Spavinaw Creek Fly Fishing
The middle section of Spavinaw creek between Lakes Eucha and Spavinaw is one of my favorite places to go for a little flyfishing on a nearby warm water stream. The gravel and shelf rock-bedded stream is short in length but it is definitely long in challenges. From it’s beginning as a small tail water to its ending as the head water of Lake Spavinaw, this stretch of the creek can offer a full day of relaxing diversion or a real test of your fly fishing skills and savvy.
The stream meanders over rocks and boulders from the base of Lake Euche dam and descends in an easy meandering run through the Spavinaw Hills. The streambed is primarily gravel layered over flat shelf rock with very little silt present. During the spring and fall the stream is exceptionally clear. Several underwater springs tend to lower the natural temperature of the water by a few degrees during the summertime which keeps the stream cooler than many Oklahoma warm water streams.
On one of my outings last spring, a blue gill nabbed a small white spider fly I was casting. The brightly colored Bluegill was fighting erratically when it suddenly vanished in a boiling mass of water that had erupted near an under water boulder. My rod bent sharply downward and the leader began to cut a deep “V” quickly across the surface of the stream. With 5 x tippet on the line, I eased up on the rod pressure immediately to prevent it from snapping. After several bullish tugs and runs, a black bass that I would estimate to weigh around four pounds calmly drifted toward me. His approach was by his choice and had nothing to do with the cautious pressure I was applying to the rod tip.
I peered down into the water and watched the dark green predator gap it’s jaws widely and expel the hysterical Bluegill. The bass whisked its tail near my leg with a powerful thrust he drifted like a sinister torpedo slowly back into the dark recesses of the rocks.
This was the second time on this particular stream that I have had this happen. On several occasions I have watched a Black bass aggressively charge a blue gill that was zigzagging on the end of my fly line. The Bass’ predatory instinct appears to be triggered by the erratic motion of the small fish fighting against the tension of the fly line. I have purposefully “played” some of these small perch after a take to see if I could entice a black into striking, but I have never been successful when intentionally trying to get one of these predators to charge.
Spavinaw creek has several pools of water between shallow runs that range in depth from waist level to well “over your head” in some places. Long, shallow water gravel stretches with babbling ripples course around bends to connect one pool to the next. At one particular pool on the stream there is a tree hugging the bank with a fire hose dangling from high in its limbs and marks one of the deepest of holes in the stream. During the summertime, the makeshift swing propels daredevil divers a good twenty feet over the water before they release and plummet downward into the clear blue-green water.
Two dams on the stream create Euche and Spavinaw Lakes. These reservoirs help meet the water demands for the city of Tulsa some thirty miles away as the crow flies. The small stretch of stream running between the two lakes is for the most part unknown to many fly fishers since it is well off the main highway and on a less traveled path.
Spavinaw State Park, situated below the Spavinaw Lake dam, is a well-known section of the lower portion of this stream. The park area has provided several fly fishers with a “place to practice” during the milder days of winter or when a trip to a favorite trout stream is not possible. During the summer months however, this lower section of the stream is a place for the fly fisher to avoid.
During the summertime there is a flotilla of air mattresses invading this section of the creek along with a barrage of “bobber bombs” with contrails of dangling worms sailing erratically through the air. Pint-sized fisher people brandishing Snoopy rods and reels launch these missiles as they ply their skills with a look of earnest determination on their small faces. Unless you enjoy constantly ducking and watching your back cast to avoid the little sportsmen sloshing up and down the creek or floating by on air mattresses, you will find the lower portion of the stream below Spavinaw lake not good fly fishing water during the summer time.
Further north, the middle section of Spavinaw creek running between Lake Euche and Spavinaw Lake offers flyfishers far greater solitude and productive water during the warmer months. During the spring and fall of the year only the subtle sounds of nature prevail across the water. It’s during these times that a fly fisher who knows where this section of the stream is located can wade these waters in solitude
The challenge to fly fishing the middle section of Spavinaw creek is in its water clarity and finicky if not down right, obstinate Black bass. The stream holds a good population of Black bass with an ‘attitude’ along with a few Smallmouths. The Smallmouth bass are small most being less than twelve inches in length. There maybe larger Smallmouths in the stream but I have yet to connect with one.
The Black bass in the stream include the occasional hog lurking in the moss and flooded grass beds along the banks. For the most part though, the Black bass range in the two to three pound class. During the Spring and early summer they often cruise the shallows above deep pools stalking prey along the flooded grass beds that dot the banks. During spawn, they will be scattered around the shallower back waters of pools guarding nests. The stream also contains some large perch. Larger than hand size is not uncommon for these scrappy fighters and smaller versions including brightly colored Sunfish are prolific especially during the early summer and during their nesting times.
