Lower Mountain Fork River

By Lynn Burkhead
Techniques for Boomer browns and ‘bows
Guides share tips for Oklahoma trout success

Southeastern Oklahoma's Lower Mountain Fork River has a mixture of slow moving flats, pools, riffles, and rapids.
Southeastern Oklahoma’s Lower Mountain Fork River has a mixture of slow moving flats, pools, riffles, and rapids.

Waters of the LMF
According to flyfishing guide Robert Woodruff, the 12-mile length of trout tailwater found on the Lower Mountain Fork River below Broken Bow Reservoir has a little something for everyone.
Zone I (Beaver’s Bend Resort Park) — “This zone has a really split personality. Spillway Creek is a small and rocky stream with plunge pools and pocket water featuring fast water. It dumps into the old river channel and becomes the Riverbend Section with deeper, slower, silted in water broken by a few stretches of riffles.”
Zone II (Old Park Dam to Re-regulation Dam) — “This is very rocky, wide open water with just a couple of riffle stretches. When this zone is fishable (due to power generation), it is primarily slow flows and deeper water.”
Zone III (Re-Reg Dam to Hwy. 70 Bridge) — “This section has some big boulder clusters, rock gardens with a lot of current flowing through, and long stretches of deeper water. It is most known for Presbyterian Falls, an area with an honest three to four foot falls with channels and lots of broken water.”
You know that you’re in trouble when you show up to flyfish for trout wearing a hat bearing the burnt orange symbol of the Texas Longhorns…only to discover that your guide is a Texas A&M Aggie.
With an A&M Century Club ex-students’ decal on the back of his pick-up truck no less.
“Anglers wearing stuff like that have been known to disappear over the side of my drift boat and never be heard of again,” said a solemn Robert Woodruff, an Aggie grad and flyfishing guide on Oklahoma’s Lower Mountain Fork River.
And it wasn’t until Woodruff’s face broke into a good-natured grin that I finally knew for sure that my wife wasn’t about to have to cash in my life insurance policy.
Fortunately, Woodruff didn’t nudge me over the side of his driftboat earlier this year. In fact, he graciously showed me the little-known tailwater trout fishery tucked away in the southeastern Oklahoma mountains near Broken Bow.
By day’s end, even a Longhorn and an Aggie could agree that this Sooner nation trout stream gem was worth putting our gridiron differences aside…for awhile anyway.
Interested in fishing this southern tailwater? Here are a few tips and techniques to try:
Tackle selection can vary, depending upon where an angler is fishing on the LMF and what he or she is hoping to catch.
For the river’s rainbow trout — and for most of its brown trout — a three, four, five, or six-weight rod with a floating fly line will suffice, especially when coupled with a 7 ½ foot 5X leader tipped with six to eight inches of 5X or 6X tippet material.
If the LMF’s monster brown trout (the new Oklahoma state record brown, a nine-pound, 12.8-ounce behemoth, was landed from the river in January) are the goal, a sink-tip and 3X tippet becomes necessary to throw streamers and probe the river’s deeper crevices.
When using a sink tip to target trophy browns, Beaver’s Bend Fly Shop guide Sid Ingram advises shortening up the leader length.
“On a sink tip, you don’t want one that is too long,” Ingram said. “A leader that is nine-feet, it tends to float up from the bottom. With a sink tip, I’d use a level leader that is three to four feet in length, especially with a buoyant fly.”
Fly box selections
With hatches of traditional trout stream insects like caddis; Blue-winged Olives; Light Cahills, Hexageni mayflies; midges; and an array of moths, grasshoppers, ants, leaf hoppers, crickets, and an abundance of shad, here is a sample of what to bring to the LMF:
Nymphs — March Brown nymphs (#10-18); Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear (#12-18); Pheasant Tail nymphs (#12-18); Beadhead Caddis Pupa (#14-18); golden stonefly patterns (#14-16); and small olive and gray sowbugs (#18-20).
Midges — Use tiny midges like the Disco Midge, the Zebra Midge, Brassies, Copper Johns, and red and gray midge patterns in sizes #20-22.
Dry Flies — Elk-hair Caddis in tan, gray, and black shades (#14-16); Parachute and standard Adams (#14-20); Parachute Pheasant Tail (#12-18); Blue-winged Olive patterns (#16-20); and attractor patterns like a Royal Wulff or Stimulator in sizes #10-16.
Terrestrials — Ant patterns; crickets; and grasshopper imitations in sizes #12-18.
Streamers — Shad-colored patterns including Clouser Minnows (#2-6) and Zonker patterns; crawfish imitations; and black, olive, and burnt orange wooly buggers with and without beadheads (#6-10 and #12-14).
While there can certainly be some good dry flyfishing at times on the Lower Mountain Fork, this is basically a stream for subsurface presentations.
Such was the case on the day I fished the LMF with Woodruff. While high water kept us from getting a look at Zone III and Presbyterian Falls from his drift boat, we found plenty of action fishing the plunge pools and pocket water of Zone I’s Spillway Creek.
Using a strike indicator, split shot, and a variety of small nymphs imitating March Browns, I ended up landing eight rainbows and missing plenty more subtle takes.
Stocked or not, these fish aren’t always easy. After a few weeks, most LMF trout begin to act as wild and spooky as the March wind.
“We have selective, PhD trout here,” Woodruff said. “In Zone I, if they made a mistake, they would have been caught and cooked, so they’re a little bit wiser if they’ve grown up there. And in Zones II and III, they tend to get a little bigger — and more selective.”
Flyfishers who want to target the river’s wilder — and bigger fish — should approach pools with caution.
“Don’t stand up on a rock and skylight yourself to these fish,” Woodruff said.
Another key consideration for any angler visiting the Lower Mountain Fork is safety according to Three Rivers Fly Shop owner and guide Jesse King.
“Our basic bedrock is sandstone and it grows an algae on it,” King said. “It’s really thin, but it’s really, really slippery. With that in mind, don’t climb on a rock that’s bigger than your foot. It can be a slippery ice-skating rink when you do so.”
King recommends a wading staff along with felt soled wader boots. Rubber is not recommended.
Another safety consideration is how quickly the river can rise to dangerous levels during power generation, which is preceded by the sounding of a warning horn.
“Generally speaking you have around 10 minutes (to get to high ground),” King said. “The thing that I tend to encourage people to do is not to cross the river and wander up and down and get caught on the other side. It’s not really necessary in most cases.”
And finally, perhaps most important of all, is to never, ever show up at the Lower Mountain Fork River…wearing the wrong colored fishing cap!

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