NAVIGATING FISHING WATERS: Barry Bolton is the captain of Oklahoma fisheries
Barry Bolton has been chief of the fisheries division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation since 2007. Before that, he served 18 years as the assistant chief and has worked for the Wildlife Department since 1979.
He answered some questions from The Oklahoman last week about his job and fishing in the state.
Q: What are the most common questions you get from the public?
Bolton: How do I get fish for my farm pond? How do I get rid of the weeds in my pond? Where is the best place to go fishing? These are the top three questions almost every year.
Q: How do you answer the question about the best place to go fishing?
Bolton: The answer is not always a simple one. Overall, I am a big fan of Texoma Lake. It has a world class fishery for striped bass and blue catfish along with good populations of bass and crappie. Hard to beat that combination.
Every year can bring surprises with lakes becoming hot spots. Altus-Lugert has been a good example this year providing incredible fishing. Canton Lake remains a solid contender in the northwest part of the state and Kaw Lake is a good destination for crappie, blue cats and white bass.
Q: What are the most common complaints you get?
Bolton: Why don't you stock more fish in my favorite lake? Many anglers believe that stocking is the only component of maintaining a robust fishery. In reality, natural reproduction takes care of most situations and we stock only for very specific purposes.
Q: What is the most biggest misconception the public has about fishing or fisheries in Oklahoma?
Bolton: If you are from Oklahoma you know, but many non-resident anglers are unaware of the diversity of opportunity that exists in our state. We boast excellent fishing for smallmouth bass, paddlefish, striped bass, blue catfish and don't forget we host many of the major tournaments for largemouth bass here in Oklahoma.
Q: What are the biggest success stories in Oklahoma fisheries?
Bolton: I will mention only a few, ranked in no particular order. I am proud of over $20 million of boating and fishing access projects that allow anglers easier access to fishing throughout the state.
Fisheries division hatchery, research and management staff have worked tirelessly to maintain world-class fisheries for numerous species. Our paddlefish research program is unsurpassed anywhere in the U.S., and we recently started a stream management program to better manage those important resources. Fishing in Oklahoma is as good as it has ever been.
Q: What are the biggest failures or disappointments?
Bolton: Through much of my career, I naively assumed that if all Oklahomans did not share my passion for protecting our fisheries resources I could bring them over to my side of the fence.
It has been a hard pill to swallow, but I now realize that this is beyond the realm of possibility. Protecting aquatic resources for future generations is not always the top priority when it comes to water needs.
Q: What do your surveys tell you about fishing in Oklahoma? What do anglers in Oklahoma want? Big fish? A lot of fish? Both? Better access?
Bolton: The answer certainly depends on your perspective. Families with younger anglers are often less concerned about size of the fish they catch. Typically, they are concerned with ease of access, safety and opportunities closer to home. The avid angler is more likely to be interested in catching larger fish and having quality boating access facilities. We attempt to provide a quality outdoor experience for all of our constituents.
Q: Do people assume because you are the head of fisheries in Oklahoma that you know all the best fishing holes? And, do you?
Bolton: Most do believe that we know all of the best places to fish. To some extent, that is true, because we spend a lot of time sampling the fish populations to manage them properly. Often, the best fishing hole depends on a multitude of factors.
Do you have a boat? Do you want to catch big blue cats or a stringer full of bluegill with young anglers? Do you just have a few hours and want to fish close to home, or do you want to spend the weekend?
Q: How much fishing do you actually get to do, and what kind of fishing is your favorite?
Bolton: Everyone thinks if you work for the Wildlife Department you get to hunt and fish for a living. In reality, it seems there is less time to fish than I would like. The second part of this question is tough. Dad is supposed to love all of his kids the same, but I do have a favorite. Having grown up in the northeast part of Oklahoma, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time catching smallmouth bass in Spring Creek, Barren Fork Creek and the Illinois River.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing fisheries in Oklahoma at present?
Bolton: There is no doubt the biggest challenges facing fisheries managers, not only in Oklahoma but all across the U.S., are water quality and water quantity. The human footprint on our landscape presents many challenges that impact Oklahoma's water quality. Also, as water consumption continues to increase, fisheries resources often take the back seat to other water uses. Clearly, managing Oklahoma's aquatic resources will be much more challenging in the next 20 years.
Q: Do you think a 15-pound largemouth bass will ever be caught in an Oklahoma lake?
Bolton: We came darn close with the record (14 pounds, 13.7 ounces) from Cedar Lake in 2013. I am certain there is a 15-pound plus swimming around in an Oklahoma reservoir. The new record will have Florida largemouth bass genetics and will likely be caught in the southeast part of the state.