The Black bass in this stream often cruise the back channels or “troughs” at the head of pools off the main stream or they hold in or near the water grass beds along the streams’ banks. Because of the clear water, the bass in this stream can be extremely wary. There are those times, particularly during nesting, when you will find that you can often approach within ten feet or so of these muscled, green backed predators. Moving slowly through the water and keeping erratic movements to a minimum is crucial and is the key to close approaches.
Casting a fly line over these clear waters presents a real problem. I have watched cruising Black bass bolt for deeper water at the first sign of a fly line looping over head, well before it extends outward over the water. Stealth casting, using low side casts that “float” the fly line two or three feet above the water surface works best on this stream. Long leaders and light tippets are beneficial, with 4x being a good compromise between strength and low visibility.
The black bass can be extremely finicky and difficult, if not impossible, to tempt into striking. I have spent upwards of an hour “piddling” around with a single bass that was cruising an area, offering everything in my repertoire of flies before finally enticing him into a strike. On one of my outings to this little stream I located and began casting to a cruising bass that seemed to be consciously defying any attempts to entice him into striking.
I had carefully waded across some ripples at the head of a deep hole of water to scan the shallow troughs above the pool. It wasn’t long until a sleek yet bulky shadow from a three pound bass drifted over the deep green moss bed covering the bottom of the trough. I carefully unhooked the rubber legged spider from the hook keeper on my rod and then side cast a short distance floating the spider to the surface about twenty feet away. The bass stopped momentarily to observe the slight surface disturbance, then continued on its cruising way. I tried several different flies and poppers, all of, which had been successful at one time, or another on this stream. Regardless of what I offered, each presentation resulted in a good snubbing from this bass.
The cycle of offering a fly, the close inspection by the bass, then his rejection of the offering continued for the better part of an hour. I snipped and tied different bugs and poppers trying them all to no avail. I even tied on a few ridiculous looking concoctions that I had tied the night before in hopes of discovering an irresistible pattern that would work on these clear water bass. My confidence was beginning to wane, particularly when the bass began moving closer and stopping no more than twelve feet away to eye-ball me directly before turning and continuing along his route. I could have sworn he smiled defiantly at me if I didn’t know that anatomically it was impossible for a bass to smile; or is it?
After noticing several large perch popping the surface nearby to suck down some unseen insects I finally gave up on the bass. The sun was going down and deep shadows from the hills and trees were stretching across the stream. I added some 6x tippet and rummaged around in my trout flies before selecting a Royal Coachman. I cast out to the perch to diffuse my frustration with the uncooperative bass. The Coachman floated to the surface with the slightest of disturbance and immediately the defiant “moss back” turned from his cruising lane several feet away and drifted slowly over to the tiny fly. I watched as he hovered motionless at least twelve inches beneath the fly. He appeared to be calmly eyeing the small white wings and red segmented body of the Coachman as it rested lightly on the surface. Almost imperceptibly, he rose slightly, then opened his gapping wide mouth and sucked down a bucket of water along with the tiny fly. I raised the rod tip and by some miracle the tiny hook grabbed and held. He boiled the surface immediately and headed for the deep pool just downstream from us.
After several runs, twists, turns, and stubborn tugs, the bass nosed into a nearby moss bed in a vain attempt to escape. How the 6x tippet and tiny gaped hook held I do not know. I slowly waded over to him and grasping the leader as a guide, I ran my hand down into the moss and managed to dislodge him. Thumbing his lower jaw I could see the Royal Coachman impaled tenuously far back in the roof of his mouth. A slight nudge with the forceps released the fly and after pushing water back and forth over his gills, he groggily swam off to offer another fly fisher, another challenge, on another day.
Stealth, stalking and patience are law on this small stream. Slow and careful wading with low, sidearm casting, using long leaders and light tippets are in order. Although you can thrash the banks aimlessly up and down the stream, the most productive areas are in and around the sporadic grass beds standing in at least two feet of water. Old stream channel cuts or “troughs” at the heads of pools that are two to four feet in depth, under very slow moving waters are other likely haunting grounds for cruising bass. A moss-carpeted bottom with other cover in or near the trough makes it an ideal place.
The really larger predators at times hold tightly against rock ledges and under the cliffs, hiding deep in the shadows of large boulders. Generally these places are difficult to reach because of stream width and water depth and require long, blind casts working the length of the rock facing. Of course any log or fallen tree lying in the water is a good target. Place several well-aimed casts, from a distance, at each potential holding structure exploring it fully.
The best advice for tackle is to keep it light and small, the lighter the better. Long leaders, nine footers will do, tipped with 4x or even 5x tippets. There will be times that you must use 5x and even 6x tippets to get results, be sure to take plenty of your favorite flies along with you under these conditions. I’ve had aggressive moss backs immediately disconnect 5x tippets as they inhale the fly and move off with a smile on their face.
