Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees

This is the first time I’ve ever written about my time on Grand Lake in Oklahoma, but the lake was a big influence on me when it came to the outdoors and fishing. I can only guess that my dad must have had a profound love for Grand Lake, judging from all of our visits when I was a kid growing up. Later in life, he and my stepmother owned a home at the lake for over 20 years before moving to Texas. I wasn’t much older than 6-7 when I can first recall weekend trips and fishing the lake. Back then we would fish for catfish from the bank at our campsite when we weren’t out on the lake trolling for white bass with Roostertail’s. My dad had a cab-over Cameo camper on top of the bed of his pick-up truck and we would spend a lot of weekends on the lake during the summer months. It wasn’t much more than a 2-hour drive from the house to the campsite and usually my dad’s friends Gene and Charlotte would bring their camper with Gene’s aluminum boat in tow, and they would camp with us. Hanging out at the campsite and fishing around the shoreline would occupy my time during the day but the real fun was going out in Gene’s boat and trolling for white bass, usually in the mornings before the lake traffic and pleasure boater came out in full force. Trolling was usually good during the summer months and catching white bass was a fond memory I have of the lake. When we trolled, we would use a couple of Zebco rods with Zebco 33 reels, one protruding out of the gunnel at a 90-degree angle on each side of the boat, and each towing a Mepps type rooster tail, white with black dots. It had to be white with black dots. To this day, if I see a Roostertail that is white with black dots, my mind immediately goes back to Grand Lake in my younger years. Basically, we just put the motor at idle and moved around different areas of the lake until we ran across white bass and started catching them. We would concentrate on the areas we were having the best luck and using nothing but dead reckoning and reading shoreline to stay around the schools of white bass once they were found. In the mid to late 60’s there wasn’t a whole lot of electronics and depth finders were usually the anchor or dropping a weighed bait over the side to see how close we were to the bottom. Sometimes we would camp at the State Park on the lake and sometimes we would stay at the cabins at a place called “Blue Bluff Heights” (which is no longer there) or a place called “Blue Bluff Habor”, (which is still there from what I understand).

Staying at Blue Bluff Heights was pretty interesting as a kid. The owner was a Native American artist who not only ran the business, but also was a very talented painter and painted western type canvas art. He sold his paintings from time to time, and I can remember us buying a couple of the big paintings from the owner/artist. The most interesting part about staying at Blue Bluff Heights is the fact that it was at the top of a huge rock bluff at the lake and the drop had to be more than 60 feet. There was an elevator shaft from the top of the rock bluff down to a crappie house, and that’s what my dad and stepmother Kay liked to do when we didn’t camp at the park. We would stay at the cabins and crappie fish from the crappie house for the weekend. We would usually bring back a haul of crappie and throwing a fish fry was pretty common in our household. I don’t have any pictures of Blue Bluff Heights because it is long gone and the old owner that we became friends with died when he was struck by a winch and fell from the bluff and drown. It was a tragic ending for a great man a personal friend to our family. I can remember riding in that old rickety elevator down to the crappie house and you would have to stop the elevator manually before you got to the water or you would wind up with wet feet. It was an experience to get to the crappie house but once you got to the crappie house it was pretty cool. If you’ve never seen one, here’s a picture of the inside of a crappie house at Blue Bluff Harbor which was exactly like the one at Blue Bluff Heights. You can barely see a fisherman on the left edge of the picture. At times, when there was a good bite, there would be a few dozen anglers in the house fishing at once.

Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, for $10 per person you could sit inside the crappie house and fish all day. You could get 2-3 dozen minnows for another $10 and for a total of $20 you could bring home a pretty good mess of crappie if you knew what you were doing. It was heated in the winter and a window air conditioner ran during the summer, so it was pretty nice inside the floating house. There were two large square openings with seating all the way around the openings into the water. The depth of the water was around 20 feet and brush piles were stacked and added to regularly under the floating house. Some brush was on the bottom and some brush hung suspended from the crappie house. With all the brush and a great population of crappie on Grand Lake, the crappie houses were always a good place to fish. You just bought a few dozen minnows or just used crappie jigs and made a day of it. I can remember sitting in those seats for hours with my eyes glued on my rod tip waiting for it to bounce. It was always pretty comical to watch the older people catch crappie because they would somehow become youthful and giddy catching the fish. It was pretty close quarters inside the crappie houses, and you usually got to know the people around you during the course of the day. There we no secrets inside the crappie house and if one color or bait was working better than another, everyone knew it right away. There was always a certain smell inside the crappie house and it’s a smell very similar to the smell of bait or shad out on our own lake. I can only imagine the amount of bait around the brush piles below the crappie house and the fish eating the bait. I liked to go outside the crappie house and fish the exterior from time to time. You could either crappie fish or catfish from the outside and there was some bench seating around the outside for you to sit and fish from. Usually, I would take my old Zebco 202 and wrap a dough ball of catfish bait around a treble hook and fish the bottom for channel catfish to add to the crappie collection. Most folks kept their catch in fish baskets that were hung from the posts that surrounded the openings inside the house. I can remember watching as folks pulled their baskets up to put in a recent catch and the number of fish in the baskets was a good way to determine whether or not the fish were biting. It was always pretty cool for me to catch crappie as a kid inside the crappie houses and sometimes my grandparents would be there to join us for the fun. By the time I was 10-11 my dad and Kay bought a cabin on the Neosho River, and we went from camping and fishing at Grand Lake to setting trot lines and limb lines on the river just about every weekend.

There was a pause in my visits to Grand Lake in the early 70’s but in 1980 I took a job at a local grocery store in Miami, Ok. which was just a couple miles from the lake. I lived with a workmate in Miami and my roommate, and I met 2 sisters that were our age and their parent’s owned a very nice lake house. Their dad had a very successful dental practice, and they spent the school year at their home in Kansas City, but they spent their summers at the lake. We became good friends with the sisters and for one summer we stayed with them at the lake house and we water skied with their family boat in our off time from working at the grocery store. It was a fun summer and a summer I’ll never forget but a year later I joined the Navy and left the area for my new career in the Navy.

In the meantime, my dad and Clyde bought a little mobile home in a little lake community at Grand Lake and the lake was a short walk from their mobile home. They used it as a weekender from their main home in Tulsa, Ok. and when I came home on leave from the Navy my dad would take off work and we would stay at the lake and fish. There were times I would plan my leave from the Navy to coincide with the crappie spawn on the lake. My dad and Clyde lived just off the shores of Horse Creek and during the crappie spawn we would take their aluminum v hull up the creek to look for productive blowdowns where the crappie would spawn. It wasn’t uncommon for us to catch 30+ crappie in a trip and we tried to have a family get together and fish fry when I came home for leave in the spring. Once my dad retired from his job in Tulsa, they moved to the lake full time and replaced their old mobile home with a nice doublewide mobile home. I spent quite a few years visiting them and fishing on the lake while they lived there. My dad bought a very nice bass boat, and he tried his hand at bass fishing the lake for a few years, but it was tough for him, so he gravitated back to crappie fishing and he and Clyde used his bass boat for crappie tournament fishing before selling it when they started spending their winters in south Texas. I bought my dad’s aluminum v-bottom boat in the early 90’s and they sold their place at Grand Lake in the late 90’s, moving full time to south Texas. It probably been 30 years since I last fished Grand Lake and I may never fish it again in my lifetime, but I’ll never forget fishing the shores of the lake or trolling for white bass as a youngster on Grand Lake.


Laissez les bons temps rouler Pt 2

Laissez les bons temps rouler Pt 2

It’s been a minute since I wrote my last report from here at Cast Away Cove and a lot has happened during that minute. Since my last report our cat got clogged up with cat treats and had to endure a few enemas and some cat hospital time to get that straightened out. She’s doing great now, and by the way, I’d like to thank everyone for the thoughts and prayers. Big Sis is our rescue cat and follows me around everywhere like my sidekick so she’s pretty special.

I was pretty relieved to see Sis getting better because a week ago myself and 5 others from our Thursday night taco group embarked on a journey south to my old stomping grounds, the Louisiana marsh. We left last Thursday morning and arrived at our destination, the Venice Lodge, around mid-afternoon. We had to stop for a late lunch at Salvo’s Seafood in Belle Chase and this year I noticed that Salvo’s wasn’t as crowded as normal, and it got me to wondering what was going on. I later learned that the oil business down there was slowing some and business wasn’t as good as it would normally be in that area. For the rest of the drive down highway 23 I wondered what would become of this area if there was major cutback in the oil business down there due to moving away from fossil fuels and tougher restrictions on the fishing industry. What would the landscape look like then?

