June 28, 2023
At first glance, the lakes and streams found in the southern part of Oklahoma look like bona fide largemouth-bass country, which it is. You have plenty of opportunities to catch double-digit bucketmouths at spots like Lake of the Arbuckle’s, Lake Murray, Lake Texoma and McGee Creek Reservoir, the latter a spot where famed bass guide Chuck Justice caught many of his more than 200 career bass weighing more than 10 pounds.
But the southern counties of the Sooner State actually harbor some pretty good smallmouth bass fishing, too. Lake Murray, for example, is a smallmouth-friendly venue that holds a great mixture of black bass, white bass, panfish, catfish and even walleye.
The 5,728-acre impoundment fed by Anadarche Creek is so good that Jeff Kriet, a professional angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Major League Fishing and Bass Pro Tour circuits, once called the water body home. Although Kriet now lives in Florida, southern Oklahoma is where he cut his proverbial fishing teeth. He once owned the official lake record at Murray with a 12.1-pound largemouth caught in April 2010.
"Lake Murray is a lake that I've grown up on," Kriet told me a few years back at an MLF derby. "It is a good lake and has [plenty of] smallmouths and largemouths."
Prior to becoming a bass fishing pro, Kriet once guided anglers at Murray. Over time, he found the fishing to be so good that he once told the late B.A.S.S. fishing writer Tim Tucker that "when I used to guide there I would guarantee 50 fish a day or they wouldn't have to pay me." Many of those 50 would be smallmouths.
While Murray may have the market cornered on smallmouth numbers, nearby Lake Texoma, located an hour northwest of Dallas on the Texas-Oklahoma border, has had the market cornered on big smallies. Take the current Texoma lake records, for instance. On the Texas side of the 89,000-acre reservoir, Jay Fuller owns the Lone Star State record with a 7.06-pound bronzeback bass caught on a jig on Jan. 29, 2006.
There's also a Texas fly-rod record smallmouth bass from Texoma, a 5.21-pounder caught with a Clouser Minnow on May 21, 2002 by Michael Ainsworth.
On the Oklahoma side of the border, the smallmouth-record chase has gone on for years, with many big Texoma catches along the way, though the current state record (8 pounds, 7 ounces) was caught from Lawtonka Lake near Lawton in March 2012 by Ryan Wasser.
The record chase dates back to the 1980s at Texoma, where in September 1989, Denison resident Jeff Smart boated a 6-7 smallmouth to break the record by two ounces. Not surprisingly, the previous record was also caught at Texoma.
Denison resident Carl Gayle then took up the record chase at Texoma, catching not one, but two Sooner State records — in 1989 and then in 1996, the latest a 7-8 smallmouth on a lipless crank bait. Then, in 2005 Aaron Fridrich of Prague, Okla., caught a 7-12 smallmouth while scouting for a tournament to set the new mark.
"I only got one bite the whole day, but the fish hit hard and made it all worthwhile," Fridrich said in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation news release about the fish. "When it came to the boat I couldn't believe how big it was."
"Smallmouth bass are native only to the Ozark and Ouachita rivers and streams in eastern Oklahoma," said Kim Erickson, who was the fisheries chief for ODWC at the time of Fridrich's catch. "This  record is a testament to the success of our smallmouth bass stocking program which uses lake-strain smallmouth bass to establish reproducing populations in lakes having no native smallmouth bass.”
While the record chase has cooled down at Texoma, the possibility of catching a big smallmouth has not. Two anglers who specialize in Texoma bronzeback bass are Mike Woody of Denison, and Brett Graham of Pottsboro, both bass-tournamrent anglers and smallmouth specialists.
Woody has found success during the cooler months of the year, but he also told me one time that one of his favorite patterns is to head back out onto the lake following a lunch break during the warmer months. That’s when he throws a topwater popper in the early afternoon when the heat is on and the lake is slick calm, a combination that will often call up a smallmouth from the depths.
Graham is a globetrotting angler who catches everything from billfish to bass. He and his wife Debbie frequently catch good-sized smallmouths at Texoma as their social media account photos attest.
While the spawn and cooler months rock for Texoma smallies, catching one is very possible during the summer, according to fly guide Steve Hollensed. He told me that when it comes to summertime smallmouths in the Murray and Texoma area, you want to be away from the bank.
"They are going to be close to deep water at this time of the year, so look for rocks, points and sharp drop-offs," said Hollensed, who once was an award-winning high school biology teacher before walking away from the classroom two decades ago to begin a full-time career as a fly-fishing guide on Texoma.
In addition to the locations noted above, Hollensed—owner of Flywater Angling Adventures guide service and a three-time finalist for the Orvis Freshwater Guide of the Year award—indicates that other good spots are main-lake humps and rocky points that slope into deep water.
The key to catching them now is to pay attention to what the fish are telling you.
"Smallmouths in reservoirs form really good, repeatable patterns," said Hollensed. "If you find a pattern that is working, it often repeats itself all over the lake. Particularly on points and deep-water humps, if you can find them on such spots in the summer and figure out how to catch them, it can really be repetitive."
Conventional and Fly Patterns
That's not to say smallmouths can't be caught in shallow water during the summer months because they can be. This is especially true with shad-imitating white and chartreuse topwater lures for conventional anglers and similarly hued poppers for fly anglers. If the bite on top isn't there, try shad-colored crankbaits or shad-colored streamer patterns. On dark moonlit nights in the summer, black spinnerbaits can work wonders for conventional anglers while black-and-purple poppers and streamers can catch a big bronzeback for fly anglers.
Given the wolf-pack nature of smallmouths in the summer, it isn't unusual to find smallies grouped up. Because where there is one aggressive smallmouth bass, there likely are more nearby.
"I've found them like that on occasions where they will pop up and school on the surface before going down quickly," said Hollensed, the 2015 Mel Krieger Award recipient as the nation’s top fly casting instructor. "When they do so, they feed aggressively and when you throw a white-and-chartreuse popper into the boiling water, it's about as fun as it gets on the fly rod."
While Murray and Texoma represent some of the region's best smallmouth waters, more solid fishing also awaits anglers who head over to the Blue River near Tishomingo. These stream-born smallies aren’t as plentiful as their nearby reservoir cousins, nor do they get as big, but they give southern Oklahoma anglers another possibility for smallmouth fishing before school is in session again.
The bottom line here is that Texoma and Murray offer plenty of great smallmouth fishing in the Red River Valley, an area often considered largemouth country. But it’s smallmouth territory too, and while the summertime heat can be disagreeable there’s no better way to break a sweat than with a hard-fighting smallie at the end of your line.