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Ryan Wasser of Pocasset was fishing March 31 at Lake Lawtonka in preparation for an upcoming local tournament when he hooked a fish that he knew was special.
"The fish came to the top where I could see it, and I knew that I had a potential record type smallmouth on," he said.
And a record smallmouth it was. At 8 lbs. 7 oz., the fish outweighs the previous record smallmouth by four ounces.
Wasser caught the bass on a ¼ oz. shakyhead lure from Flatlands Custom Tackle rigged with a finesse worm and 10-lb. test line. He was using a Shimano reel on an Abu Garcia rod. The fish measured 23 1/8 inches in length and 18 inches in girth.
"I was fishing in less than five feet of water when the bass bit," Wasser said.
He said the drag on his reel was too loose at first and that he had to slowly adjust it to gain on the fish.
Wasser was fishing with his mother and his six-year-old son when the fish hit.
"He was just as amazed as I was," Wasser said of his son's reaction to the fish. "He hasn't seen many smallmouth, and none of us have seen one even close to that big."
And most Oklahoma smallmouth anglers won't.
"Definitely more than a dream-come-true experience that none of us will ever forget," Waser said.
The fish's weight was certified by Ryan Ryswyk, southwest region fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. According to Ryswyk, the bass caught by Wasser and the state record largemouth caught March 23 are just two examples of why now is a great time to be fishing in Oklahoma.
"This is a great time of year to be out on the water. The fish are biting and the weather has been beautiful," said Ryswyk. "Two new bass records have been set in the past few weeks, but don't forget about the crappie and saugeye action that is heating up as well. You can catch fish even without a boat. Bank fishing, float tubing, or wading shallow water are other good options for people who don't own a boat. With many reservoirs, ponds, rivers, and creeks within our state, Oklahomans shouldn't be too far from a fishing spot in any part of the state."
According to Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department, Lake Lawtonka was one of the first lakes in the state to be stocked with "Tennessee strain" smallmouth bass, which grow larger and are seemingly more adaptable to large lake environments than the state's native strain of smallmouth bass that inhabit the many Ozark and Ouachita streams and rivers of eastern Oklahoma.
"An 8-lb. smallmouth is huge anywhere in the country," Gilliland said.
In addition to Lawtonka, Oklahoma is home to several outstanding smallmouth fisheries including Eufaula, Texoma, Skiatook and Broken Bow lakes.
In manmade lakes, smallmouth seek clear, clean water usually with a rocky substrate. Weedy areas along the shoreline, flats off channels and shelves are all good areas to find smallmouth. In streams, smallmouth anglers should look for riffles, pools and the shallows above rapids. Food sources include crayfish, small fish, insects, worms, frogs and tadpoles.
Currently all but one of the Oklahoma state record black bass in the books - which include smallmouth, largemouth, spotted and hybrid black bass - have been caught during the month of March.
The three main species are similar, but can be easily identified. The most objective way to tell them species apart is by the relationship of the eye and the mouth hinge. On a smallmouth bass, the mouth hinge vertically lines up in front of the back edge of the eye, whereas on a largemouth bass the mouth hinge vertically lines up behind the back edge of the eye. The mouth hinge on a spotted bass lines up vertically with the back edge of the eye. Coloration is also a good indicator of species but can be unreliable because water clarity can vary from lake to lake.
Anglers who believe they may have hooked a record fish must weigh the fish on an Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture certified scale, and a Wildlife Department employee must verify the weight. For a complete list of record fish and the procedures for certifying a state record, consult the current "Oklahoma Fishing Guide" or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
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