Although it’s a prairie state, Oklahoma has an astonishing amount of water, and it’s full of fish. There’s a bit of everything, from largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky bass to striped bass, white bass and hybrids. We’ve also got panfish, rainbow trout, brown trout and catfish galore.
Images by Vic Dunaway
Largemouth Bass: Lake Arbuckle
This mountain reservoir is one of our best bass lakes any month, but it consistently produces big fish in winter.
Don’t believe it? In 2013, it produced verified five-bass limits exceeding 40 pounds in tournaments on consecutive weekends. One logged 12 bass that exceeded 8 pounds, five 9-pounders and two 10-pounders!
Arbuckle’s big bass are pure Florida-strain or Florida/northern hybrids. You can expect to fish for five to eight bites per day, but there’s a good chance they’ll all be healthy, high-quality fish.
Alabama rigs tipped with big swimbaits can be good for finding fish, but anglers have the most success with traditional tactics, like jig/trailer combinations, Texas- and Carolina-rigged soft plastics, large suspending jerkbaits and big, deep-diving crankbaits.
Other Options Lake Tenkiller Smallmouths: Swimbaits off deep, main-lake points will catch monster bronzebacks. Lake Carl Blackwell Hybrids: Drift or troll live shad under balloons to excite deep fish.
Walleyes: Lake Hefner
This water supply reservoir in northwest Oklahoma City doesn’t have large numbers of walleyes, but densities are fair, and quality is very good.
In winter, walleyes key on baitfish that orient to the warmest water. That’s almost always over rock structure, which radiates heat more efficiently.
Overcast days bring walleyes shallow in mid-morning and late afternoon, and you can catch them by bouncing crankbaits off riprap on the dam, on the lakeside of the marina breakwater and off the bankside rocks near the restaurants.
You can also swim 1/8-ounce ball jigs with pink or chartreuse tubes over the rocks or do the same with 1 1/2-inch swimbaits. Shad is usually the most effective color, but experiment with pink, red or chartreuse highlights.
I usually catch walleyes in twos and threes, so I work over an area thoroughly before moving.
Other Options Sooner Lake Largemouths: Slow-roll swimbaits in the discharge area to catch big limits. Upper Illinois River Walleyes: Trolling medium-diving Long A Bombers will catch spawners in high water above Lake Tenkiller.
Largemouth Bass: Grand Lake
This month begins prime time on one of America’s finest bass lakes. In the 2016 Bassmaster Classic, Edwin Evers of Talala caught five bass on the final day way up the Elk River arm that weighed 29 pounds, 3 ounces, just shy of a 6-pound average. This illustrates the possibilities on Grand Lake.
Look for a string of spring-like days that warms water and encourages bass to stage for pre-spawn patterns. Use suspending jerkbaits in 4 to 8 feet. If fish are wary, let baits sit a bit between jerks. A motionless bait will often attract a bass’s attention, and a sudden motion will trigger a reaction strike. Use shad-colored baits on cloudy days and dark colors on sunny days.
Other Options Lower Illinois River Stripers: Troll rainbow trout-colored Bomber Long As to catch double-digit brawlers. Lake Thunderbird Saugeyes: Slow-roll small tube jigs or 2 1/2-inch swimbaits around deep brushpiles.
Crappies: Lake Eufaula
Covering 102,000 acres, Lake Eufaula is one of our best crappie lakes.
It contains astonishing amounts of cover. Water clarity and temperature depend on location and inflow, but you’ll find productive fishing throughout the lake this month.
Crappies are typically in pre-spawn mode in early April. You can catch limits of slabs by spider rigging grubs or small tubes over rocky ledges in the Deep Fork and Canadian river arms.
Before they move to the bank to spawn, crappies stage in deep brushpiles in depths of 10 to 15 feet. Anchor downstream from a brushpile and cast a 1/32-ounce or lighter jig and swimbait combination past it. Count down to a depth equal to the top of the brush and retrieve it very slowly so that it nicks the top of the brush. Crappies will come out to get it. You can also use minnows if you prefer.
