June 11, 2019
By Kelly Bostian
Pine-covered ridges to sand hills and plum thickets, prairie ponds to giant reservoirs, every region of Oklahoma has its interesting places to explore and fish.
If adventure, history or a place to go shopping, hiking or golfing are on your list along with a desire to catch fish, an in-state vacation may be just the answer this summer.
Here are a few of the many great destinations across the state.
Canton Lake, on State Highway 51 in northwest Oklahoma near the town of Canton, is the state’s best-known and best-producing lake for walleye, but there’s also awards black bass, striped bass hybrid, white bass, crappie, catfish, sunfish and carp.
Walleye are the stars of the show, of course. The Canton Times reported the 2018 total registered catch included 142 walleye weighing more than 570 pounds.
The best walleye fishing comes in the colder months October through June, said Chas Patterson, Northwest Region Fisheries Supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Trolling the lake with crankbaits, throwing a jig or using a nightcrawler on a Lindy Rig can turn up walleye – or a white bass or striped bass hybrid, he said.
If You Go
Canton has eateries and the basic amenities, but the nearest hotels are in Fairview, 18 miles north on Oklahoma Highway 58. Another fun side trip within 20 minutes of the lake is hiking (and/or fishing) at Lake Watonga and scenic Roman Nose State Park, just 18 miles southeast.
OSAGE HILLS STATE PARK
Pack your hiking boots, mountain bike, kayak or canoe plus a fly rod or spinning gear to make the most out of a trip to Osage Hills State Park in the north central Oklahoma.
The Civilian Conservation Corps recreation area, built in the 1930s, is loaded with trails, scenery, and historic sites along with places to fish.
The 16-acre Lookout Lake has largemouth bass, crappie and fat bluegills. The park also features the lightly fished Sand Creek, which is one of the most pristine streams in the state. It has largemouth bass, bluegill and Neosho smallmouth bass, as well as catfish—and a series of small waterfalls to fish around.
Drop a canoe or kayak in the creek near County Road 2495 and enjoy a great 2-mile fish-and-float trip then take out at the falls.
If You Go
Camp at the historic 1,100-acre park and you are just 11 miles from more fun in either direction. The park is halfway between Bartlesville, to the east, and Pawhuska, to the west, off U.S. Highway 60. Grab a hearty meal and shop at the Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska, or spend a day touring historic Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve at Bartlesville. Call the park office at 918-336-4141 for information.
THE ILLINOIS RIVER
The Illinois River is more of a region than a single location but imagine the week you could plan along the 50 miles of Highways 10 and 100, from Chewey Bridge downstream to the river’s confluence with the Arkansas River at Gore.
Neosho smallmouth in the upper stretches; big largemouth and smallmouth on Tenkiller, rainbow trout below the dam – or a big late-summer striped bass from the Lower Illinois near Gore.
It would be a full trip for a week or perfectly suited for stretching out over several weekends.
Explore the river in waders from public access points or rent a canoe or kayak from one of many outfitters along the Upper Illinois of Highway 10.
Lake Tenkiller is one of the most beautiful in the state and is surrounded by state parks and private campgrounds, marinas and quaint towns. Rent a boat, bring your own or hire a guide. The lake’s bass fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth is second-to-none.
The Lower Illinois has several public access points and the rainbow trout are plentiful in this 7-mile stretch that is one of only two year-round trout fisheries in the state. The striper fishing takes off in late July or early August, typically, and is good into late October-November, depending on water temperatures.
If You Go
The Grand River Dam Authority Scenic Rivers Operation is the Upper Illinois information source at ok.gov/osrc. Tour Tahlequah has loads of information about the lake and local communities at tourtahlequah.com.
ROBBERS CAVE STATE PARK
Several bass lakes, lots of hiking trails and outlaw legends await at Robbers Cave State Park in Latimer County, 5 miles north of the little town of Wilburton on State Highway 2.
Three lakes are within a stone’s throw: 94-acre Wayne Wallace, 46-acre Carlton and 30-acre Coon Creek (also known as Fourche Maline Creek Site 4 Reservoir). All have Florida-strain bass and produce 6- and 8-pound bass every year, according to David Bogner, Southeast Region Fisheries Biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“Robbers Cave area is just a great place to sit back and do some fishing,” he said. “Those lakes are kind of our underground fishing lakes, they’re off from other lakes, don’t get a lot of pressure but they’ve got some real good bass, and some decent crappie and catfish too.”
