When it rains in Oklahoma and you're looking for some great post-spawn bass fishing, these lakes shine.
The party is over, or soon will be, for bass spawning in Oklahoma lakes and streams this spring.
While there are still a few bass on the nests, especially in northern Oklahoma, most spawning and nest-guarding activity is finished by mid-May. Bass are moving back into the places and movement patterns they will have for the next few months, until days begin to shorten and weather begins to cool again.
Bass tend to spawn a bit earlier in southern lakes like Texoma, Waurika, Hugo and Broken Bow, while those in northern lakes like Kaw, Grand, Keystone and Hudson lag several days behind.
But, in general, in a typical springtime, bass move into pre-spawn areas as early as March, with the bulk of the spawning taking place in late April and May.
The spawning activity is triggered by water temperatures in the upper layers — usually when the temps reach the mid 60s.
But there are other factors that can, and often do, affect the spawn, especially on many of our bigger reservoirs used for electrical power generation, flood control and navigation on the Arkansas/Verdigris navigation channels where cargo barges travel.
Both the Army Corps of Engineers, which built and operate most of our large lakes, and the Grand River Dam Authority, which operates Lakes Grand and Hudson, have worked with the state wildlife department in recent years to try to lessen the impact of fluctuating water levels during the spawning periods.
In years past, virtually entire year-classes of bass have been lost when sudden and drastic water level changes occurred.
Bass in most of our lakes tend to spawn in relatively shallow waters. A sudden drop in water levels, or a rapid and large rise in water levels, can result in fertilized eggs being exposed to air or in driving away the parent bass guarding a nest. When that happens the developing egg masses can be eaten by other fishes, by crawfish or other predators.
I recall a rainy springtime a few years ago when Fort Gibson lake rose 28 feet in less than two days. Heavy rains in southeastern Kansas and southwest Missouri flooded the streams flowing into Grand Lake and so the gates at Grand and Hudson dams were opened to move water downstream. Fort Gibson is below Hudson on the Neosho (Grand) River chain of lakes.
A friend and I fished a tournament at Grand Lake that weekend. We had found quite a few productive spots while practicing the previous weekend, but with the lake rising and falling several feet throughout the week, bass had abandoned their shoreline haunts. That was a year when the spawn was pretty much destroyed by fluctuating water levels.
Fishing for post-spawn bass, at least for the first few days, can be kind of like fishing for pre-spawners. Similar lures in the same places can be productive in both pre- and post-spawn periods; at least until the fish head for deeper cover and structure.
That's not to say that all bass head for deep water after the spawn. I've caught quite a few spawned-out female bass, with skinny stomachs, in and around shallow cover in coves during the post-spawn period. And if water levels are high enough to flood shoreline timbered areas, you may find many bass in the shallows trying to fatten up.
If water levels are above normal in May, then probing flooded timber and brushy areas with a jig can sometimes be very productive. When those conditions exist, anglers proficient at flipping or pitching a jig can sometimes load the boat with good bass.
Another bait that is great in May if water levels are high is the spinnerbait. Fishing a spinnerbait alongside lay-down logs and around emergent vegetation can be a great May tactic at several Oklahoma lakes.
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Topwater fishing can be excellent in May also. I recall several May trips at both Grand and Eufaula when walking baits like Zara Spooks, or jerkbaits, like original Rapalas or Rebel Minnows, produced great results.
The other think I love about May bass fishing in Oklahoma is that it is usually when plastic worm fishing starts to be more effective.
The late Ken Cook, a former fisheries biologist who became a very successful professional tournament angler, once told me that plastic worms aren't really effective until the water temperatures climb past the 70-degree mark. For several years thereafter I checked water temps frequently in late spring and learned that his advice was pretty good. Fishing an old-fashioned, Texas-rigged plastic worm is just about my favorite way to catch bass, and May is when worm fishing typically gets good at several Oklahoma reservoirs.
Worm fishing typically stays good all summer in Oklahoma and continues until late October or November when water temperatures fall back to the 60s again.
Bass usually don't go far when they first leave the nest. The females usually leave first, leaving the males to guard the nest a little longer. They may spend some time on sloping points where jigs, Carolina-rigged lizards or plastic crawfish can all be productive. Deep-running crankbaits that can follow the contour of the descending point can also be good lures when bass are hanging around such structure.
Another successful bass pro, Kevin VanDam, says when he's fishing for post-spawners he likes to fish baits that move slowly, have plenty of action, and can stay in the strike zone for long periods. Jigs, worms and Carolina-rigged plastic lures fit that description.
Fishing Tips from the Pros
Springtime rains and the heavy in-flows of water they create can sometimes muddy up our lakes and make them pretty murky during the spawn and post-spawn periods. That is especially true on the Deep Fork River arm of Lake Eufaula where lots of colloidal clay is carried into the lake. Colloidal clay is clay composed of very fine particles, negatively charged, that tend to stay suspended in the water and bounce off of each other when they collide. It's what makes many Oklahoma farm ponds muddy all year long and is why some of our lakes are red or brown instead of blue or green.