Depending on the mindset of the bass, any number of styles of flies may work, although you will have to exercise patience to find which one will entice them into striking. I have had my best luck on weighted, olive green woolly buggers, small streamers and white sponge body spiders. The latter, however, will attract every Bluegill within fifteen feet of its splash down unless a bass is nearby to keep the little bandits at bay.
Rod length and weight are a personal preference. I have fished the stream with 8 and 1/2 foot seven weights and 9 foot 5 weights; both have their advantages. Personally, I prefer the longer 9-foot, five-weight rod for softer presentations in the clear water as well as the longer rods superior casting ability in deep water wading situations. However, the lighter line weight rod can make it difficult to set a hook in tough jawed bass.
Overhanging trees are generally not a problem for wading casters as is the case on many of Oklahoma’s brushy-banked streams. The stream is wide enough in most places to provide good casting room while wading. A good pair of Polaroid glasses is a must. Sight fishing for the bass is generally the name of the game on the stream. Sight fishing requires a good pair of Polaroid glasses for penetrating through the surface glare. Remember though, if you can see the fish, he can most certainly see you. Refrain from making quick, erratic movements once you spot a cruising bass. Wear drab color clothing and leave your flashy white cap in the vehicle.
Change fly offerings frequently. Once a bass nips at or snubs his nose at a fly, switch to something else. You will be wasting your time repeatedly throwing the same fly to the same bass once he has rejected it. If all else fails, take a break and have some fun with the perch that abound in this stream. The stream is home to a good number of large perch that grow to larger than hand size. They provide the angler a good fight on a lightweight fly rod and are a lot of fun.
Traditional poppers, rubber leg spiders or other small top-waters will often entice the Smallmouth bass of the stream if fished in their feeding areas. A small streamer cast across current and stripped back or dead drifting small top waters down the riffles at the heads and tails of pools work well on the Smallmouths. Dead drifting tends to be more productive once you locate the bronze backs feeding areas. As with all clear water fishing, wade slowly, being careful not to send out a large wake that will alert the fish that there is something near that doesn’t belong there.
Presentation style will vary depending on the fishes feeding schedules as well as the temperature and water level of the stream. If the fish are on a “feed” it will be obvious with the first few casts. The perch will nail the fly immediately once it splashes down if they are anywhere near. During non-feeding times or when the stream level drops and the waters warm under the summer sun, patience and self-discipline come into play.
If strikes are not coming quickly, slow down, way down, and switch to smaller offerings and lighter tippets. Check the air and water surface for insects to see what the fish might be feeding on. Exercise patience. Let the offering lie on the surface for a good long time before twitching it. I have watched bass and even perch hover under a fly for a full minute before deciding to suck it down. I have also watched them scatter like a covey of quail if you twitch the offering too soon.
Spavinaw creek is generally shallow enough to wade from beginning to end. However, as in any gravel bedded stream, there are deep holes and pockets with clear water that makes it difficult to judge depth. Be careful not to step off into water that may be over your head, particularly if you are wearing waders. You can quickly find yourself in a real predicament.
The best time of year to fly fish Spavinaw creek is mid to late spring and up through June. The cooler weather of fall brings some excellent fishing to the little stream as well. During the dog days of summer the water level of Spavinaw creek will drop a good foot or two. The fish become sluggish and can be difficult to entice into striking. Their feeding habits primarily change to nighttime buffets of unlucky Sunfish long after the sun has gone down behind the Spavinaw Hills and the hoot owls come out to play.
Access to this little stream is by a gravel road leading to the Spavinaw Hills Wildlife Management Area. Approximately nine miles south of Jay Oklahoma on high way 20 the gravel road exits the main highway at the wild life management area sign. Following the road for five miles, it will split with a bend to the left leading to the wild life management area and Lake Euche dam. The road continuing straight ahead descends a step hill to cross a low water bridge at the creek. This spot is popular during the summertime with local swimmers but wading up or down stream will put you in more or less solitude and some pretty good fishing.
Another access point is available by taking a primitive road leading off the main gravel road one half mile further down from the “Y”. This is one of my favorite stretches of the stream. Although I have seen several two wheel drive vehicles at this access point, I have also had to pull one of them out of a tough spot. Traveling by four-wheel drive vehicle, or park and walk the hundred yards or so may save you some grief. If you decide to travel the path, you must maneuver carefully between narrow spaced trees that show ample evidence of a prodigious appetite for passing vehicles.
Spavinaw creek can be an excellent “get-a-way” place for a day of fly-fishing. It offers a variety of fish in good numbers and easy access. Fly fishing the stream can be a leisurely experience or a challenging test of your skills, depending on what you want to make out of it. The next time you are looking for a new clear water stream in northeast Oklahoma to fly fish, consider visiting this stretch of Spavinaw creek.