For a slice of life in rural Oklahoma, check out one of the rattlesnakes festivals this month.
It’s something every true Okie should attend once in their life. It’s a part of Okie culture just like noodling for flathead catfish.
In fact, before Okie noodling grabbed worldwide attention, it was the rattlesnake hunts that first brought the national glare and protesters to outdoor Oklahoma.
The national media and the animal rights zealots seem to have lost interest in the rattlesnake roundups. Hardly anyone ever writes about them and protesters rarely show up.
Probably because these festivals have been going on for decades in Oklahoma and likely will for decades more.
This will be the 70th year for the Okeene Rattlesnake Roundup, the oldest of the organized rattlesnake hunts and festivals in the state.
There is a wildlife conservation issue surrounding rattlesnake hunting and the festivals. No animal, even rattlesnake, should be hunted to extinction.
I’m reminded of this every time I visit the Oklahoma City Zoo and see the sign in the Oklahoma wildlife exhibit that opposes the rattlesnake festivals in western Oklahoma for its needless slaughter.
Hey, I would agree to save the diamondbacks if there were proof the rattlesnakes were being hunted to near extinction. But year after year after year, snake hunters keep bringing hundreds of snakes to these festivals.
Find me someone around Mangum, Apache or Okeene or anyone in western Oklahoma who thinks the rattlesnake population is in danger. They have been killing snakes for decades and there never seems to be a shortage.
There is a rattlesnake hunting season in Oklahoma. It opens March 1 and ends June 30.
The first rattlesnake festival begins Friday at noon with the 48th annual “Fangtastic” Rattlesnake Hunt. The following weekend festivals take place in Apache and Waynoka.
That’s followed by Mangum’s rattlesnake event the last weekend in April, which features the largest flea market for rattlesnake good. I still carry a rattlesnake wallet that I bought six years ago there.
Okeene, the oldest event, is always the last, on the first weekend in May. All of the festivals are similar. They feature a carnival, a butcher shop where you can taste rattlesnake meat, flea market, a rattlesnake pit with a pit boss who lectures and entertains with snakes crawling around his boots. He occasionally gets fanged.
Snake buyers come to the festivals to bid on the rattlesnakes by the pound. The snakeskin will be used in wallets, belts, boots, saddles, etc.
Snake hunting is not for everyone of course. A snake hunter told me once that he hunts rattlesnakes because when he comes across a big diamondback, the adrenalin rush is like bungee jumping.
One good thing about being a rattlesnake hunter: Rarely are you denied permission to hunt.
The state Senate on Monday voted 37-9 in favor of HB 1464 which creates a black bear hunting license.
All that remains now is for Gov. Brad Henry to sign the bill and Oklahoma will have its first regulated black bear hunting season.
The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voted last week to set the hunting season beginning Oct. 1 for archery in Pushmataha, Le Flore, McCurtain and Latimer counties.
Two wildlife commissioners voted against it. One of them, Mac Maguire of Oklahoma City, is a huge Cubs fan, so perhaps he just can’t stand to see a bear killed. A Cubs fan should be used to such suffering though.
Seriously, Maguire and fellow Commissioner David Riggs don’t like the notion that bears would be primarily hunted as trophies and not as a food source . Well, there are hunters who go after deer mainly for their horns, but that doesn’t mean the meat is not used by somebody.
It’s given away to family or friends or donated to charity. Hopefully, the same thing will happen with bear hunting.
The commissioners also are worried that Oklahoma doesn’t have a sufficient population yet to support bear hunting.
Maguire said Arkansas had 4,000 bears before they opened a hunting season. Alan Peoples, director of the wildlife division for the state Wildlife Department, counters that Arkansas also kills 600 bears per year.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation only is going to allow 20 bears to be killed this fall. Once 20 have been killed, the season will be closed.
It will be the hunters’ responsibility to call each day to see if the season remains open.
No one really knows how many bears are in Oklahoma, but state wildlife officials say they know there are at least 500 in Le Flore County alone. How do they know this?
Oklahoma State University contracted with the state Wildlife Department to do a five-year study on black bears in southeastern Oklahoma.
As part of their research, “hair catching traps” were set up in Le Flore County. Bait was put out to lure the bears through to certain area. To get to the baits, the bears had to squeeze through a small space where they had to rub against these traps that would snatch some hairs.
