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Spring Fishing Tips

FISHING REGULATIONS

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MARCH - MAY

The days are getting longer and the water is heating up, triggering the spawning cycle of most sporting fish in Oklahoma. Spring, especially April, is the best time to take a kid or introduce someone new to fishing. The bite is fast and furious and the weather is nice and mild!

Largemouth Bass

During the pre-spawn, largemouth bass will begin to move from their wintering areas in deep water to transition areas (areas of rapid depth change) near their spawning habitat. There they will begin to gorge on available forage, primarily calorie-rich baitfish such as shad, in preparation of the spawn.

Good lure selections for targeting pre-spawn bass include swimbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, lipped crankbaits and lipless crankbaits fished in 6-20 feet of water around transition areas.

Spawning activities begin as water temperatures reach 62˚F to 65˚F.

During the spawn, focus your efforts in shallow, sheltered water where male fish will build nests. 

Largemouth bass become extremely aggressive, fending off any perceived threats near a nest, particularly the male fish. This is a great time to pitch soft plastic baits such as lizards, tubes, worms, crawfish and baby brush hogs on a skirted jig or bladed jig, drop shot setup, off-set hook with a bullet weight (Texas rig), or bottom bounced (Carolina rig). Cast parallel with the bank, making long slow retrieves.

There is usually a post-spawn lull, where fish attempt to recover from the energy expended during the spawn and the bite can be slow for a week or so on a given body of water.

As water temperatures rise into the 70s, some largemouth bass will form loose schools in open water, over vegetated flats, in the main lake portions and creek channel areas.

Some largemouth bass will seek areas that have lots of different structure and cover features in a small zone, so they can move throughout the day to rest and feed without expending too much energy. Docks that have lots of vegetation and rapid depth change underneath are a great starting point.

The late spring is a good time to start working topwater baits during the low light hours.

Black Crappie and White Crappie 

Before the spawn, when water temperatures are between 45˚F and 55˚F, crappie will begin moving from their wintering habitat to transition areas (areas of rapid depth change) near their desired spawning area. During the pre-spawn period, live minnows or soft plastic baits like baby shad fished below a slip cork bobber in 6-20 feet of water in the transition areas are an effective way to catch a lot of fish.

Crappie require hard bottom to spawn, so you want to target shallow areas with rocky outcroppings, gravel or hardwood logs once water temperatures reach 52˚F for black crappie and 56˚F for white crappie. Naturally colored tubes, swimbaits and inline spinners or a live minnow fished below a fixed bobber are all good options for targeting crappie in less than 10 feet of water when the spawn begins.

Female crappie get in and out after dropping eggs on the nest and retreat back to transition areas to rest and feed.

Male crappie provide the parental care to the eggs and fry. They don’t actively “feed” during this time, but they defend which creates an additional week or so of heavy bite action.

This is the time to fish small brightly colored (pinks, oranges, chartreuse, and neon colors) baits in the areas immediately surrounding the spawning habitat.

Male crappie are not intentionally trying to consume baits while protecting the eggs or fry, but rather injure or warn the intruder, so you have to be quick on the hook set. Try to get your hook point as close to the back of your bait as possible without compromising its swimming action. You can cut a quarter-inch off the front of a soft plastic bait before affixing it to your hook to achieve this or use a small inline spinner like a Rooster Tail that has the hook already affixed to the back of the bait. It’s important to keep slack off your line so you’re in constant contact with the bait.

Once the spawning process has concluded and males have left the fry, go back to targeting the transition areas that have the most cover and bottom structure and use presentations from the pre-spawn period.

White Bass

The state fish of Oklahoma is a fan favorite of springtime anglers.

When water temperatures get to the high 40s focus your efforts at the mouths of inflowing creeks and rivers on the north ends of the water body. Try lipless crankbaits in gold, silver or red patterns, sassy shad in pearl white, shallow- or medium-diving lipped crankbaits in shad-colored variations, and small white maribou jigs or curly tail grubs.

Each body of water in the state seems to have a bait of choice for white bass, so if you’re unfamiliar with the area bring an array of these types of lures until you find the one that picks up the most fish.

You can also use a live minnow on a small- to medium-sized bait holding hook attached to a 12-inch leader line below a barrel swivel and ¼ to ½-ounce egg weight. Let the line off of the reel directly below the boat to your desired depth.

In lakes that do not have inflowing water, try the bait selections described above around coves, points and rip rap areas, especially during morning and evening hours.

White bass are very prolific. One female can produce up to one million eggs. Reproductive activities are triggered by water temperatures of 50˚F to 55˚F. Spawning is at random over weeds, debris and rocks.

When inflowing creeks and rivers are available, this species prefers upstream migration for spawning. No parental care is provided to eggs or young. Follow the fish upstream during the spawn and look for brushy areas along the bank or mouths of small tributaries to target.

White bass are a schooling fish, so if you’re not getting bites using these types of baits change locations often until you find them. 

Bluegill Sunfish, Redear Sunfish and Green Sunfish

Fishing for sunfish really picks up in April and May during their spawning period and stays good until the late fall. Sunfish inhabit shallower water, compared to other species, during these months making them easily accessible to all anglers. Sunfish spawn in bulk numbers. Catching 50 or more fish in a short period of time is not uncommon during the spawning period, which is an excellent opportunity to introduce someone new to fishing.

It is also a great time of year to catch large sunfish exceeding 10-inches. Sunfish are often thought of as a first fish for new anglers, but 10+ inch fish on micro lite rods with light line will get the most experienced of anglers reinvigorated in pan-fishing.

In clearer water, sunfish spawning beds are easily identifiable. The spawning beds look like a dinner plate-sized shallow crater with a small cirle of gravel, or other hard debris, in the middle of the crater and are grouped together sometimes in the hundreds.

