MAJOR LEAGUE FISHING

DRAGONFLY - RAYMARINE

THE ARBUCKLE EFFECT

Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 01/28/2013

Story and lake photos by Matt Pangrac - Photos courtesy of Backyard Bassin and Future Bass

Ardmore, OK – With the possible exception of Falcon Lake, there aren’t many fisheries in the country where a verified five bass limit surpassing the 40-pound mark in tournament competition doesn’t create a buzz.   When a limit weighing over 40-pounds is posted from the same fishery on back-to-back weekends in January, it’s worth talking about.   

Arbuckle Lake

Located in southern Oklahoma, Lake Of the Arbuckles is a 2,350 acre fishery that has been producing some giant weights.  On January 19th, former Elite Series angler Jeff Reynolds and his partner, Johnny Thompson, weighed-in a staggering 42.04-pound limit to win the Backyard Bassin No Entry Fee season opener held on Arbuckle. 

The tournament drew 40 teams.  Incredibly, Reynolds’ and Thompson’s 9.46-pound kicker was the fourth biggest bass weighed-in.  A 10.70-pound largemouth took big bass honors. 

Rodney Richards, Tournament Director for Backyard Bassin, said that the weigh-in was nothing like he’d ever seen before.  “There were 12 bass over eight-pounds, four or five nine-pounders, and two that broke the 10-pound mark,” he explained.  “On top of all that, there was a 6.54-pound smallmouth that was overlooked because of all the giant largemouth coming in. That smallmouth was even more incredible the big largemouth.” (To view the tournament results, CLICK HERE)

Richards, who has been involved in the tournament scene in Oklahoma for the better part of three decades, said that the massive weighs on Arbuckle weren’t solely the result of The Alabama Rig.  “I really think that The Alabama Rig is getting a little too much credit,” he stated.  “People are doing a lot of assuming.  The reality is that Reynolds and Thompson only weighed-in two fish that were caught on The A-Rig, but word spread like wildfire that it was all about The A-Rig. 

“There have been quite a few big fish caught on The Alabama Rig at Arbuckle since the rig became popular, but I don’t think that it has dominated the tournament scene.  Out of the 40 teams in the tournament, I’d say that at least 25 of them were throwing the Alabama Rig but it accounted for probably only four or five of the big fish weighed-in.  

Once the results from the January 19th tournament were posted, Richards said that the response was overwhelming.  The Backyard Bassin website that he runs (www.backyardbassin.net) jumped from getting less than 1,000 hits a day to nearly 20,000 hits in the days following the tournament.  “I’ve gotten calls from as far away as Ohio and Kansas just looking for information about the lake,” he said with a chuckle.  “It was even a topic of conversation at church on Sunday morning.” 

Marco Vaca and Doyle Idleman finished in a distant 2nd place with a limit weighing 28.42-pounds, but they made up for it the following Saturday, January 26th, in the Future Bass Team Trail Arbuckle/Murray Division tournament on Arbuckle.  Vaca and Idleman lapped the 16 boat field by bringing in the second 40+ pound limit in as many weeks on Arbuckle. 

With a total weight of 41.92-pounds, Vaca and Idleman outdistanced 2nd place by over 27-pounds. Like Reynolds and Thompson the week before, Vacca and Idleman broke the 40-pound mark without catching a 10-pounder.  (To view the tournament results, CLICK HERE). 

Vaca also serves as the Future Bass Tournament Director for the Arbuckle/Murray Division (www.futurebasstrails.com), and has fished Arbuckle since 2009.  “The wintertime bite has always been pretty consistent on Arbuckle, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” he stated.  “It’s not like everyone was just killing them, because we were the only team with a limit and we only had eight bites all day.

“The last couple of weeks have been an eye-opener,” Vaca continued.  “I know that the lake is capable of big weights, but I wasn’t expecting to see anything like this.  My partner and I felt pretty good with 28-pounds last week and we got beat by almost 15-pounds, so it was unbelievable to come back the following week and catch over 40-pounds.”       

Gene Gilliland, Assistant Chief of Fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said that the recent slew of big weights on Arbuckle isn’t an overnight phenomenon. “Historically, Arbuckle has not been a great bass fishery. In the 1990s, the wildlife department backed off on stocking Florida strain largemouth in Arbuckle because there was a period when the department didn’t have enough production from the hatchery to stock Florida bass in very many lakes in the state.”  

After the bugs were worked out of the hatchery program with Florida strain largemouth, Gilliland said that the wildlife department resumed regularly stocking Arbuckle and other Oklahoma lakes with Florida strain largemouth sometime around a decade ago.  

“Those fish have obviously matured,” he stated.  “The fish that we stocked and/or the offspring of those stocked fish are now turning into these trophy bass that are being caught on a pretty regular basis for about the past three years.”  

So why the sudden increase in giant largemouth at Arbuckle and not at other fisheries across the state where Florida strain largemouth have been stocked for the same amount if time?   

“There are two possible answers to that question,” said Gilliland.  “I can’t say which one is actually correct, but there’s probably a little bit of truth in both answers.  

“First of all, the ingredients that you need to produce trophy bass are present in Arbuckle right now,” Gilliland continued.  “You have good genetics from the stocking program, good habitat, and good forage.  Arbuckle has a very good survival rate of young bass because of the weed growth, and it’s also a deepwater lake where fish can live deep most of the year.  

“Catching those bigger fish gets pretty tough later in the year, so the bass have a chance to grow up.  I don’t think that many people realize how long it takes to produce an eight- to 10-pounder.”

Gilliland said that the other reason behind the number of big largemouth being caught at Arbuckle comes down to simple logic.   “On an ‘angler per acre’ level, Arbuckle gets hammered,” he said.  “The fishing pressure has increased dramatically over the past few years.  There may be just as many big bass in other lakes where we have stocked Florida bass on a regular basis like Sardis or Broken Bow, but those fisheries are much bigger.  McGee Creek isn’t much bigger than Arbuckle, but there’s a lot more inaccessible water at McGee Creek than there is at Arbuckle.  

“Arbuckle is close to the city of Ardmore and it’s only about an hour away from Oklahoma City.   When you have more anglers on a 2,300 acre fishery that is very accessible, the chances of someone catching a big fish generally go up.”

Gilliland said that while most of the media attention generated by Arbuckle has been focused on the tournament results, there’s also another angle to the story. “I really like seeing how Arbuckle has become quite a success story from a fisheries management perspective,” he concluded.