First posted on 03-30-2011
The coming weeks mark the annual spring spawning of the white bass — Oklahoma’s state fish, and biologists are more than willing to provide insight into where to find this fish this time of year when they move upstream from lakes across the state.
The white bass, also called the “sand bass,” swim in large schools up rivers and creeks to spawn each spring, and anglers who fish at the right time can end up with near constant angling action as well as a stringer full of fish. Over the years, fisheries biologists have helped anglers plan their white bass fishing trips by compiling information on where and when to go fishing for white bass in each region of the state. They update the information each year to help anglers deal with any changes brought on by weather, available access and other factors that can cause fishing success to vary from year to year.
The spring spawning run of the white bass can often tracked northward across the state, with initial reports of good tributary fishing coming from the southern portion of the state and improving to the north as early spring progresses.
According to Kyle James, southeast region fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department, white bass are already biting in the Mountain Fork River, but the best is yet to come.
Looking back over the last two years, James has seem some variance on when the white bass fishing action has peaked. Two years ago, the spring spawning run in southeast Oklahoma was already well underway in the first week of March, and last year it reportedly picked up several weeks later. James said that different weather this year is once again holding off the peak of the spring run, adding that the region has seen very little precipitation this spring.
“Temperatures are warming to mid to upper 60s, and fish are stirring. A good spring rain shower is all we lack to boost our numbers in all tributaries of southeast Oklahoma lakes and rivers.”
While the weather has been different in the southeast part of the state than last year, the hotspots for catching white bass have not. Promising destinations include the narrows at Broken Bow, Pine Creek, Hugo, Sardis, and Wister reservoirs. James said both walk-in and boat access points are available throughout the region.
According to James, a 1/8 oz. jig with a white or yellow curly tailed grub is a popular lure for catching white bass, and he even suggests using two jigs as once for a chance at a double.
In the southcentral portions of the state, lake levels are below normal elevations, compared to last year about this time when they were reportedly at or above normal. According to Cliff Sager, southcentral region fisheries biologist for the Department, white bass are located near the mouths of creeks and tributaries waiting for inflows created by spring rains. The lakes have warmed over the last couple of weeks and have reached the ideal temperature for the spawning run. According to Sager, this means that only small amounts of inflow would be needed to trigger the spawning run, and excellent fishing.
Further north, angling success can be had from creeks accessible from the Eufaula Wildlife Management Area in eastcentral Oklahoma. Duchess Creek is accessed by taking the Texanna Road exit off I-40 about four miles east of Checotah and driving south four and a half miles. Turn left on the dirt road and proceed one quarter mile to the first bridge. Fish upstream or downstream according to lake level.
According to Danny Bowen, central region fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department, sand bass also can be caught on Wewoka Creek south of Wetumka.
Kaw Lake in northcentral Oklahoma can provide some sand bass fishing opportunities as well. According to Tom Wolf, northcentral region fisheries biologist, the Arkansas River and Beaver Creek flow into Kaw Lake and provide most of the white bass activity offered by the lake in the spring. Both streams have boat ramps for access.
Eastern Oklahoma offers a number of white bass fishing opportunities, too, according to Josh Johnston, eastcentral region fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department.
Johnston suggests picking one of the larger tributaries to the Arkansas River and watching for increased water flow in early spring. Examples include Robert S. Kerr’s Sallisaw Creek arm, where fishing intensifies after a warm spring rain brings a water level rise. The same thing happens on Dirty Creek west of Webbers Falls, below Greenleaf Dam on Greenleaf Creek or below every dam on the Arkansas River Navigation System. It’s all a question of when the warm rains bring an increased water flow.
Horseshoe Bend, on the Illinois River above Tenkiller Lake, is probably the best known white bass fishing “hot spot” in eastcentral Oklahoma, according to Johnston.
Traditionally, white bass can be caught anytime from mid March to early May at Horseshoe Bend depending on water flow, but the peak is usually around the first week or so in April. Smaller males are the first to show up in significant numbers, and any water level rise after that will sends the female fish upriver to spawn. Bank access is limited, but boaters can put in at the Horseshoe Bend boat ramp.
To get to Horseshoe Bend, take State Highway 82 south from Tahlequah to Horseshoe Bend Road in Keys. Turn left, stopping at the Illinois River.
Northwest Oklahoma’s Canton Lake is expected to be a hot white bass fishing destination over the next few weeks, according to biologists in the region.
John Stahl, northwest region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said Canton Lake sees an “outstanding” white bass run during the spring.
“The run will start about the end of the first week in April,” Stahl said.
Plenty of lake access is provided at Canton, along with amenities such as food and fishing gear in Canton and nearby Longdale. According to Stahl, all you have to do is watch the trees to know when to catch the white bass run just right.
Further south, white bass runs are not as typical due to low average rainfall and relatively short stream lengths, according to Larry Cofer, southwest region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department.
The exception is above Lake Waurika in Beaver Creek in the event of rainfall in late March and early April, with access around the Hwy 53 bridges and the county roads above the Waurika WMA. Cofer said that striped bass hybrids also are caught running upstream from the lake. Striped bass hybrids are the result of crossing the white bass with the non-native striped bass in Wildlife Department fisheries hatcheries.
Cofer said boat fisherman can catch “sandies” above Lakes Lawtonka and Ellsworth to the headwaters of Medicine and Cache creeks, where white bass congregate after a rain.
Some of the southwest regions best sand bass fishing can be had where the fish spawn along windy rip-rap areas in lakes.
Altus-Lugert, Lawtonka and Tom Steed hold healthy populations of sand bass that can be caught along windy, rocky banks throughout the spring, even after the spawn. Also, anglers can be successful fishing the rip-rap on the dams this month at lakes Chickasha, Clear Creek, Comanche, Elk City, Ellsworth, and Waurika, particularly in a north wind after fronts come through, according to Cofer.
One female white bass can produce up to one million eggs. White bass reproductive activities are triggered when water temperatures reach 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Spawning occurs at random over weeds, debris and rocks. When tributary streams are available, white bass prefers upstream migration for spawning. No parental care is provided to eggs or young. Anglers should equip themselves with light to medium light action tackle and an assortment of jigs.
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