We arrived safely at the lodge around mid-afternoon and LJ led the way into the kitchen where our cook was hanging out and waiting on our arrival. Right away LJ made our cooks comfortable with our group and had them laughing within the first minute or two of our arrival. The 6 of us chatted with our new cook and her helper for a few minutes and then we found our bunks that were two to a room. We had some down time before dinner so we kicked back and played a little pool and chatted with one of our guides about what we would be doing in the marsh.

It’s always a crap shoot with the weather down there but we hit a nice little weather pattern for some good fishing, so we split up into groups of two in a boat and last Friday morning we set out for our first of 2 fishing days in the marsh. I fished with Jimmy S., LJ was with Morgan with Scott and Tom in the 3rd boat. I saw there were coastal flood warnings for the area and our guide Chris told us that Venice marina had some minor flooding the day before. The Mississippi river was very high from the spring runoff and the tide was very active which meant the redfish would be way up in the grass during the high tide. On Friday we happen to hit it just right and the tide was moving out early in the morning. The first stop that Jimmy and I hit, I caught a nice keeper red on a popping cork on the edge of the marsh cane on the first cast. There was a little open area surrounded by cane and it produced 9 redfish for Jimmy and I before letting another guide from the lodge and his crew have the area. We later heard that they caught 13 more reds out of that hole. I guessed that there was an oyster bed there in that open area to hold so many redfish like that. We moved on and I told our guide Chris about Lisa’s first bull redfish coming from the rock jetty at the southwest pass of the Mississippi. One of the reasons I told him that is because I knew we were somewhat close to it so Chris decided that we would take a ride out to the pass and see if we could find a nice bull red to add to our collection. The water was very muddy at the pass and we were in some steady rollers fishing right off the jetty, so we bailed on the southwest pass. There were no bulls to be had but I did snap one picture of a tanker coming into the mouth of the river as we were heading back into the marsh from the SW pass to finish our limit.

It didn’t take long before Jimmy and I finished our limit of 5 reds apiece and shortly after lunch we called it a day. When we pulled back into the Venice marina, and while our guide loaded the boat, Jimmy and I walked over to the cleaning station to look at some of the yellowfin tuna that were brought in for the day. It reminded me of a few tuna trips from years past. Tuna trips are fun, but you need to be prepared for the amount of tuna you could possibly bring back home. I prefer my tuna prepared fresh and I think it is somewhat of an injustice to freeze tuna and eat it later. I believe it just doesn’t ever taste the same as it did when it was fresh. Here’s a few pictures from my last tuna trip. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and the Saints won the Super Bowl that evening. My son Derek and I watched it down in Venice that year. I actually wrote a story about my last tuna trip to Venice.

Here’s a link:

We met up with the other guys back at the Venice Lodge and we compared notes on how everyone’s day went. LJ and Morgan caught over 40 speckled trout as well as limiting on redfish. Tom and Scott limited on redfish and Scott caught the biggest bull redfish for the trip at 32 inches. They limited out of redfish as well. Back at the lodge we relaxed before dinner and talked with the guides about our day and plans for the next day. On Saturday we had a little overnight rain, but we had about a 5-hour window to limit out again before some storms rolled into the area. Once again everyone limited on redfish on day two, and we had a mix of speckled trout, sheepshead and black drum with the redfish limits. We kicked back for the rest of the day on Saturday and Sunday morning the cook came in and made us breakfast before we departed for home. We had a lot of filets in the cooler and the accommodations at the Venice Lodge were top notch. If you want to dip your toes in the Louisiana marsh and red fishing, make it easy for yourself and stay at the Venice Lodge. They take care of everything for you from the time you show up till the time you leave.

The ride back was uneventful, and it takes about 9-10 hours from door to door from my house. We all got quite a few pounds of fish filets out of the trip and I was able to restock my seafood freezer for the next year. We’ve already had redfish twice since I got back, and it was delicious. If you check the recipe section of my blog you can find some of my favorite Louisiana cuisine the way I like to prepare it. Here’s a couple of redfish dishes from this week.