Other Options Kaw Lake Crappies: Crappies bite jigs and minnows in creeks at 1 to 2 feet. Lake Tenkiller Sand Bass: Shad-colored crankbaits off windy points get savage strikes.
Smallmouth Bass: Chimney Rock Lake
Known also as W.R. Holway Reservoir and “Pumpback Lake,” this reservoir east of Lake Hudson is known for big smallmouths up to and over 8 pounds.
Big pumps fill the lake with water from Hudson, and the water flows back into Hudson through hydropower turbines. This double-directional flow creates a unique dynamic that seems to anchor bass to the shoreline.
More than most lakes, bass at Chimney Rock are current oriented, and you can catch them with crawdad-imitating soft plastics near the bank. Exposed hook points and weights are prone to snag in the rocks, so I use tubes with internal weights that allow them to slip in and out of the rocks.
Swimbaits, like a pearl-colored Zoom fluke on a 1/16-ounce head, can be effective in generating cycles, as can topwater lures and lipless cranks.
Other Options Fort Cobb Reservoir Saugeyes: Keeper saugeyes will hit curly-tailed grubs on 1/8-ounce jigs on deep structure. Lake Ellsworth Channel Catfish: Soak stinkbaits from the bank for big fun during family fishing trips.
Striped Bass: Lake Texoma
Summer striper fishing on Lake Texoma is so popular it’s almost a pilgrimage for many Oklahoma anglers.
The spawn is finished, and this month stripers form large schools and feed aggressively. For mornings, make some noise with topwater baits on shallow flats with deep water nearby.
When the sun rises, schools form over channels in the main lake area, continuously feeding on vast shad schools. Use spoons of at least 1 1/2 inches to catch them. Productive colors include white, chrome, chartreuse or white/chartreuse two-tone.
Surface action is conspicuous in June. If you can reach a surface melee, you’ll catch fish. Keep the spoons handy because they’ll cast a mile when you need the distance. Let it fall to the bottom and retrieve steadily to catch stripers from 8 to 20 pounds.
Other Options:Kerr Lake Sand Bass: Curly-tailed grubs off the ends of rock wing dams produce dependable action in current. Verdigris River Flathead Catfish: Soak a live skipjack on a bottom rig on outside river bends at dusk.
Blue Catfish: Arcadia Lake
This lake near Edmond is one of Oklahoma’s best catfishing lakes.
Blues exceeding 60 pounds inhabit Arcadia Lake, but the most common catches are in the 5- to 10-pound range, the ideal size for eating.
One great way to catch a lot of eating-size blue cats is fishing CJ’s punch baits over bottom structure under a big slip cork. CJ’s baits come in various recipes, but the bluegill or shad ones will be very productive this month.
Arcadia Lake has many brushpiles, and while we associate them with crappies, they attract a lot of baitfish, so you’ll also find catfish nearby.
For bigger cats, try cut bait on heavy dropper rigs near brushpiles, in troughs and near dropoffs. Current energizes catfish, and these little conduits can produce some big bites.
Other Options Lower Illinois Rainbow Trout: Beat the heat by drifting Powerbait or worms in the cold water below Tenkiller Dam. Spaniard Creek Largemouths: Swim jigs over grassbeds on a rainy day for bragging size bass.
Spotted Gar: Lake Overholser
Gar are active on the hottest summer days across Oklahoma, but you can get them in this Oklahoma City hotspot. Lake Overholser spotted gar grow to impressive sizes and are easy to catch and fun to fight.
Pick a spot near wood or grass cover and look for gar rolling on the surface. Cast shad imitators in front of the fish.
When a gar commits to a strike, it will advance slowly, so keep the lure still. When the gar is near the lure, move it slightly. The gar will take it with a slashing sweep of its snout.
A small diameter, heavy-test braid is usually sufficient, but a steel leader eliminates breakoffs. A 3000-series spinning reel or a baitcaster with a medium-heavy rod will handle any gar.
Other Options Keystone Lake Sand Bass: Run shad 6A Bombers off the deep ends of sandbars near main river channels. Baron Fork Smallmouths: Cast soft plastic lizards at the tails of riffles.