Redear sunfish attain lengths up to 12 inches and weights to two pounds. They respond best to natural bait and are more difficult to catch than bluegill. Redear sunfish normally inhabit deeper water than bluegill and congregate around stumps, logs and roots.

Weed beds are ideal habitat for really big bluegill and redear sunfish.

Green sunfish are usually found in the shallowest of water around cover or structure (branches, weeds, cut banks, etc.). Due to its large mouth and voracious appetite green sunfish can often be caught on much larger baits than the other typical panfish species.

Most people are introduced to sunfish with the most basic of setups: a live worm and a bobber. While this is an excellent method, especially to new anglers and youngsters, sunfish are still predators (just lower on the food chain in most bodies of water) and will take artificial lures and flies.

From April to mid-June focus your efforts for sunfish in shallow water in the backs of coves, flats off of main lake areas or creek channels, weedy shoreline and riprap. If you are employing a basic hook, split shot and bobber technique, try night crawlers, crappie nibbles, corn kernels and crickets/grass hoppers. Crappie nibbles work great for catching sunfish, are easy to store (without refrigeration) and do not make the same mess as worms or other natural baits.

For artificial lures, try small naturally colored tubes, grubs or swimbaits on a 1/32nd jighead. During the spawning period, the bite can be fast and furious, so artificial lures can save on bait for those looking to catch lots of fish over multiple days.

Channel Catfish, Blue Catfish and Flathead Catfish

Unlike many popular freshwater species that feed by sight and sound, catfish primarily rely on taste and touch.

Spawning usually starts in late May and can run all the way into July depending on where the body of water is located in the state. Hollow logs, overhanging underwater ledges or holes under mud banks are typical nesting places. Female catfish lay about 10,000 eggs each. Males guard the eggs against intruders, including females. Eggs hatch in 6 to 10 days as determined by temperature.

After hatching, fry are attended for a short time by the male as they feed in a dense school. While spawning habits and feeding mechanisms are similar, each species varies in what they eat and how you catch them. Catfish are also much more active in the lowlight and overnight hours, but can be caught at any time of day.

Channel catfish are opportunistic omnivores and are often referred to as lake trash cans due to their tendency to eat just about anything with scent that will fit in their mouth. Channel catfish are best targeted along dam rip rap and creek channels. A worm and bobber is an effective way to catch lots of small- to medium-sized channel catfish along dam rip rap from late April into May while they are gorging during the pre-spawn period. Punch bait, stink bait, cut bait and other scented baits fished off the bottom are also effective ways to target channel catfish along dam rip rap and channels. Channel catfish are much more likely to eat non-live or non-natural baits than flathead and blue catfish.

Flathead catfish can be an elusive fish to catch on rod and reel. Like largemouth bass, flatheads love a live bluegill, but locating and casting to flatheads can be difficult. Most anglers catch flatheads on live bait left unattended overnight, such as trotlines, limblines, juglines and yo-yos. For those looking to catch flatheads on rod and reel, focus your efforts in heavily wooded areas, such as coves or backwater that have lots of hollowed logs and stumps. Hook a live bluegill through the lips or between the dorsal and tail fin with a sturdy 6/0 to 10/0 circle hook attached to a 12-inch leader line below a barrel swivel and ½- to 1-ounce egg weight. Cast into the woody areas and let your line soak until you get a take.

Blue catfish are a good intermediary to channels and flatheads. Blues can be caught on both live and dead natural baits as well as artifical baits like lipped crankbaits. Shad are the preferred food choice of blue catfish. Cut shad on a circle hook fished either off the bottom or below a float around creek channel ledges and dam rip rap is an effective way to catch lots of blues.

Blue and flathead catfish are excellent table fare, especially the belly meat from flatheads.

Walleye and Saugeye

Walleye spawn in water 42˚F to 50˚F which makes them vulnerable to anglers willing to brave the chilly outside temperatures in late February and early March, but the rewards are worth it.

As a general rule of thumb, the spawn typically lasts about three weeks in a given body of water and happens earlier in rivers than in lakes, in shallower lakes than in deeper lakes, in smaller lakes than in larger lakes and in poor water clarity lakes than in clearer lakes.

Walleye spawn over rock, rubble, gravel and similar hard structure in rivers and windswept (north side of water body) lake shores in water 1 to 6 feet deep, where current clears away fine sediment and will cleanse and aerate the eggs.

There will be a lull following the spawn lasting from a few days to a couple weeks depending on the fish and water body. Once the fish recover the post-spawn bite can be more prolific than during the spawning period.

Walleye and saugeye like hard structure transition areas (areas of rapid depth change) near windswept shorelines and points for most of the year.

They will retreat to deep main lake humps and structure in the summer months as they are a cold-water species most comfortable in water between 50˚F to 70˚F.

Walleye and saugeye like long, slender lipped crankbaits, white, chartreuse or naturally colored grubs, white, chartreuse or naturally colored swimbaits, and an array of live bait (nightcrawlers, leeches and minnows being the most popular).

The most important factor to catching these unique looking fish is maintaining contact with the bottom. Once your bait gets above three feet off the bottom your chance for bites goes way down.

If using lipped crankbaits, remove all the treble hooks from the bait and just replace the back hook with a medium-sized straight shank single point hook. This allows you to bang the crankbait into and across the bottom without snagging.

The slower the retrieve speed the better for any walleye or saugeye presentation.

Crankbaits in tiger perch patterns or that have purplish backs are favorites among the toothy fish anglers. If using natural bait, try a pre-packaged bottom bouncing setup like a Lindy rig or make your own using a non-snag weight, barrel swivel, 12- to 18-inch leader and small- to medium-sized bait holding hook paired with natural bait.