works with the city of Edmond overseeing the fishing and wildlife at the lake.

"Arcadia is a great lake for catfishing and the home of some real heavyweights," he asserts. "There have been several habitat enhancements, as well as the addition of an indoor fishing dock offering opportunities for all anglers as well as for the physically challenged."

Just north of Oklahoma City in Edmond, Arcadia Lake serves as a water supply for several communities. The lake features easy access for shore-bound anglers, as well as indoor and outdoor fishing docks. In short, whether you prefer bank fishing or boat angling for catfish, this lake is a good bet.

With an incredible shad population, this fertile impoundment is teeming with blues, channels, and flatheads. I've logged many August trips on Arcadia, and never failed to bring home enough filets to feed several families — all within the legal limits, of course!

Though channel cats averaging 2 to 5 pounds are the primary catch, lately the blue catfish have made their mark on the fishery. The blues caught now are bigger on average than channels, weighing 3 to 8 pounds, and some real bruisers lurk beneath the sometimes turbid waters. Darron Robinson pulled a 67-pound blue cat from the lake in 2006. Four days later, ODWC personnel officially certified the huge blue. By then it weighed only 53 pounds after regurgitating much of its stomach contents while in a holding tank. Even at that reduced weight, it established a new lake record.

The lake catfish spawn when water temperatures reach 80 degrees. For that, they prefer the shallow rocky areas with the dam's riprap being a favored location. Some of the favorite fishing spots of the steady lake anglers are the rocky riprap areas by the 15th Street boat ramp and the dam area. For anglers with a boat, I suggest drift-fishing the deeper areas of the lake.

The combined daily limit on blue and channel catfish is 15, with only one blue over 30 inches, while the limit on flatheads is 10, with a 20-inch minimum. The lake prohibits fishing with trotlines, juglines, limblines, and yo-yos.

Grand Lake

Grand Lake is a Green Country gem in the northeast that is loaded with blue catfish. In fact, after perusing the ODWC's Web page, I learned that Grand has yielded some impressive blue cats to the Lake Records Program. To qualify for the program, minimum weights are set for a number of game fish species. For blue catfish, the minimum weight is 40 pounds. For the program, blues have been certified weighing 64.8, 54.0, 44.0, 43.0, and 40.1 pounds.

Catfish guide Jeff Williams, who catches some huge blue catfish there, knows Grand to be home to incredible numbers of larger-than-average blues. Knowing it takes a long time for a blue cat to reach lunker size, Williams is a believer in photographing and releasing all blue cats over 10 pounds.

The lake harbors a mixed bag of catfish, Williams says, but he prefers to target trophy blue cats specifically. "Although I do catch some channel cats and flatheads," he offered, "95 percent of my catch is blue cats."

Williams, who has guided on Grand for the past 10 years, thinks that many guides and anglers statewide are over-harvesting trophy blue cats. He recommends that during August, which he regards as a prime month for catching Grand Lake catfish, anglers target the shallow mudflats near Sailboat Bridge as well as the areas around Twin Bridges State Park. Williams also mentioned the fishing platform at Bernice State Park as a good bet for bank anglers.

Williams' clients generally catch blue catfish in the 3- to 10-pound range and occasionally larger ones, his best being a 47-pounder. The guide advises boat anglers to buy the best electronics they can afford to assist them in locating the baitfish that catfish feed on.

The lake limit is 15 blue or channel catfish in any combination, with only one blue cat allowed over 30 inches. There is a limit of 10 on flatheads, with a 20-inch minimum length.

SOUTHEAST HOTSPOTS

Lake Texoma

Lake Texoma has been the home of several record catfish, including the state-record blue cat, a former world-record blue cat, and the unrestricted class (trotline) state-record blue. Those are pretty impressive catches from this huge impoundment shared by Oklahoma and Texas!

Cody Mullenix held the world-record for blue catfish with a 121-pound, 8-ounce brute he pulled from Texoma in 2004. The huge blue was caught on the Texas side of the lake in Big Mineral Creek. Mullenix baited his line that morning with gizzard shad and then waded into the lake before propelling his bait 100 yards farther offshore with his 14-foot surf rod. Hooked shortly after 10 a.m., the behemoth blue fought like the monster it was for all of the 30 minutes required to bring it in near the shore and land it.

