A hungry bass rewarded Ken Murphy quickly, smashing his frog as he worked the pads and grass on an old minnow pond dam in Okatibbee Lake. He had pulled only the one rod from his rod locker, and the custom-made swimming frog tied to it produced the first strike of the day.
Murphy admired the bass after boating it and quickly slipped it back into the water to hopefully catch and fight another day.
Our Day on the Lake Series took a detour to Okatibbee Lake near Collinsville after a couple months of floods and tornadoes had ravaged the state and canceled other trips. Nothing was a given on our day with Murphy either, as the bass seemed to be in a flux with anglers reporting lower than normal catches and weights recently. Yet, he was confident because of the lake’s vegetation.
“The water was several feet higher than this earlier this year and we couldn’t even fish the pre-spawn here like we usually do,” said Murphy. “It’s finally getting back down to normal but it’s going to take the grass a while to catch back up.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is that the grass and vegetation have revitalized this lake and the bass fishing. After the prolonged drought we had a few years ago, willows, grass and all types of pads and vegetation grew and changed the lake. We had a lake with little to no grass or structure and the shad, baitfish and small bass had nowhere to hide and nothing to eat. When the grass sprouted up the shad population exploded and the bass population flourished too.”
The results on bass fishing were and still are amazing.
“The bass got so healthy and the fishing so good that it’s been hard to win a 5- fish tournament on this lake with less than 20 pounds,” Murphy said. “If you don’t have 20 pounds then you’re not likely to win a tournament on this lake now.”
Murphy, a shallow water grass expert, honed his skills around the country while tangling with some of the best bass anglers in the nation and learned more than a few things in the process. The talented angler is tough to beat on any tournament on Okatibbee Lake and he agreed to spend a day on the lake with us after being away from the lake for six weeks.
Covington Minnow Ponds: Our first stop was the old submerged minnow ponds once owned by the Covington family. The minnow pond area is located on the eastern side of the lake near Pine Springs Road. Although the area has long been a productive area for white perch, the fresh greenery it has turned it into a haven for bass and bass anglers.
“If you can catch the shad spawning in this area, you can really catch some bass,” Murphy said. And catch bass we did as Murphy slammed the hook into another hungry bass.
“It all looks the same right now, but if you can find an area that holds the shad, then you can be sure that the bass will be nearby,” Murphy said. “You just have to find something to entice them into striking.”
It didn’t take long to see that Murphy was dialed in on the right lure as he was really catching the bass. The frog was magic.
“I like to use this frog in grass and pads when the bass aren’t real active,” he said. “This one has some specially designed feet that hold the frog back a little, letting you reel it a bit slower than some of the other swimming frogs on the market today.”
Murphy worked the frog near every patch of grass he could find. Though the area was chock full of weeds, grass and pads along the pond dams, Murphy seemed to have ESP when determining where the bass would be positioned.
While working the frog along the edge of a grass line, another bass smashed it and Murphy quickly set the hook and wore the bass down enough to bring him into the boat.
As we worked our way through the ponds the water got progressively clearer and the shad seemed to be thicker.
“It’s amazing how this grass filters the water,” Murphy said. “It’s a lot clearer back here than where we started.”
It was noticeably clearer. The bass were in the area, but the topwater bite wasn’t quite as strong has he’d hoped in the clear water.
That was about to change, as he decided to take his frog elsewhere.
Sandy beach: Murphy decided to try another spot by an old abandoned swimming beach near the waterslide and old marina.
“I’ve never done really well along this bank during the spawn, but there should be some bass in here where the old sandy beach was,” Murphy said. “There should be some bass up in here now with the sandy bottom, and plenty of grass to hold the shad too.”
Wham! This time a bass struck my floating frog hard, and my first bass of the day on a frog was soon at the boat, unhooked and released.
A few seconds later, Murphy bowed up on another bass.
Then another fish slapped the surface near the boat, getting Murphy’s attention and it made him happy.
“That was a big shad,” he said. “The frog bite should be on with the shad spawning up in here.”
Indeed, the bite was hot. Bass were now striking shad on the surface and we in turn were whacking the bass.
Murphy worked the swimming frog around every piece of greenery he could find while enticing strikes and catching bass. I was following up with a slightly different frog and technique, and the bass liked it, too. After catching a couple more bass within sight of the waterslide, it was time to move on. Murphy had his sights set on bigger fish
“We’re going to try another area and hopefully catch a lunker today,” he said. Murphy.
Our tally at this point included 13 keeper bass with all but one on frogs. The lone Senko bite had come on one of my first casts of the morning.
Gin Creek Flats: Murphy motored back to the main lake and turned north and ran until he got to the Gin Creek area on the northwest side of the lake.
“I can’t believe how little grass and pads are in here this year,” he said. “The flood really did a number on the grass, but I’m glad to see some of it coming back. I was worried the hard freeze this past winter and the prolonged flood waters might kill the grass, but it’s coming back.”
The bass were coming back, too, evidenced by smacking the surface while hunting for an easy meal. Murphy was just the one to give it to them. The expert continued on until he found a likely looking spot and we started working our frogs.