The smallish lakes are easy to cover in a day. Top-water baits and spinners are good for early summer. All three are no-wake lakes but have room for a bass boat with a trolling motor. Coon Creek is the most primitive and the dirt road can get washed out in heavy storms.
If You Go
For up-to-date conditions call the park office at 918-465-2562. If you’d rather not camp and prefer first-class lodging, contact the Belle Starr View Lodge at 918-465-2565.
MCGEE CREEK RESERVOIR
One of the state’s prettiest and most remote-feeling lakes is 3,800-acre McGee Creek Reservoir in Atoka County, surrounded by McGee Creek State Park and a state Wildlife Management Area.
“If people haven’t been to it, it’s one they should see,” said Cliff Sager, South Central region fisheries biologist with the Wildlife Department.
A priority lake for Florida-strain stocking, it holds some trophy-sized bass and bass anglers all they’d like, from rocky finesse-tackle areas on the lower lake to timber and sticks right for power fishing in the three upper arms of the lake. The lake also has striped bass and a healthy crappie population and big catfish.
“It’s hard to say there’s a better place for anything,” Sager said.
The park has hiking trails and horseback trails while the lake is also open for water sports and offers a swim beach. Lodging options range from tent sites to paved RV parking with utilities to the “rustic huts” with bunk beds and a back porch overlooking the lake.
If You Go
To check on availability of camping and conditions at McGee Creek call the park office at 580-889-5822. Look to the Circle P Pogue Ranch or Choctaw Casino Resort at nearby Atoka Lake for upscale accommodations. Learn more at travelok.com.
An average largemouth in Lake Altus-Lugert weighs 3 to 5 pounds making this 6,260-acre lake of the Southwest’s rocky plains a go-to on any angler’s list.
After a big golden algae kill in early 2013, the lake is healthy and on the rebound, said Wildlife Department Southwest Region Biologist Clayton Porter.
“We’ll typically get 40 or 50 while electrofishing that are over 4 pounds,” he said. Smallmouth bass, big catfish and walleye are in the mix at this lake as well, which is loaded with shad and characterized by big rocks and boulders.
Early summer is great for top-water fishing in shallows and near drop-offs. Some anglers love working those big rocks with a jig, but in these clear waters the bass also can be fooled by finesse fishing techniques. Drop-shotting your favorite finesse worm, using a shaky head in a transition zone on smaller rocks or targeting drop-offs with a tube all provide good possibilities in the right conditions. In early summer, you’ll want to have top-water baits that move plenty of water as well.
If You Go
Nearby Quartz Mountain Resort Arts and Conference Center offers top-shelf amenities and has a golf course as well. Check out the facilities at quartzmountainresort.com.
GO TO THE EDGES: SKIPOUT OR WESTERN WALL
On the edges of the Sooner State – north almost to Kansas or west almost to Texas – are fisheries worth exploring. To the north, look to a series of tallgrass prairie ponds on the state’s Osage Western Wall and Hulah Wildlife Management Areas. To the far west in Roger Mills County in southwestern tablelands region, check out Skipout Lake and others on the Black Kettle National Grasslands.
These are some smaller fisheries for adventurous souls who want to explore. Smaller fisheries don’t necessarily mean smaller fish, however.
Three small lakes, all within 15 miles on the Black Kettle National Grassland have been stocked occasionally with Florida-strain largemouth and all have lots of added habitat, both manmade and natural, according to Black Kettle biologist Todd Stewart.
The three lakes are 80-acre Dead Warrior, 47-acre Skipout and 38-acre Spring Creek.
Looking north toward Kansas, the adventure is leaving the county roads that crisscross the tallgrass prairie region at Osage Western Wall, Hulah or Copan wildlife management areas to find some great bass-fishing and pan fish in ponds stocked and managed by Oklahoma’s Wildlife Department.
“You can drag a canoe or kayak to most of them, fish from shore or use a belly-boat,” said WMA biologist John Rempe.
Eight ponds on Hulah and Western Wall have been completely renovated over the past decade and feature enhanced gamefish habitat, he said. Some are close to the road and others involve a short prairie hike.
“They’re actually some really good fishing spots and have some good-sized bass in them,” Rempe said.
If You Go
Contact Rempe at the Wildlife Department to check current conditions at 918-629-5108. The main number at Black Kettle is 580-497-2143. Black Kettle shares its headquarters with Washita Battlefield National Historic Site (nps.gov/waba) and the Osage Western Wall is near the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve(nature.org/tallgrass).