Through DNA analysis of those hairs, OSU researchers determined they had hair from 500 different bears, Peoples said.
If there are 500 bears in one county alone, only allowing 20 to be taken by hunters each year is a very conservative approach.
Man, has there ever been a better pro bass angler from Oklahoma than Wagoner’s Tommy Biffle?
Let’s check his resume. Biffle has earned more than $2 million in bass fishing in his career that spans 24 years. He has finished second in the Bassmaster Classic twice and runner-up in the FLW championship three times.
He has qualified for the Bassmaster Classic 15 times. He has finished in the top 10 in BASS tourneys 43 times.
He now has won four BASS pro tournaments as a result of his victory over the weekend in the Elite Series event on Wheeler Lake, Ala.
Biffle won $100,000 – his first victory on the BASS Tour since 2006.
The 51-year-old angler found a secluded cove and caught more than 50 pounds of fish with his trademark flipping and pitching casts.
When the fish are shallow, never bet against Biffle.
Biffle found a secluded spot on Wheeler Lake without any other boat traffic and remained committed to it through the weather-shortened event.
Friday’s round was canceled due to unsafe river conditions and the river levels increased nearly 2 feet since the first competition day on Thursday.
Biffle, who bagged 14-13 on Sunday’s final day, said he was fishing in about 6 inches of water on the first day and the water was stained for the remainder of the event.
“I was more concerned that the river bottom was going to drop and my area would be dry and that was my biggest fear,” he said. “With the quality of the maps and GPS detail now you can find places that you could never find before. You know this is right up my alley as I don’t like to have others near. I was fortunate no one came in there.”
Oklahoma fishing fans can watch highlights of the tournament Saturday y at 8 a.m. on The Bassmasters, which airs on ESPN2.
Edwin Evers of Talala is Oklahoma’s hottest young bass pro. Ken Cook of Meers won the 1991 Bassmaster Classic, won six BASS events, qualified for the Bassmaster Classic 14 times and finished in the top 10 in BASS tournaments 34 times.
Biffle has never won a Bassmaster Classic, but he’s been the most successful Oklahoma angler ever in professional bass fishing. If he does ever win a Classic, there can be no question he is the best ever.
Several big bass have been caught this spring on Oklahoma lakes. Some anglers have released their lunkers back into the lakes or ponds. Others have not, donating them to Bass Pro or taking them to the taxidermist for mounting.
Every time someone catches and keeps a big largemouth, I always hear complaints about how that fish should have been released.
Frankly, I am a fence-sitter on this issue. I applaud anyone who practices catch and release on any species. It’s a good idea, most of the time. However, there are times when biologists want anglers to keep fish and get them out of lakes like the current situation with spotted bass in Oklahoma.
But I also have trouble criticizing someone who keeps a fish they are legally entitled to keep. That’s one reason why we have fisheries biologists: to set proper limits to ensure good fishing in the future.
Part of the problem is that if you catch a big bass that might be a state record – or now even a lake record – you have to find certified scales to get it weighed.
That decreases the odds that the fish can be released unharmed back into the water anyway. And you certainly can’t fault someone for wanting a record.
I had a conversation last spring with Gene Gilliland, senior fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, after Allen Gifford of Davis landed a largemouth bass from Arbuckle Lake that fell just three ounces shy of the state record.
Gifford kept the fish – 14 pounds, 8 ounces – and a couple of my friends lamented that it was not released back into the lake.
Gilliland, also is a bass fisherman and tournament angler, said when a black bass reaches that size in Oklahoma, it’s very old and nearing the end of its life expectancy.
Even if Gifford’s fish could have been released alive, it’s unlikely it would have been caught again before it died.
Gilliland also pointed out that Gifford’s fish had already spawned many times over the years and contributed its trophy genes to Arbuckle’s young bass.
It’s more important for bass anglers to release those 7-, 8- and 9-pounders they catch, for those fish are the ones that potentially can grow another 5, 6 and 7 pounds. The state record largemouth is 14 pounds, 11 ounces and it’s been the record for 10 years.
Maybe Oklahoma lakes just can’t grow black bass any bigger?