Wham … Bam! Another hungry bass struck hard but missed my frog, and then promptly came back and leaped out of the water and smashed it hard. I drove the hook home and the bass erupted with a fury and buried back down into the grass. I held him tight until Murphy maneuvered the boat into position where we could land and released the fish.
We’d only gone a short distance when another ravenous bass smacked the surface and dined on my frog. This time I whipped the rod back and jerked the bass out of the salad patch and worked him back to the boat. This bass was fat and healthy and pushed 3½ pounds, a great tournament bass but still not what we were looking for.
“I knew there had to be some quality fish up in here where the shad are spawning,” Murphy said, and, again he was right on the money.
A few minutes later Murphy drew blood again and socked it to another nice bass. Seconds later that bass posed for a couple of pictures in the boat before Murphy released it.
Gin Creek: After working the shoreline and grass flats, Murphy moved to the Gin Creek channel and worked the weeds and pads alongside the creek itself and the bass were really getting active. Murphy would spot a swirl and cast his frog past it and try to swim it over the bass’ hideout.
The bass were hammering his frog and Murphy was stroking them big time.
By now we were working the area over pretty good with Murphy’s swimming frog and my floating frogs. Murphy would catch one and I’d follow up with another one.
The action was hot and heavy and provided us with some of the best frog fishing we’d ever had on any lake. Oddly, we only saw a few other boats on the lake and most people were skiing, swimming or tubing. We had the bass practically to ourselves and it was fun.
“Man we’re really whacking and stacking them now,” Murphy said, just as he nailed another one. Almost instantly another bass smashed my frog and it was on.
“If you’d told me a few years ago that we’d be waxing them on frogs on Okatibbee, I would’ve never believed it,” Murphy said. “But this is a frog lake now, no longer a ledge lake.”
It was easy to understand where he was coming from, as the lake was a poor bass producer prior to the explosion of greenery in the lake.
While the bass were still biting, Murphy decided to move again and try the scattered pad fields above the road to search for bigger bites. It was a move that would prove timely and show his bass ESP was still spot on.
House Creek Lily Pad Flats: Murphy showered down on the gas and his Ranger boat popped up on plane and he headed north stopping at the bridge to idle through before running on to the islands and the pad fields covering the shallow flats.
“If the shad are still spawning up here it should be good this afternoon,” Murphy said. “We may even get a big bite. Murphy stopped at the first pad field on the west side of the upper lake near the island and started fishing.
Wham, another bass bit his frog and the bite continued just as the talented angler had suspected. Murphy was dialed in, making the right moves at the right times.
“You’ve got to be able to make quick decisions in practice and on tournament days if you hope to consistently find and catch bass,” Murphy said. “And that little bit of extra attention to the details around you and what the bass are doing may mean the difference between a fantastic day on the water, or just an average, or poor day.”
The bass were fired up now, perhaps in a feeding frenzy due to the recent case of lockjaw caused but a late cold front that put a chill in the air. Murphy was spot on, choosing the correct lure at just the right time and was throwing that frog in just the right locations.
Murphy is on the water enough to recognize the conditions on a given lake even when he hasn’t fished it in quite a while. Give him about two or three hours and he’ll find out what pattern the bass are on and take what the lake and weather conditions give him. He’s done it effectively time and again.
Early in the spring, Murphy faced almost record high water levels at the lake due to flooding that put the water level about 6 feet higher than where it had been the same time last year. Murphy promptly drew on his knowledge of the lake and checked out a few places that he suspected the bass would be in a tournament.
The result of his knowledge and intuition was another 5-fish limit of bass weighing nearly 24 pounds, producing a big win under brutal conditions.
Though we weren’t quite there yet, we were pushing 20 pounds when we got to our last stop, a lily pad flat near the island above the road.
Sunset Bass: During hot weather, the bass should be active at dawn and dusk and today was no exception as the baitfish and bass turned on and the action was red-hot. We had caught and released 21 keeper bass when we reached our last spot and were looking for that kicker bass. Murphy didn’t waste any time as he enticed another bass into biting his toad. He made quick work of the bass, released him and started casting again.
A few minutes later another quality 3-pounder slammed into my shad colored frog and dove for the salad patch. I quickly set the hook and nailed the bass as it bore down into the greenery. Murphy quickly moved the boat over and grabbed the fish, as I held him tight with the help of my Trilene braid.
Ka-Pow! Another bass exploded through the water surface and sucked in my frog with such ferocity that water and pads shot up into the air and it sounded as if someone had fired a rifle. I drove the hook home and the enraged bass busted through the pads and tail walked across the water before being subdued. My best bass came on our final stop and my day was complete.
A few minutes later Murphy suddenly reared back and drilled a bass that came unglued and wallowed like a wild hog in a mud hole. As soon as he hit that old sow with the steel, she exploded through the salad patch and continued a series of acrobatic jumps, one after the other.
“Did you see that bass?” asked Murphy. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one jump and splash the surface over and over like that one did.”
Murphy had truly saved the best for last and we’d both caught lunker bass at sunset on a lake reborn with moss, grass and lily pads.
Our total for the day was 25 keeper bass, with 24 on frogs.
The new, greener Okatibbee Lake is worth a visit if you want to feel the thrill in the salad patches and lily pad fields while feeding bass a steady diet of soft plastic frogs.