State Fish Offers Hot Angling Action in Oklahoma

By Oklahoma Dept of Wildlife Conservation

First posted on 03-24-2010

Of all the official state symbols Oklahoma claims, the white bass is the favorite for anglers, especially in the coming weeks when the native fish begin their annual spawning runs up creeks and rivers that feed into lakes across the state.

The annual spawning run of the official state fish, often called the “sand bass,” occurs during the spring and is perhaps best described as a “fish frenzy.” White bass move in large schools to spawn, and anglers who fish at the right time can end up with near constant angling action as well as a stringer full of fish. Fisheries biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation recently provided the inside scoop on how to get in on the best springtime white bass fishing no matter where you live in the state.

While last year’s spring spawning run was already underway in southeast Oklahoma during the first week of March — and while it normally runs from mid-March to the first of May — this year’s run is slightly behind schedule, according to Kyle James, southeast region fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department.

“The springtime delay is really testing the patience of Oklahoma anglers, but white bass spawning conditions are improving,” James said. “The action will pick up, only this time a week or two later than usual. Hotspots in the southeast region include the narrows at Broken Bow, Pine Creek, Hugo, Sardis, and Wister reservoirs.”

According to James, a 1/8 oz. jig with a white or yellow curly tailed grub is a popular lure for catching white bass.

“Try tying on two jigs at a time, but hold on, because two fish fight harder than one,” James said.

According to James, both walk-in and boat access are available in areas throughout the region.

“Be sure to get landowner permission before entering private property,” he said.

In the southcentral portions of the state, lake levels are at or above normal elevations. According to Cliff Sager, southcentral region fisheries biologist for the Department, saturated soils in the region mean that even marginal rains over the next month will generate the run-off and inflows that white bass need for spawning.

“Conditions leading up to this year’s spawn look very favorable,” Sager said. “We have heard reports that white bass were being caught in the tributaries above Lake Texoma this past weekend.”

Sager said those fish were likely males that had moved upstream early to wait for female white bass to arrive with warmer waters and rain.

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.

Additionally, Danny Bowen, central region fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department, said sand bass are being caught on Wewoka Creek south of Wetumka.

Eastern Oklahoma offers a number of white bass fishing opportunities as well, according to Gary Peterson, eastcentral region fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department.

Peterson 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 Peterson.

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.

“Canton Lake has an outstanding white bass run,” said John Stahl, northwest region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “The run will start about the end of the first week in April.”

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.

“Locals say that when the redbuds are in full bloom, it’s time to go,” Stahl said.

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.

To learn more about white bass or fishing in Oklahoma, or to sign up for the Wildlife Department’s weekly fishing report, log on to