Buncombe Creek, the Washita Arm, and Cardinal Cove were named as excellent spots for catfishing, according to Mullenix, who is no one-hit wonder. In fact, he has won two catfish tournaments and placed high in several others. He holds the tournament record for the heaviest stringer — seven catfish weighing a whopping 134 pounds!

Of note, since the Lake Records Program began, Texoma has logged some incredible blue catfish catches — 118.0, 98.0, 87.4, 85, 80, 69, and 63.6 pounds.

Said ODWC biologist Matt Mauck, "A cautionary note should be extended to anglers fishing jug- and trotlines during hot summer months. Setting baits deeper than the thermocline and not running lines regularly will lead to excessive mortality and possibly wasted table fare."

The daily limit on blues and channel cats is 15 combined with a 12-inch minimum; only one blue catfish is allowed over 30 inches; the limit on flatheads is 5 with a 20-inch minimum.

Lake Eufaula

Lake Eufaula, the state's largest lake, is fabulous for flatheads. While fishing there one hot summer night in an indoor fishing marina, I hooked a giant flathead — a yellow-green monster that broke my line after I'd managed to get the fish partially out of the water. I've always wondered what that huge fish might have weighed, and I recall that occasion when I want to tell others about the big one that got away!

ODWC biologist Danny Bowen suggested that anglers target areas like the mouths of the North and South Canadian rivers for big catfish.

Lake Eufaula has had some impressive flathead entries in the Lake Records Program. In fact, catches of 68.6, 66.5, 48, and 43.2 pounds have been documented. There were also catches of large blue catfish weighing 48.1 and 42.2 pounds.

The lake limit is 15 blue or channel catfish in any combination, with only one blue cat allowed over 30 inches. There is a limit of 10 on flatheads, with a 20-inch minimum length.

SOUTHWEST HOTSPOTS

Waurika Lake

Waurika Lake, in the southwest part of the state, is quite serviceable for turning out channel catfish. According to ODWC biologist Larry Cofer, Waurika's typical channel catfish run from 2 to 5 pounds. Most of the fishing is done by boaters, since bank-fishing access there is limited. The spots to fish are off windy points; bait up with cut shad. Offering a big contrast in size are the blue cats, which can vary in weight from 3 to 30 pounds. They too prefer cut shad.

"Waurika Lake is one of the best blue catfish lakes in southwest Oklahoma," said Cofer. "It is also one of the most fertile lakes due to the run-off it receives from area agricultural operations. Combine that with a good shad forage base, and all you need are anglers willing to make the drive in order to get their rods bent."

The lake limit is 15 blue or channel catfish in any combination, with only one blue cat allowed over 30 inches. There is a limit of 10 on flatheads, with a 20-inch minimum length.

NORTHWEST HOTSPOTS

Canton Lake

Canton Reservoir, near the town of the same name, is another worthy spot for channel cats; in fact, it yielded up a former state-record channel catfish, a specimen weighing 34 pounds, 11 ounces that was caught by Barry Bond.

The ODWC's John Stahl manages this fishery. He reports that the top baits for Canton's channel cats are earthworms, cut shad and large shiner minnows, and declares that the best angling method involves drifting baits over the suspended habitat found throughout the lake. The average-sized channel cat will weigh 3 to 7 pounds, but catches in excess of 20 pounds are not uncommon.

Notable fish entered in the Lake Records program were flathead catches of 50, 46.3, and 45 pounds.

The lake limit is 15 blue or channel catfish in any combination, with only one blue cat allowed over 30 inches. There is a limit of 10 on flatheads, with a 20-inch minimum length.

LAST CAST

You have my apologies if your favorite catfish waters were not mentioned. Space permitted listing only a few venues. Fact is, the state has some incredible catfishing in most lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. Nearly all lakes and rivers are home to gargantuan-sized catfish.

Be advised, drought conditions have depleted the water levels dramatically on some of the lakes and so launching a boat in some areas could be a problem! Be sure to check with the lake office before going.

Just remember to release those lunker catfish; keep the cats under 10 pounds for eating. Studies have proved that it takes a long time for a catfish to grow to trophy size. Words to the wise: Before you release your catch, take some good photos!

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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