Cool water, big fish: a perfect summer combination Striped bass, rainbow trout and walleye, three of Oklahoma’s most successfully introduced fish, have found their niche in the lower Illinois River. “The stripers are doing really well right now,” said Jim Burroughs, northeast region fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “I think they are doing better than they have in several years and anglers have reported some very nice catches this year of both stripers and walleye.” The Lower Illinois River is one of two year-round trout fisheries in Oklahoma. Water, drawn from the depths of Lake Tenkiller, flows into the lower Illinois River, keeping it at a fairly constant temperature range in the 50s and 60s. This cool, oxygen rich water serves two purposes, it keeps trout comfortable year round and the cooler water attracts stripers, white bass, walleyes and other fish when the nearby Arkansas River becomes too warm for their liking. This makes it one of the state’s best year-round striper fisheries, particularly in the hottest part of summer. “Those big stripers will lay up in deep holes in the Lower Illinois during the summer, just waiting for a gizzard shad or a trout to get a little too close,” Burroughs said. This is no fish story, and the numbers support the facts. The unique fishery consistently produces bragging size fish of 20 pounds or more. In fact, several of the last state record striped bass have come from the 10-mile stretch of river. The current record stands at 47-pounds, 8-ounces for a monster striper that Louis Parker horsed from the Lower Illinois River in June of 1996. The record fish measured a full four feet in length and 30 inches in girth. When going after the big fish, bring some big tackle. Stiff rods, heavy-duty reels and strong line are a necessity when fighting one of the lower Illinois bruisers. A big striper can make quick work of mismatched tackle. Although artificial lures such as jerk baits and topwater plugs can be effective in early morning hours, live bait is often the best way to catch stripers. Shad and trout are two of the most common bait fishes used by anglers. Trout are legal bait as long as they are caught using legal equipment or purchased from a licensed dealer. Be sure to keep the bait lively and remember that the daily limit on trout is 6 per person, regardless of whether you are keeping them to eat or you are using them for bait. There is no need to go to the Lower Illinois River without all the proper information, and the Internet offers all sorts of resources to interested anglers. Both wildlifedepartment.com and okiefish.com offer excellent, up-to-date fishing reports so that you can time your trip when the fish are biting. To fish the river for any species, anglers must have an Oklahoma fishing license and those fishing above the Highway 64 bridge also need a trout stamp. For a complete list of regulations pick up a copy of the “2002 Oklahoma Fishing Guide.” Fish over 20-pounds not only provide an adrenaline-inducing fight, they also provide a great meal of fresh fish
Webbers Falls Dam is a little over 3 miles upstream from the historic falls, where many a steamboat captain had to drop anchor and unload trade goods for overland shipping when water was low. The falls, referred to as “LaCascade” by General Zebulon Pike, and reported in 1806 to be 6 or 7 feet high at normal stage of the river, were scarcely more than a riffle before impoundment to the present navigation pool levels. The navigation channel was excavated through the rocks, which once formed the falls. As early as 1820, a salt plant in the Gore-Webbers Falls area was in operation. Salt was shipped in keelboats down the Arkansas River to Louisiana markets. After the Cherokee removal to this part of the Indian Territory, Walter Webber, a western Cherokee chief established a trading post and portage service on the Arkansas River in 1829, took over the salt works. At one time this area included the vast plantation of Cherokee “Rich Joe” Vann, owner of the famous quarter-mile race horse, “Lucy Walker” He later came into possession of a flashy Mississippi River;steamboat which he named “The Lucy Walker. In those early day’s, Webbers Falls was the site of the most important steamboat landing between Fort Gibson and Fort Smith Arkansas. By 1833, 17 steamboats docked regularly at Fort Gibson. During the height of steamboat traffic, thousands of bales of cotton were shipped from the Vann Plantation and other large farms in the Webbers Falls Bottoms land. A post office was established at Webbers Falls in 1856. The town began to flourish, then came the turbulent period of the Civil War. The town was burned by Federal troops in the spring of 1863. Following the War, the town was rebuilt and farms once more came under cultivation. The traffic on the river served an increasingly large population until the coming of the Katy Railroad in 1872. The Fort Gibson Stockade on the banks of the Grand River near the upper reaches of the lake is a national historic landmark. For many years Fort Gibson was one of the most important military establishments on the western frontier.