Hybrids: Kaw Lake
Kaw Lake is a premier hybrid lake. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation began stocking hybrids in Kaw about 15 years ago, and they’ve thrived so well that anglers who once caught hybrids incidentally now target them. Guides fishing for hybrids often catch 8- to 10-pounders.
Kaw’s fertile floodplain supplies nutrients into the lake, which fuels a diverse and productive food chain. The lake has a lot of big gizzard shad that most bass can’t eat, but a 6-inch gizzard shad is ideal for a big hybrid.
Some great fishing is on the lake’s east side near the dam, where schools of hybrids attack shad on the surface.
Other Options: Lake Lawtonka Smallmouths: Cast a buzzbait off the riprap in front of the marina breakwater at dusk. Lake Carl Blackwell Crappies: Fish light jigs with curly-tailed grubs over deep brushpiles early and late.
Brown Trout: Lower Mountain Fork River
Giant browns move into riffles and shoals to spawn this month, offering a real shot at a 20-pound or bigger giant.
My favorite area for big trout is Zone II, between the Beavers Bend State Park Dam and the Re-regulation Dam. Only artificial lures and barbless hooks are allowed, and the minimum length limit for all trout is 20 inches.
Quietly access remote, lightly fished waters in this zone with a kayak.
Feeding isn’t a priority for spawning trout, but they’ll take a well-presented sowbug or sculpin imitator on fly fishing tackle. Black or olive woolly buggers are traditional favorites.
Improve chances even more by removing all the treble hooks from a stickbait and replacing the middle hook with a single-point barbless hook.
Watch your steps and avoid treading in trout spawning beds.
Other Options Perry CCC Lake Rainbow Trout: Powerbait or Trout Magnets on light spinning tackle catches limits consistently. Lake Wister Crappie: Use spider rigs to drag live minnows at staggered depths over brushpiles.
Smallmouth Bass: Lake Texoma
Texoma’s trophy bronzebacks leave their deep lairs in the fall to feed in the shallows of this massive reservoir on the Oklahoma-Texas border.
Crawdads are their preferred food, so probe abundant rocky structure along the shorelines with soft plastic crawdad imitators. My favorite is the YUM Craw Papi, but a Zoom Tiny Brush Hog in watermelon/red flake on a 1/16-ounce weight works from summer through fall.
Deep-diving crankbaits in brown crawdad are dependable options for the middle levels of the water column.
I love using topwater lures for smallmouths in the fall. The blue shad Whopper Plopper has worked wonders for me, but I catch a lot of big fish with an old Xcalibur Zell Pop, too.
My favorite time to fish for big smallmouths is in the morning in front of a thunderstorm. Fish are aggressive and eager to strike topwaters before a deluge.
Other Options Blue River Rainbow Trout: Tiny nymphs on a 3-weight fly rod coax the fight from feisty stockers. Fort Gibson Lake Largemouths: Target downstream sides of wood cover in the tributaries with moving baits.
Largemouth bass: Lake Konawa
Bass fishing is slow in Oklahoma’s cold waters, but it sizzles this month at Lake Konawa, which supplies water to cool an Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company power plant.
When the plant generates electricity, it takes in cool water and discharges hot water. Massive numbers of fish of every species concentrate in the discharge area, and they feed as if it were April or May, regardless of the actual temperature.
The fishing can be frenetic on schooling bass, and they often school when chasing shad to the surface. They’re not ordinary schoolers, either. You’re likely to catch five-bass stringers full of 5- to 7-pounders.
The size and quantity of bass makes Konawa one of the Sooner State’s premier winter bass destinations.
Use fast baits to catch them. Any crankbait or swimbait that looks like a shad will work, especially if it’s the same size as the bait bass are targeting.
Other Options Sooner Lake Hybrids: Schooling hybrids can’t resist shad-colored flukes or swimbaits in the discharge area. Skiatook Lake Crappies: Nick the tops of deep brushpiles with light jig and tube combos to catch big crappies.
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