Lower Mountain Fork Browns & Rainbows
Oklahoma tailwater provides little known year-round trout hotspot
By Lynn Burkhead
In the late 1800s, a great westward exodus of people began into the Southern Great Plains, known to U.S. historians as the Oklahoma Land Rush.
While there may never be a similar rush of flyfishing trout anglers to the modern-day Sooner State, a steady stream of anglers with fly rods in tow has begun to take place in recent years.
Their destination? The Lower Mountain Fork River, nestled in the rolling Ouachita Mountains near the southeastern Oklahoma hamlet of Broken Bow.
Such a southern trout fishery exists because of year-round stockings by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. In addition to tens of thousands of rainbow trout, the ODWC will stock nearly 10,000 brown trout this year.
Those stockings are possible thanks to the trout-friendly cold water that flows from the bottom of Broken Bow Reservoir through the Beavers Bend Resort Park (an Oklahoma state park) downstream to the Highway 70 bridge.
Comprised of a series of three zones that feature slow-moving flat water, along with faster riffles, runs, and pocket water, the 12-mile long LMF tailwater section that supports trout is an Oklahoma angling diamond in the rough.
One man who knows the trout fishery as well as anyone is full-time flyfishing guide Robert Woodruff of nearby Quitman, Texas, who has been coming to the area since he was a child.
Surprising trout fishing awaits flyfishermen just hours from Shreveport, Tulsa and Dallas in southeast Oklahoma.
The Texas A&M graduate, who also flyfishes for largemouth bass on Lake Fork in East Texas, has a degree in entomology. That’s a subject matter that comes in handy for a trout angler trying to match the hatch.
“I’ve been fishing for trout since they began the program in December 1989,” Woodruff said. “I’ve been fishing it literally since the very first time they stocked trout.”
Woodruff, who has spent time on other fabled trout waters across North America, is amazed at the food supply available for LMF trout.
“It’s got a really diverse biomass, that’s the main thing,” Woodruff said. “I haven’t seen a trout stream that has the diversity of crustaceans, insects and baitfish like this river does. It has probably two dozen species of caddis flies, probably about 15 species of mayflies, annelids, leeches, two species of stoneflies, and four-inch long hellgrammites.”
Lower Mountain Fork info
Guide Robert Woodruff of Woodruff Guide Service in Quitman, Tx. To contact, call (903) 967-2665 or visit the website at www.flyfishingfork.com.
Beavers Bend Fly Shop: call (580) 494-6071 or visit the website at www.beaversbendflyshop.com.
Three Rivers Fly Shop: call (580) 494-6115 or visit the website at www.threeriversflyshop.com.
Beavers Bend Resort Park: call (580) 494-6179 or visit the website at www.beaversbend.com.
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation: call (405) 521-3721 or visit the website at www.wildlifedepartment.com.
What that ample food supply adds up to is the ability for trout to grow very quickly in the Lower Mountain Fork. Woodruff indicates that the growth rate of the rainbow trout that are stocked every two weeks by the ODWC is approximately a half-inch per month.
How big can Lower Mountain Fork trout get? The Oklahoma state record brown trout was caught from the LMF on January 13 this year, a nine-pound, 12.8-ounce fish landed by flyfisherman John D. Ball, Jr. The Mississippi angler landed the beautiful brown while fishing with a #10 olive wooly bugger on a 6X tippet no less.
While rainbows make up the bulk of the trout stocked into the LMF, the browns have developed quite a reputation as the river’s true trophies.
A story told by a local angler to Beavers Bend Fly Shop owner Sid Ingram — who himself has landed a 26-inch brown trout weighing eight pounds — would seem to bear that reputation out.
“He told me that he hooked a small rainbow, but a 30-inch brown came up and ate his rainbow,” Ingram said.
“I doubt the biggest one has been caught yet,” Ingram added. “I’ve had some of the game and fish people tell me that they have shocked up a big brown a couple of times that is probably in the teens.”
Big rainbows are where you find them, including the Lower Mountain Fork River in southeastern Oklahoma.
While most trout average between eight and 16-inches, they certainly can get bigger.
Woodruff has a first hand idea on how big the LMF River’s trout can get, having had a client land a 25-inch long rainbow with an 18-½ inch girth that weighed nearly 10 and a half pounds.
“My own personal record on brown trout from the river was one that measured 27 ¼ inches long and had a girth of 14 inches and was roughly nine-pounds,” Woodruff said. “I also caught a rainbow that was 24-inches long with a girth of about 10 inches and weighed about six and a half pounds.”
As good as those numbers are for a southern trout stream, they could get even better with future habitat improvements on the drawing board and an advocacy group known as the Lower Mountain Fork Foundation looking on.
Woodruff believes that getting the ability to tap into a colder pool of water that exists in Broken Bow Reservoir is one key to making the river better. That will help brown trout reproduce in the river, create better survivability and growth rates for trout, and extend the trout fishery downstream another few miles.
The guide also thinks that some tinkering with the regulations could be necessary to help control or reduce the harvest of trout.
LMF trout regulations
Rainbow trout: a 20-inch minimum size limit, daily limit of one (1) trout from the State Park dam downstream to reregulation dam. Elsewhere, no size limit, daily limit of six (6).
Brown trout: 20-inch minimum size limit, daily limit one (1) from Broken Bow dam downstream to Highway 70 bridge (entire stream).
Use of bait or barbed hooks is prohibited from the State Park dam downstream to the reregulation dam. (Barbless hooks, artificial flies and lures only).
“It’s hard for them to reach 20-inches if they’re cooked at 12,” Woodruff said. “The stamps that we buy are trout stamps not food stamps. I’m not against people keeping fish, but I do see people keep too many (here).”
“You don’t have to keep your limit every day.”
While few trout anglers outside of the ArkLaTex have heard of the Lower Mountain Fork River, there’s a Texas A&M Aggie in OU Sooner country that thinks that will change one day.
“It can be as good as anywhere in the country — the Green, the White, or any other tailwater you want to name,” Woodruff said.
“The ODWC does know how to get it there, it’s just a matter of getting the funding, getting the required (coldwater) studies done, and the regulations changed.”