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How and where do you catch big bass in Oklahoma? We asked the experts.

March is the best time of the year to catch a trophy largemouth bass in Oklahoma. [ILLUSTRATION BY TODD PENDLETON/THE OKLAHOMAN]
March is the best time of the year to catch a trophy largemouth bass in Oklahoma. [ILLUSTRATION BY TODD PENDLETON/THE OKLAHOMAN]

March madness will be happening any day now on Oklahoma lakes.

March is big bass month in the state. Fifteen largemouth bass on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's top 20 list were caught in the month of March.

After the coldest Oklahoma weather in a century, the state's lakes have thawed and the water is warming, which means the bass fishing will be heating up soon.

"It doesn't matter what that water temperature is, it just matters that it is going in a positive direction and that is going to trigger the fish," said Edwin Evers, a Bassmaster Classic champion from Talala.

Where are the best places to go in Oklahoma to catch a real wall-hanger, a 10-pound-plus bass? In Oklahoma, that usually means heading to the lakes in southern and eastern Oklahoma that are regularly stocked by the Wildlife Department with Florida bass fingerlings. Florida bass grow bigger and faster than Oklahoma's native largemouth bass, and those fish normally do better in the lakes south of I-40, but some lakes north of that dividing line also get stocked with the Florida genes.

Grand Lake is generally considered the best bass fishing lake in the state based on numbers of good-sized fish and high catch-rates. Nearby lakes in northeast Oklahoma such as Eucha, Spavinaw and Hudson are also great bass fishing lakes.

"It's more common for you to catch a 5-pound bass in Hudson Lake than anywhere else in the state," said Josh Johnston, northeast region fishing supervisor for the Wildlife Department and tournament angler.

But while those northeast Oklahoma lakes might have the most productive bass fishing waters, they are not growing monster fish, although state wildlife officials are trying to improve their growth rate with a boost from Florida genes.

Ask the experts

Last week, I asked Evers and Johnston, along with two other experts — Oklahoma legend Jimmy Houston and Gene Gilliland of Norman, national conservation director for B.A.S.S. — for their recommendations on the five best big bass lakes in Oklahoma, and their favorite baits to catch a trophy.

Broken Bow, McGee Creek, Dripping Springs, Arbuckle and Sardis got the most votes among the lakes. A jig, an Alabama rig (a.k.a. umbrella rig) and a jerkbait were the top choices for best bass baits.

Broken Bow Lake has produced four fish on the state's top 20 largemouth bass list, more than any other lake in the state, including No. 2 and No. 4. Tiny Cedar Lake in the Ouachita National Forest in Le Flore County coughed up the biggest bass ever caught in the state (14 pounds, 13.7 ounces) in 2013. That largemouth bass broke a state record set one year earlier also at Cedar Lake, a bass that is now No. 3 on the top 20 list.

But the 86-acre lake that doesn't allow a boat with a motor of more than 7½ horsepower was not a consensus top five choice among my panel of experts.

"Cedar kind of had all of the stars aligned (in 2012 and 2013)," Gilliland said. "They drained the lake. They refilled the lake, stocked it with Florida bass. Those fish all grew up without a lot of competition, plenty of food. As the lake ages and the bass population grows, there becomes greater competition for food, so growth rate slows down. So the numbers of those great big fish are naturally going to decline.

"It doesn't mean that it can't produce another state record tomorrow, but it wouldn't be as high on my list for potential places (for trophy bass)."

Most bass anglers would not be surprised by Broken Bow, Arbuckle, McGee Creek and Sardis being in anyone's top five. Those four lakes are stocked with Florida fingerlings each year by the Wildlife Department because of their history of producing big fish, along with Lake Murray. Dripping Springs, however, flies under the radar because no bass tournaments are allowed on the lake.

Dripping Springs was constructed in 1975 by the City of Okmulgee and designated as Oklahoma's first trophy bass lake. The 1,150-acre lake is one of the few places north of I-40 where Florida bass have thrived.

"It has giants in it," Evers said.

Johnston and Gilliland agree that there are probably 20 or more lakes in the state where a 10-pound bass is a possibility, including smaller city lakes like Okmulgee (next to Dripping Springs), Prague, Holdenville, Bixoma near Bixby, Sportsman Lake near Seminole and Taft Lake near Muskogee.

"A buddy of mine was over there a month ago and caught a 9.75 (pounder)," Evers said of Taft Lake.

Alabama rigs, jigs and jerkbaits

As far as how to catch them, an Alabama or umbrella rig is the popular lure choice right now, Houston said.

"For a while yet, as long as the water is still cold, an umbrella rig is still the best thing to use, but real quickly you are going to be able to switch over to jerkbaits," he said.

Gilliland said Alabama rigs are one of the easier tools to probe open water and they have proven effective at enticing big fish. Sapulpa angler Josh Jones made headlines last week catching three 10-pound-plus largemouth bass on O.H. Ivie in Texas, including a 15-pounder on an Alabama rig.

A suspending jerkbait, a lure that doesn't sink or float when the retrieve is stopped, is a prime bait to use in March as the water gradually starts to warm.

"That's when that bait really shines," Gilliland said.

When bass start moving into shallower water to spawn later in the spring, a jig becomes a popular option, Gilliland said.

Evers said jerkbaits and big swimbaits are good choices in March, but his go-to bait for bass always is a jig.

"If you are looking into my rod box on my boat, 365 days a year there is always a version of a jig tied on, if not two, or three or four," said Evers, who has an instructional fishing series on YouTube that highlights many Oklahoma lakes. "Through the entire month (of March) it would absolutely be the No. 1 bait that I would throw."

Johnston also likes Alabama rigs and jerkbaits, especially when fishing in clear water. In muddy or stained waters, he recommends a lure that vibrates, like a spinnerbait with big Colorado blades or a Chatterbait. And he always keeps a green-pumpkin jig tied on a rod at all times for fishing in clear or muddy water.

Finding big bass has gotten a little easier

Catching a huge double-digit bass is rare, but Gilliland said the new sonar technology such as the Garmin LiveScope and Lowrance ActiveTarget is increasing an angler's chances.

"That technology is drastically changing the hunt for big fish," he said.

The new sonar technology gives anglers a better chance to locate fish, especially offshore in deeper water, if they can become proficient at using it, Gilliland said.

"I know a lot of guys that have bought stuff and all it does is confuse them," he said. "They spend a lot of time staring at the screen trying to figure out what the heck it is showing...

"If you are good with your sonar at finding fish and brush piles, the bait you choose is probably less important than the location and identifying your target."

Reporter Ed Godfrey looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at or on Twitter @EdGodfrey. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›