The look of clay-stained water sometimes discourages anglers, but I don't think the cloudiness of the water really bothers the bass. I've caught a ton of bass in the Deep Fork arm of Eufaula when you couldn't see a lure 3 inches under the water's surface.
Yes, murky water probably makes sight-feeding a little more difficult for fish, but bass have sensors along the lateral lines on their sides to help them locate prey (or lures) in murky water. I've read that bass don't hear high-frequency sounds unless they are very close to the sound, but that they detect low-frequency sounds, like a lure moving and displacing water, at considerable distance.
I've already mentioned that when lake levels are above normal, post-spawn bass can often be found in brushy coves and newly flooded areas.
But if I had to offer one tip for catching post-spawners at several of our lakes, it would be to seek out brush piles at depths ranging from about 4 feet down to 12 or 15 feet. While I've been fortunate to fish lakes all over the state through the years, I've done most of my bass fishing on a half dozen or so northeastern lakes where hundreds of anglers have built brush piles at those depths all over the lakes.
Fishing those brush piles with jigs or plastic worms, or sometimes with finesse baits like small worms hooked through the middle, can often be productive when the bass move away from the shorelines.
One can often find brush piles with sonar. I've found quite a few just by watching where other anglers fish when it looks like they are fishing a distance from shore. And with today's GPS-equipped sonar units or hand-held GPS devices, it's easy to record the coordinates of many brush piles so they are easier to find on return visits.
We've talked exclusively about largemouths so far, but many Oklahoma lakes have large populations of spotted bass that spawn in the spring also. And while Oklahoma's native population of smallmouth bass are pretty much exclusively stream dwellers that don't do well in reservoirs, in the past 15 or 20 years many lakes have been stocked with the strain of smallmouths that thrive in still waters of lakes.
Spotted bass spawning habits are pretty much like those of largemouths. They usually begin when the water temperature reaches the low 60s. It seems to me that they tend to spawn a few days ahead of the largemouths and finish their nesting a little earlier too. In eastern Oklahoma streams, I believe the spotted bass become more aggressive earlier in the spring than either the largemouths or the smallmouths.
Small jigs and grubs, small spinners or spinnerbaits, or small crankbaits have produced good results for my friends and I fishing the cool-water streams, like Flint Creek, Spring Creek and Barron Fork Creek in the northeast and the Mountain Fork and Glover Rivers and several creeks in the southeast.
One of the best places to catch spotted bass in Oklahoma is the Grand (Neosho) River chain of lakes — Grand, Hudson and Fort Gibson — where "Kentuckies" gather in the flowing-water areas at the upper ends of the lakes.
Hudson Lake may be the best spotted bass fishery in the state. I've found places along the bank just a couple miles below the Pensacola (Grand Lake) Dam where spotted bass were concentrated in large numbers and nearly every cast along the rocky shoreline produced a strike during the post-spawn period.
Hudson has produced more trophy-sized spotted bass than any other lake I know of. Five-pound spotted bass are pretty darned rare in Oklahoma, but I've seen tournaments at Hudson where two or three spots of that size were weighed in in a single day.
Down in southern Oklahoma, Hugo Lake is also a good spotted bass fishery. The Kentuckies there in springtime move up into the Kiamichi River channel, all the way up to Rattan Landing.
There are many other large reservoirs with plentiful spotted bass. At Tenkiller and Broken Bow, for example, the fisheries managers for a while manipulated slot-length limits to encourage anglers to harvest more spotted bass because they were more numerous than the largemouths.
Lake Texoma, Skiatook Lake near Tulsa, Lake Murray and a handful of other reservoirs which were stocked with the lake-strain smallmouths offer some pretty good action on "brownies" as well. The smallmouths tend to hang out, and to spawn, a bit deeper than the largemouths and spotted bass. At any time of the year, I've found that the smallmouths tend to stay a little deeper than their green cousins, but small jigs-and-grubs are good baits to catch late-spring smallmouths.
At both Broken Bow and Tenkiller Lakes, which have been the best lakes for catching our native smallmouths from a reservoir, I've had quite a few good trips using a brown and orange bucktail jig dressed with a small pork frog or small plastic crawfish to catch smallmouths, both during the post-spawn period and at other times of the year.
No matter which black bass species you're after when you hit the Oklahoma lakes in May, post-spawn behavior can be the key to locating cooperative bass.
There are times, like the hot summer months for example, when a single lure, like a plastic worm, is all that's needed to have a good day of catching bass. But during the post-spawn, it's good to have a variety of lures handy so that you can probe several kinds of cover and structure to see what triggers the bite that day.