So, it was back to Lanier this week and I did get a chance to fish a few days. I usually just fished from early morning till lunchtime and ended my days of fishing this week shortly after noon. I threw a lot of baits to start the week, but I already had an idea of what I would be using. If you watch the wildlife around the lake, you can figure out a lot and one important thing, I noticed this week was the presence of Great Blue Herons wading the shorelines. For the last few months most of our Heron population has been hanging out around blowdowns and overhanging branches just waiting for an opportunity for a meal to swim by. This time of year, when the shad start to spawn along the shoreline the Heron becomes a more aggressive predator and starts standing and wading knee deep looking for shallow shade around the shore. When I see this I like to start throwing the shad stuff. My little 1.5 Shad crank shines this time of year but to be honest, just about any medium diving crankbait in a shade pattern will work. It is not entirely necessary for the crankbait to make contact with the bottom and I don’t think my crankbait touches the bottom once this week. My little shad crank dives to 8-9 feet in depth and I almost always made casts that started at 8-9 in depth. The fish were usually suspended and just below the depth that the crankbait was running so it was as simple as a cast and steady retrieve to get bit on the crankbait. The crankbait bite was pretty forgiving, and I had success over and around brush in deeper water this week. The second bait I used this week with a lot of success was the little SpotSticker Mini-Me spinnerbait. It’s spring and these fish are aggressive around the bank, especially as we near the shad spawn. These shallow bass will move on anything, and I caught some good ones this week once the wind kicked up around lunchtime. My biggest fish this week was caught over a brushpile on the end of a point is 22 feet of water. She passed on a topwater bait, a fluke and a swimbait but slammed the spinnerbait out in the wind.

On Thursday morning I took our pastor out for a morning of fishing and we had lunch at the marina. At one point in the morning my pastor asked how I knew what baits to use, and I told him about my gut pile on the floorboard of the boat just 24 hours earlier. The fact is that there were no less than 15-20 baits lying on the floorboard a day earlier and that was the ones that didn’t work. We were using the two baits that worked the best during my week. We were down to the shad crank and the spinnerbait for the week and that’s pretty much all I used. I caught fish on both all week and I think the two baits are a good choice right now. Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of baits that will work right now because the fish are aggressive and in every stage of spawning. One of our fish on Thursday spawned on my hand as well as the floorboard of my boat so there are a lot of aggressive shallow fish as the water warms. Topwater is coming into play and only going to get better in the coming weeks and there are a variety of moving bait that will work. Lisa caught most of her fish this week on an underspin and little swimbait with mine being caught on the 3/4 ounce Mini-Me and a medium diving shad pattern bait. The water temps are in the mid to upper 60’s right now around the creek and the lake is just above full pool. It looks like the corps has been generating about 12 hours a day so there is some water moving through the lake right now. It’s just about time to get those flukes, hard swimmers and topwater ready because there’s a lot of hungry fish on Lanier right now. Here’s some pictures from my week on the lake and while I’m at it, I want to give a shout out about the little BBQ place at Bald Ridge Marine. My pastor and I had lunch there after fishing in the morning and it was great food and a nice day to sit out on the outdoor area. We just parked at the courtesy dock and walked up for lunch.

From Staging to Structure

I think it’s safe to say that spring has arrived. Along with that I’ve been seeing the signs I usually see in late March to early April. Probably one of the biggest signs is the Loons that are grouping up and getting ready for their long journey north. If you’ve been around the lake much you’ve probably seen a few flying around here and there, exercising their wings, or maybe you’ve seen a very large group of Loons swimming around out on the main lake, staging for departure. Soon they will all be gone until late October when they come back to make Lanier their winter home again. On Thursday I saw another familiar group of birds passing through when I was fishing out by the dam. I saw a large flock of white Pelicans moving around and more than likely just resting overnight during their long journey back up north along with the loons. I remember a group coming through in late October of last year on their way south and I wondered if it was the same bunch on their way back up north. Last but not least, it’s just about time for our resident seagull population to end their suckling from the prosperous Loons and head back to the Walmart parking lot where they can feed on little Johnny’s discarded French fries and pizza crusts. Ahhhhh, spring is in the air in the south…along with copious amounts of pollen to clog my nostrils.

It seems like every March, fishing is different and looking through my history for March, I’ve used quite a few baits over the years, but this year was a little different. Basically, I only used one bait all month to catch about 99% of my fish and for the last 2 weeks I only used one color to get it done. I gained a ton of confidence in the bait and when Lisa and her partner fished the ‘All Ladies’ tournament last Saturday, the bait accounted for all of our fish and the win in the tournament. It also accounted for Lisa’s 4.5lber to win the big fish pot. I told Lisa that if we could keep that bait in the water, there’s a good chance we could do well, so she threw it all day and pulled out the 5 fish we needed to win. The key to our win was structure and structure should be the primary focus when the fish move from the staging areas to spawn.

