Is Lake of the Arbuckles the Oklahoma version of Texas’ Lake Fork? It appears that way, courtesy of Florida-strain bass stocked there by the state.
Here’s the latest Arbuckles big-bass news from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation:
If not for the two that got away, tournament anglers Marco Vaca and Doyle Idleman might possibly have weighed-in a five-bass stringer of nearly 50 pounds. As it turned out, their 42.71-pound sack on March 23 at Lake of the Arbuckles was enough to win the Future Bass Team Trail's first 2014 divisional contest, Trail director Joe Copeland said.
The giant stringer also eclipsed Arbuckle's heavy-sack record: 42.04 pounds caught by former Elite Series angler Jeff Reynolds and Johnny Thompson in January 2013.
For the past several years, Lake of the Arbuckles in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area has been giving up lunker largemouth bass. Vaca and Idleman's largest fish bent the scale at 10.93 pounds, but even that did not win the biggest-bass honor at the tournament! The second-place team of Terry Alsup and Brad Hill had the day's big bass at 11.69 pounds, with a five-fish stringer totaling 34.16 pounds.
Six bass at the tournament weigh-in went more than 10 pounds. And only 14 boats were entered.
"I've been fishing tournaments for 30 years in Oklahoma, and I've never seen anything like it," Copeland said of the south-central Oklahoma lake. "With what's coming out of it now, there's no doubt a state record is in there."
Vaca, 33, said he did not begin bass fishing until 2009. Still, he said he's reeled in "a bunch of 10-pounders" during his brief fishing career. "That lake there has been really good to me," the Lone Grove angler said.
Vaca said the water temperature at Arbuckle was 49 degrees, and most of his team's bass were caught in the morning. The two biggest fish were in the live well within 45 minutes after the tournament started. He said they were hitting crankbaits and Alabama rigs in about 15 to 20 feet of water.
Mid-March has proved to be a great time to catch big bass in Oklahoma, as the fish are laden with eggs and preparing to spawn in the next few weeks. The last two state record largemouth bass were caught in March 2013 and March 2012.
Copeland said it's just nature. "As the fish prepare to spawn, they are going to eat everything and fatten up. And that Alabama rig, they just can't resist it," he said.
With few exceptions, Oklahoma's biggest bass are being caught in southern Oklahoma waters, where the Wildlife Department has concentrated its efforts to grow trophy bass through its Florida bass stocking program.
In the right habitat conditions, Florida bass have proved to grow larger faster than the native northern largemouth bass that is prevalent in the state. But Florida bass survival has proved problematic north of Interstate 40, mainly because of colder winter conditions compared with what is seen in southern Oklahoma.
Three teams at the March 23 Arbuckles tournament weighed in more than 30 pounds of fish. The event's third-place team of Bill Chapman and Johnny Owens brought in five bass totaling 32 pounds.
Vaca tipped his hat to the other teams for their remarkable efforts. "If I had 30 pounds of fish in the livewell, I would not think I was going to get beat!" But on Lake of the Arbuckles, recent bass tournaments have proved to be real heavyweight bouts.
The lake near Sulphur is part of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, which is operated by the U.S. National Park Service. The Wildlife Department has periodically stocked the lake with Florida bass fingerlings for many years.
Lake of the Arbuckles has a daily limit of six largemouth or smallmouth bass combined, and all largemouth and smallmouth bass from 13 to 16 inches long must be returned to the water immediately.