Fall Fishing on Robert S Kerr Lake, Oklahoma|
Author: Albert McBee
Fall Fishing tips for Catfish, Stripers and Walleye on Eastern Oklahoma's Own Robert S. Kerr Lake.
After the string of 100 degree temperatures are over and the water surface temperature begins to cool off to the high 70’s, the daytime bite begins once again. This gradual cooling off is the signal to all species of fish that the time to eat is at hand (fin?). The fish begin to feed in earnest to prepare their bodies for the long cold winter.
I personally love the fall fishing… I can get back out on the water and stay there all day if I want to. Let’s discuss specifics.
Kerr Lake is well known as a trophy striped bass fishery, providing water access to the Lower Illinois and the Canadian River. The Lower Illinois and Canadian Rivers are legendary among the hardened Oklahoma striper fishermen, giving up good numbers of fish in the 18” to 24” range as well as the occasional bonus HAWG that may top 40 pounds. The numbers aren’t as great as those of Lake Texoma but the quality of the quest cannot be beat.
There seem to be two trains of thought by the active striper fishermen on the Lower Illinois… The first is using artificial lures on medium-light tackle. (There is also a small but growing contingent of ultralite fishermen enjoying the adrenalin pumping thrill of a positively angry and equally strong striper on a very light line which we’ll visit as a story subject all of it’s own in the future.) The second method is to use live bait on medium-heavy tackle.
The lures that produce most readily are in-line spinners like the Rooster Tail®, crank baits like the Shad-Rap® line, floater/divers and topwater baits like the Sputterfuss®, Jitterbug®, and various cigar shaped lures. A slow, steady retrieve will produce a few strikes over time, but to really make the striper eat your lure, retrieve it slow for one or two cranks, then lift the rod tip to make the lure appear to try to escape. Don’t worry… you can’t jerk the lure fast enough to outrun a determined striper.
Now, you can just go to the river and randomly cast anywhere in the water and eventually get a fish… but to increase your odds, you just gotta cast that lure near where the striper likes to stay. Think of that striper as an overgrown black bass. He likes shade and mid-day cover to ambush his prey from. Cast your lures past a stump, stick-up, rock or log and retrieve your lure close enough to that cover to bump it. When you see a fish follow your lure, that’s the time to crank it fast and make it look like a scared baitfish, but don’t forget to hang on! The ultralite fellows use similar lures and crank baits, targeting smaller stripers. They have fun, but they also lose a lot of line and lures to the fish. I know all about it… I’m one of those fellows that try to beat the odds.
Live-baiting for stripers is a real challenge, especially in the summer and fall when the bait dies quickly in the warm water. A successful live-bait fisherman will have an aerated bait well and even an oxygen injection system to keep the bait lively, not just alive. Ice will be added periodically to keep the water temperature down.
Most live-bait fishermen will use 4” to 6” shad for stripers and some will buy 8” to 12” rainbow trout from bait producers in Arkansas. Either makes incredible, irresistible bait for the stripers fished weightless under a balloon or large float. The current, breeze and the bait determine where the balloon goes. Sometimes the bait will jump out of the water trying to escape the relentless attack of the striper.
Kerr Lake is also a very good Walleye and Sauger fishery. These pike cousins share appearance, attitude, and food preference, as well as being absolutely unequalled on the table. Generally, the walleye here are caught by bass fishermen, although there is a growing contingent of dedicated walleye fishermen on the lake. These aggressive fish are relatively easy to catch in the rocks of the wing dams and on rocky sand bars using finesse rigs such as Lindy Rigs with night crawlers, minnow-tipped jigs and black bunny-fur jigs that resemble leeches swimming near the bottom. Remember to use 14-20 pound test line on these toothy critters… and don’t grab them by the lip.
The Catfish of Kerr Lake are one of the most sought after species. They are abundant, large, and delicious when released into hot oil in the kitchen. The cooler waters of the fall motivate these denizens of the deep to fill their bellies as full as they can as often as they can. The channel catfish and smaller blue catfish under 10 pounds (my favorite size for the skillet) will stay on the shallower, rocky areas of the lake where they feed on the abundant zebra mussels. Sometimes the bellies of these fish are so full of mussels that they double their natural weight.
The flathead catfish are not as numerous on Kerr lake as other lakes in the State, but they are definitely here and eating heavily in preparation for the winter. Unlike other lakes, the flathead do not hibernate for very long in Kerr Lake. The water apparently does not get cold enough for long enough. I’ve caught flathead below Webbers Falls Lock and Dam 16 in January and February. Fall marks the time when the flathead will begin eating cut bait as well as live, but they still seem to prefer their meals live.
Most folks look at a flathead trip as a nighttime trip… but it ain’t necessarily so! I like to cruise slowly on the outside bend of the river looking for a pile of logs and driftwood in 15-30 feet of water. When I find one, I’ll anchor upstream of it and float a live green perch under a balloon to it with the weighted bait about a foot shallower than the bottom. I use a 6/0 to 10/0 circle hook run through the “nostrils” of the perch to keep it alive and 120 pound test Dacron line and hook leader. The weight and light monofilament leader is tied onto a three-way swivel to allow breaking off when the weight becomes snagged in the wood.
When the flathead grabs the perch, he will head for the timber. Because it’s a circle hook, let him go for the initial run on the bait clicker. He’ll stop and begin to swallow the crushed bait. That’s your signal to lock down the reel in preparation for his second run. When the rod tip is slapping the water, begin horsing him out of the timber. He may be snagged up a little, but a slack line and a little patience will get the fish to the boat.
The larger trophy sized blue catfish will be moving more in the cooler water, searching for the shad in the shallows. The blues aren’t finicky… just about any fish that will fit in its mouth will do. Cut shad and skipjack are the bait of choice on Kerr Lake for blue catfish. The shad are generally easy to find and catch.
The skipjack herring are a little more difficult to catch using jigs in the fast water below the dam. Small skipjack (less than 6”) are used whole while larger ones (they get to 30”) are cut into sections. The head (cut right behind the gill plate) is the best bait, no matter how large or small. The entrails threaded on the hook are the second best bait. The rest of the fish can be filleted, sliced or diced to the fisherman’s whim. I like to cut the skipjack up at home and freeze each individual fish separately in a freezer bag and thaw out one fish at a time as needed and not waste the bait.
Fall is the time to drift fish the flats for blue catfish. Target areas that are 8 to 15 feet deep using cut or live baits while maintaining the drift speed less than ½ mph using drift socks. Rig up using Carolina Rigged cut bait on your favorite style of hook. I prefer a circle hook, but in the fall I’ll rig up with a ¾” diameter foam cigar-shaped float on a 30” leader 8” in front of a sharp 5/0 treble hook with each hook baited with two chunks of cut bait. It’s a lot of bait, but we’re looking for a big fish! The float keeps the hook up off the bottom out of reach of a lot of the snags.
Don’t be afraid to use strong line… the catfish don’t care if they see it or not. They’re going to eat what they smell on the hook!
Preserve our heritage by not keeping more fish than you need, releasing all trophy fish after a picture and teaching a kid the joys and ethics of responsible fishing.
Albert McBee is a published author and a fishing guide on Robert S. Kerr Lake and others. To contact him, go to www.okcharters.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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