For spotted bass, spawning is just a little different and sometimes it can be just a bit more forgiving for us fishermen. The fact is that there is a lot of spotted bass in our lake and spawning can be just about anywhere, but the primary focus for this time of year goes from the secondary points to the nearby structure. When I say “structure”, I use that term pretty loosely because most of the structure we can’t see because of the deeper water where some spotted bass spawn. Since I choose not to sight or bed fish, I spend a lot of time throwing a fluke or a worm around structure such as blow downs and docks while keeping a little distance between the boat and the target area. Since my staging areas have all but dried up, I’ve had to change my strategy just a bit and go from the secondary points to making my casts around structure to get my bites.

Before getting into my week, first, I want to brag on my wife Lisa and our friend Tess fishing in the “All Ladies” tournament last Saturday sponsored by “4Her Outdoors Apparel” and “Fishing with Everyday Heroes”. It was post-front conditions and basically, we had 4-5 hours to get the right 5 fish for the tournament. I kinda knew the shaky head was going to be the deal since I had been finding some good ones with it for the past few weeks, it was just a matter of putting it in the right places. Tess worked from the back throwing the swimbait while Lisa was up front on the shaky head. Lisa has been fishing it a lot lately and she has the Midas touch when it comes to finesse. She generally out-fishes me with the soft baits so throwing the shaky head was right up her alley. It started out slow for us but I knew that the bite had been getting better as the day progressed and I wondered if we should have made the run down south to our creek and fished my more familiar holes but I decided that in order to keep baits in the water the longest we needed to limit our travel time. We decided to fish the Longhollow area since Lisa and I have a lot of history in the area. We focused on secondary points and rocky stuff to bang out a few 2-3lb keepers on the shaky head but we hit pay dirt when we decided to run a stretch of docks near the old Lantern Inn area. Lisa popped a 4.5lber and a 3.5lber off the docks when pretty much gave us the victory with 5 good keepers and around a 15lb sack. Everything came off the shaky head and the biggest came from the shade patches around docks. I’m very proud of the ladies and they fished hard for the win. Here’s a few pictures of Lisa and Tess at the weigh-in.

I fished just about every day this week and I mostly fished the creek. As the week progressed the secondary staging areas became more and more void of fish, and I could tell that they were making their move to the spawning areas and starting to relate to spawning structure rather than feeding areas. The docks and blowdowns were probably the most productive this week, but I could also still find a few on the rocks, especially if it was shelf-type rock or the big dark chunk rock. We had a lot of sunshine this week and along with that some of the docks I was running would have shady areas depending on how the sun aligned with the dock. If the roof of the dock cast a shadow on the water, there was likely to be a fish inside the shady area or the shade patch. That’s not to say that all of the fish were around the shade as some may have been hanging around the spud poles or under gangways but most were in the shade in the afternoons. Another productive cast I was making around the docks was casts into empty slips in the shade. That was a high percentage cast, especially around the deeper docks. My most productive docks for the bigger fish this week were the deeper docks and I believe some of the bigger spots were spawning around structure under and near the docks. Blow downs were another producer for me and yesterday I could just about count on at least one fish being around just about every blowdown I made a cast to. The deeper docks produced the bigger fish but the blowdowns contributed to the numbers this week.

I’ve cycled through a few different colors but the Big TRD from Z-Man has been my go-to bait this month and it’s probably accounted for a few hundred fish over the month including the win last weekend. I combined the worm with a 1/4 ounce Boss Outdoors shaky head and that seemed to be the best choice for a shaky head because of the keeper and the softer ElaZtech plastic. The key was to fish it slow around the structure. I just imagined the fish down there on the bottom looking at the bait for a while before eating it. I was dead sticking the bait in some of the shady areas and that seemed to work well for me. I feel like the moving baits are going to start being better producers for me soon and I even had a nice one blow up on a topwater bait this week which is a good sign. Right now, it’s still the slow stuff for me but who know what next week will bring. Here’s a picture of the winning combo and my March go-to bait.

Water temps are somewhere in the low 60’s and the corps is generating a few hours a day including this weekend. The lake is just above full pool and holding steady. Here’s a few pictures from my week. Lots and lots of smaller fish this week that didn’t make the picture page.