Me, I would be happy just to have to make a decision about keeping or releasing a double-digit bass . So far, it hasn’t been a burden.
Is there some old fishing adage about how big bass will bite on a day after a snowstorm?
I’m just wondering because at least three huge black bass were caught last Sunday after Oklahoma’s big snow. One by Kenny Davis of Oklahoma City at Lake Thunderbird, which is the topic of my prevous blog.
One by Oklahoma State University Bass Club member Orie Chambers at Dripping Springs near Okmulgee and another by Gerald Plaster of Enid at Sooner Lake near Perry.
Chambers’ fish officially weighed 10.5 pounds while Plaster’s came in at 9.9 pounds.
Chambers donated his fish to Bass Pro Shops in Broken Arrow. Plaster released his back into the lake.
All three fish caught Sunday have been certified by state wildlife officials as lake records.
Dripping Springs is an Okmulgee city lake that was once hot for big bass in the early ’80s but fell off because to many fish were being taken from it.
Chambers said 5 to 7 inches of snow had fell the day before at Dripping Springs but it was melting fast the the day he and his dad went fishing.
Chambers’ caught the lake record largemouth on a Berkley Chigger Craw using 14-pound test Trilene 100 per cent flourocarbon line.
“ It was really an unusual day to catch the quantity and quality of fish that we caught,” Chambers said. “My dad and I both really wanted to go fishing so we deciided to go despite the weather conditions and moon phase being against us.
“We arrived at the lake around 1 p.m. in the afternoon with the expectation of having an extremely tough day of fishing ahead of us which turned out not to be the case. Not 20 minutes after we get there I missed a nice fish and two casts later I catch a three pounder.
“My dad and I were amazed that I had two good fish within the first half-hour of fishing. We continued to fish the area and the next fish that I hooked was a catfish or so I thought. This fish was pulling hard and wouldn’t come off the bottom just like a catfish, right? Wrong. It was a 10.8-pound bass.
“When I saw that fish for the first time my heart started pounding and then she made a hard run straight for a tree which got my heart pounding even harder. I was doing everything I could to keep the fish from getting into that tree and breaking my line.
“I fought the fish for about another couple of minutes and she just gave up. Once we got the fish in the boat, the hook just falls out.”
Thunderbird Lake near Norman is not one you normally think of when the discussion is about the best trophy bass lakes in the state, but look what it coughed up Sunday.
Kenny Davis, an Oklahoma City police officer, was fishing in the “Fishing Frenzy” bass tournament at T-bird when he landed this near-11-pound beauty on a Strike King jig.
The largemouth, which officially weighed in at 10.8 pounds, already has been certified by state wildlife officials as the new Thunderbird Lake record.
This fish even has the state’s fishery biologists at Thunderbird Lake rethinking their management practices, which I will talk about more in my Sunday Outdoors column in The Oklahoman.
Davis and his tournament partner, Bill Tays, even have quite a fish story to tell, which I also will be sharing Sunday in the newspaper.
(Hey, I have to save something for our loyal newspaper readers. It’s only $2. It will be worth it.)
Who would have thought that limiting the number of big catfish that can be kept by anglers would be more controversial than opening a bear hunting season?
State fishery officials got grilled by lawmakers Tuesday (pardon the pun) on the state Willdife Department’s new regulation which limits catfish anglers to keeping one blue catfish 30 inches or longer per day.
Anglers can still keep 15 per day total, but only one can be 30 inches or longer. What’s wrong with that?
How many big cats does one guy need per day? Keep raping the resource and you won’t have any big fish someday.
Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Pryor Creek, wants to repeal the rule, which would go into effect Jan. 1. Apparently, there is an influential catfisherman in his district.
More than 800 anglers in eastern Oklahoma signed a petition against the new rule, but state wildlife officials believe the petition misled some people into believing the new regulation meant they could keep only one catfish per day period.
Barry Bolton, fisheries chief for the state Wildlife Department, said big blue cats are currently being taken at a rate 16 times higher than their numbers in the lakes.
Sherrer’s resolution to repeal the new catfish regulation goes to the full house after winning passage Tuesday by the House Administrative Rules and Agency Oversight Committee.
Meanwhile, the bear hunting bills have sailed through the House and Senate. Stay tuned.