March is big bass month in Oklahoma.
Fifteen of the state’s top 20 largemouth bass were caught in March, the month when the female fish are fat and full of eggs.
Entering the hottest bass fishing month of the season, many bass fishermen will be traveling to a tiny lake in the Ouachita National Forest of eastern Oklahoma.
Will Cedar Lake in Le Flore County produce a state record for a third consecutive year?
Two years ago, Benny Williams Jr. of Poteau broke a 13-year-old record when he landed a 14 pound, 12.3 ounce giant from Cedar Lake in the Ouachita National Forest on March 23.
Then just 10 days short of one year later, Dale Miller of Panama bested that by catching a Cedar Lake largemouth that weighed 14 pounds and 13.7 ounces.
The beautiful 86-acre lake that was most popular for horseback riding and camping was suddenly a trophy bass destination.
“They’ve had a lot of (fishing) pressure the last two years,” Don Groom supervisor of southeast fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation said of Cedar Lake, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Groom won’t be surprised if an angler catches another state record from Cedar Lake this spring. He almost expects it.
The Florida strain of largemouth bass that have been stocked in the lake over the years are now old enough to be the size of fish that set state records, he said.
“We know the fish are there and they have had that much longer to eat,” Groom said. “We are nearing the top end of the lives of those fish, but we are still in that age class. I think it is a real good possibility of seeing another state record this year.”
Richard Standage, fisheries biologist for the U.S. Forest Service in Oklahoma and Arkansas, said last year’s state record was an 111/2-year-old bass.
Standage said that age class of fish probably has another two of three years to live, and he thinks Cedar Lake has the potential to produce a 15-pound and possibly even a 16-pound largemouth bass.
“We think that probably would be a record that would never be broken (in Oklahoma),” Standage said.
It wasn’t a surprise to state wildlife and U.S. Forest officials that Cedar Lake began breaking state records. They saw the fish getting bigger each spring in electrofishing survey.
Kyle James, the Wildlife Department’s fisheries biologist for southeast Oklahoma, transferred from the agency’s northeast Oklahoma region five years ago.
The first time he tagged along with Standage on an electrofishing survey of Cedar Lake they caught a 13-pounder. The fish wasn’t the only one shocked that day.
“I was shocked at the size,” James said. “We were hoping that wouId continue to get better, and it did.”
Because Cedar Lake is regularly producing trophy bass, the Wildlife Department now stocks the lake each year with young Florida bass.
“From here on, there is going to be a trophy class each year unless something catastrophic happens,” James said.
In addition to being stocked annually Florida bass, the U.S. Forest Service fertilizes and limes the lake to improve forage for fish, Standage said.
Because it is such a small lake, no motorboats larger than 71/2 horsepower are allowed.
Cedar Lake has only one boat ramp, but a bunch of anglers during the month of March who will be looking for the next state record.