A blog of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
Home / Outdoor Oklahoma Journal / I Play for Bronze

I Play for Bronze

Friday, April 16, 2021

Whether it’s watching the end of a sage green fly line torpedo towards a root wad, a first-round haymaking double-over of a light action spinning outfit or simply sitting on a stream-side log listening to the soundtrack of a life well-fished, nothing beats the pursuit of bronze mettle. To be more specific Micropterus dolomieu, the fabled smallmouth bass.

10-inches or 10-pounds, I respect no fish more. Pound for pound the most eloquent, inventive angling adversary to ever swim North America’s warm-water streams. Speed, power, air-born grace and a bad attitude to match. This fish is the whole package and Oklahoma’s eastern clear-water streams are full of them!

I believe every angler should have the opportunity to wet-wade for these titans of Tahlequah, brazen takers of Barren Fork, bronze bowling balls of Blue, mighty masters of Mountain Fork, golden gauntlets of Glover and the rest of the lot. When you’re stream fishing, you’re just a part of something special. The energy of the flow, the sounds of the stream, it’s tangible happiness.

Not to mention it’s a whole bunch of fun!

14 years ago, I caught my first smallmouth bass on the upper stretches of the Okanagan River, a major tributary of the famed Columbia River, in north-central Washington. The experience changed me as an angler and to some extent, personally. 14 years later, nothing gets me more excited to go fishing than knowing a bronze-filled stream is in store the next morning.

You can use whatever you want to catch them, as long as it’s a 2-inch green pumpkin tube with some red and black flakes on a 1/32nd ounce jighead or a size 2 Dirty Water Fly Co. Smoking Mirrors Jig Fly in Roasted Fire Tiger. I kid, but seriously don’t leave the house without them.

Smallies live a life of upward ambush and streambed vacuuming, which essentially means that the entire tackle and fly box is in play when you hit one of Oklahoma’s eastern streams in the late spring, summer and early fall.

Some anglers live for the top-water breach, others the bottom banging crawfish scoop, me, I prefer the horizontal hitman swinging a fly or drifting a tube. It’s all a blast in a cast, but tug is the drug for me!

Barren Fork Smallmouth

In Oklahoma, keep your offerings relatively small. For small creeks, like Barren Fork, stick to naturally colored tubes and grubs in the 1.5” to 3” variety on a 1/16th to 1/32nd ounce jighead or for the fly guys and gals, naturally colored streamers and wooly buggers in size 2 or smaller.

For the bigger streams, like the Illinois or Blue, bring the heavy artillery. 1/8th to ½ ounce jigheads paired with naturally colored tubes and grubs in the 3” to 5” inch variety. Fly guys and gals should stick with naturally colored streamers and wooly buggers in size 2 up to 3/0. I recommend investing in some jig flies for the bigger water. While not the easiest to make pretty casts, it’s more effective than loading up the leader with split shot to get a bead-head to dive.

During the midday hours, the biggest fish will be on the shady side of cover in the deepest holes and move up into the riffle runs at first light and last light. Never overlook the shallow tail-outs at any time of day. Every now and then you’ll find a bonus behemoth feeding at its own table.

Clear Water Streams Warm-Water Species Tips


Don’t forget polarized sunglasses. You can get a cheap pair at a sporting goods store or gas station for less than $25. It’s imperative not only for fishing, but for safety to be able to see the streambed when your wading. While I can’t promise that polarized sunglasses will catch you more fish, they can save you from a hospital visit or worse.


  • 1.5”-2 1/4” Squirmin’ Squirt Tube in Green Pumpkin Red/Black Flake paired with a 1/32nd to 1/16th Bass Pro Shops Red Hook Squirt Head
  • 2 1/2” Heddon Baby Torpedo
  • 3 1/2” Heddon Chug’n Spook Jr.
  • 3” Zoom Fat Albert Grub in Rootbeer Pepper/Green Flake paired with a 1/8th jighead
  • 4” Chompers Skirted Twin Tail Grub in Rootbeer Green Flake paired with a 3/16th to 1/4th jighead
  • 5” Zoom Super Fluke in Pearl White rigged weightless and weed-less on a 3/0 offset hook


  • 1/0 Bett’s Bass Bug Popper
  • Size 2 Dirty Water Fly Co. Smoking Mirrors Jig Fly in Roasted Fire Tiger
  • Size 2 Clouser Minnow in Sculpin, Silver Shiner or Olive and White
  • Size 2 Beadhead Wooly Bugger in Olive, Brown or White
  • Size 6 Rubber-Legged Hopper
  • Size 12 Rubber-Legged Stimulator
  • Size 14 Pheasant Tail Nymph
  • Size 14 Rubber-Legged Yellow Sally


Find more articles on the topics below: