WHERE BIG BASS LURK: Broken Bow Lake and Lake Murray have produced monsters this year
Now is the time to catch big bass in Oklahoma. And if you want to catch a giant, your best odds will be at Sardis, McGee Creek, Broken Bow, Murray and Arbuckle lakes.
Those are the five designated trophy bass lakes in the state. Each year, they get 100,000 fingerlings of Florida bass put in them by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation because of their big bass potential.
It's proven true this year, at least at Broken Bow and Murray. A 13.56-pound largemouth bass was caught at Broken Bow Lake last month by fishing guide Mike Newman.
Last weekend, Kevin Claypool of Ardmore landed a 14-pound, 2-ounce largemouth on Lake Murray that is the new lake record and was the seventh biggest bass ever caught in the state until topped Friday by Jeremy Cole of Durant, who hooked a 14 pound, 4.8 ounce bass from a Bryan County farm pound.
Murray is more known as a smallmouth bass lake but historically will produce an occasional giant largemouth bass, said Cliff Sager, fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
State wildlife officials are going to certify Claypool's bass, which he released, as a lake record after verifying the scale on the boat that he used to weigh it was accurate, Sager said.
“Murray has a history of producing probably not as many 8-pound bass as some of the other lakes, but it has a history of 12- to 13-pound bass. It's kind of weird,” Sager said. “You don't hear about Murray until some guy pops up and catches a really big fish.”
Smallmouth vs. Largemouth
Gene Gilliland, former fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department and now BASS conservation director, said Murray has been a trophy bass lake for 20 years.
“It doesn't produce a lot of them,” he said. “It has continued to produce its share of double-digit fish. It just doesn't get the notoriety because you don't see 40-pound stringers coming out of Murray like you did Arbuckle a few years ago.”
Gilliland happened to be at Lake Murray last weekend for a junior bass club tournament on the same day Claypool caught his lunker. Other bass anglers were doing well that day, too, he said.
“There was a kid down there who caught an 8-(pound) and a 9-(pound) in the same day,” Gilliland said. “It's taken close to 20 pounds now to routinely win the little Thursday night jackpots (on Murray), which are just two to three hours long.”
Gilliland said the fish habitat has changed drastically on Lake Murray in the last 10 years. It has shifted to being more favorable for largemouth bass by the growth of hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant “brought in by anglers, probably intentionally,” he said.
The hydrilla grass took a foothold, and the food chain has changed on Murray “where it is more favorable for the green fish instead of the brown ones,” Gilliland said.
There are still steep, rocky places on Murray for the smallmouth to hang out, but there is more vegetation in the lake now, which is more conducive for largemouth bass, he said.
Gilliland warns, however, that too much hydrilla grass can choke out a lake and it should not be transported from lake to lake. It is illegal for anglers to leave a boat ramp with aquatic vegetation on their trailers for that reason, he said.
Selecting the best
Murray is one of five Oklahoma lakes that get priority when it's time to stock Florida bass, which grow bigger and faster than Oklahoma's native species of largemouth bass.
Sager chairs a committee of biologists who try to determine where the Wildlife Department will get the biggest bang for its buck with the Florida-strain of largemouth bass.
The decision is based on a lake's history of producing trophy bass, how well Florida genes have remained in a lake and reproduced, and the climate.
“Climate has an impact on how well Florida bass do,” Sager said. “They are a subtropical species and they are going to do better in the southern part of the state versus the northern part of the state where it gets colder.”
For the past five years, the committee has determined that Murray, Sardis, McGee Creek, Broken Bow and Arbuckle would be the best places to spread the big bass potential of Florida genes. The Wildlife Department stocks other lakes as well with Florida bass, just not as many or as often.
Fifteen fish on the Wildlife Department's Top 20 list of largemouth bass were caught in March.
Dale Miller of Panama hooked the current state record in 2013 on March 13 from Cedar Lake. It weighed 14 pounds and 13.7-ounces, breaking the record set a year earlier by Benny Williams Jr. of Poteau, who landed a 14-pound, 12.3-ounce largemouth from Cedar Lake on March 23.
March is big bass time in Oklahoma because the bass spawn is nearing. The water is warming up, the fish are actively feeding and the females are heavy with eggs. Bass are moving into shallow water where they become more vulnerable to anglers.
“The only times they are in relatively shallow water is right before the spawn and during the spawn,” Gilliland said. “The rest of the year they are living off shore somewhere and that makes them much harder to find and catch.”
A jig and a jerkbait
In a normal weather year, the peak of the spawn on southern Oklahoma lakes will be in late March and early April. For central Oklahoma, it's closer to mid-April. Northern Oklahoma lakes typically see bass spawning in late April and even into May. But that's just a general rule.
“There will be bass trying to spawn next week and there will be some spawning all the way into May,” Gilliland said. “The bass will start thinking about spawning when the water temperature hits the 60s. The low- to mid-60s is kind of the peak of it.”
As far as the best baits to catch a trophy, Claypool landed his pig on a jerkbait, a good choice when the water temperature is in the 50s. As the water warms and bass move into shallow water, more anglers will be using crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
Jigs and soft plastic worms are best when fishing around cover. Newman caught the 13-pounder using a shaky head jig.
“Day in and day out, a jig with a plastic trailer on it is probably going to be more likely to catch a big fish,” Gilliland said.