Kayak Fishing in Oklahoma and the surrounding
Food & Fun To Be Had in the Oklahoma Outdoors
fishing appears to be the most popular style among the Oklahoma
kayak fishermen that I have met. However, Catfish are readily
available to the Oklahoma fishermen throughout the year. Even
during our cold Oklahoma winters Catfish can be easily had with a
few inexpensive limb lines. Of course, live bait isn't much of an
option (even if you can find it) in our icy winter waters. Stinkbait
is typically deployed for chasing Catfish during the colder part of
the year. Another popular choice...is sausage. Yes, Catfish
enjoy sausages as much as people do. Be it hot dogs, summer sausage,
spicy Jalapeño cheddar or those Little Smokies left over from the
holidays...they are all worth trying on your catfish hooks.
Limb lines are a great tool for catching catfish using your kayak.
Oklahoma's Deep Fork River is a perfect spot to give kayak fishing a
try. Unlike most types of fishing, limb lining (also known as
set-lining or tree limb fishing) requires little to no patience. It
does requires discipline, but if you follow the guidelines below in
a disciplined way you are bound to catch some remarkably large
catfish in Oklahoma muddy old Deep Fork River. In fact, you
should make yourself very familiar with the state laws surrounding
the size and take limits for catfish before making a trip to the
river. Extra large flathead catfish are a newly protected
group likely to impact folks running limb lines in Oklahoma.
On this page, we will try to outline the basic method of tree limb
fishing for catfish from a kayak. To help make your first trip more
successful, we will be pointing you toward the right fishing
supplies and fishing gear to bring home tons of Channel Catfish,
Blue Catfish and of course monster-sized Flathead Catfish. We do
get a little change from each sale to help keep our website free. Because
these fun & delicious fish are one of the best things about living
in Oklahoma, we will tell you how to make the most out of your catch
and minimize waste. Limb lining is easier and more fun if you have
an easy to launch and easy to land boat. Kayaks work great!
You will need to be prepared for handling the Gar (toothy
prehistoric long snout fish) that you are almost certain to catch.
Warning: the roe (eggs) of Gar is poisonous, so keep it
off the table and away from your dogs. I would say we catch about one gar for every seven catfish off of
our Deep Fork River limb lines. My Dad says that those big
ol' flathead catfish like to lay in the same holes as the Gar. Traditionally, we practice
catch-and-release for any fish that we don't fillet for frying or
use for bait. Catch-&-Release can be especially challenging
when dealing with Oklahoma Gar as they have a ton of sharp teeth on
both the inside AND the outside of their mouths and they grow to
enormous sizes in the waterways of Oklahoma. Handle many gar
without gloves and you WILL get cut. In Oklahoma, you
usually see Short-nosed Gar or Alligator Gar. Although some fishermen
consider them a nuisance, they are often protected by State and
Federal laws. The river is their home, share their home with respect.
Looking for a kayak fishing 'sleigh ride', Alligator Gar offer lots
of game for rod fishermen. However, there is an Oklahoma state limit
of one Alligator Gar per day.
In Oklahoma, Limblines are restricted to no more than two (2) hooks
per line and 20 limblines per person.
A legal limbline is a line attached to a limb, branch, other natural
object, or non-metallic manmade
materials and has:
• the owner’s name and address attached;
• been attended at least once every 24 hours.
Dianne cuts about half a dozen 'flags' (roughly 6x12 inches each)
out of scrap rags and then writes here contact info on each Limb
Line Flag. Red Limbline Flags work great for daytime fishing
and white flags are much easier to find when you are 'Night-Lining'
for catfish. Take extra effort to remember where you place
your lines and how many lines you place (i.e. count the lines as you
set them, make a note of 'landmarks' and write down notes). At the
end of your fishing trip, when you go back to retrieve your limb
lines (catfish hooks ain't cheap and it is illegal to leave them
anyway) use each flag to wrap-up your rolled-up hook sinker and line
for next time. This will help keep your from getting hooked
when you deploy them next time. We have used the same set of
limb lines and flags for years.
What is 'Running Limb Lines'?
Remove, Repair, Rebait & Return is the cycle of limb lining,
this is where the discipline comes in. Remove your catfish or
gar, repair any damaged lines, rebait your hooks and then return
soon. Repeat as needed until no longer hungry for catfish. Run your limb lines at
least every four hours until you remove them. Expect broken
lines, hooks bent straight or broken off, the occasional untouched
bait...and loads of big catfish. It is needlessly cruel to
leave catfish dangling on limb lines for long periods of time.
It is illegal to leave them for more than 24-hours in Oklahoma.
Also, you can expect 'help' from other harvesting your catfish if
you don't run them at least every four hours.
Mayflies were thick this year, the fish were biting so good that we
had to run them every two hours at night! Leave your fishing
rods at home as they are only likely to get you entangled in trees
and shrubs. Never leave limb lines in the river when it is
rising, remove them for re-use when you are ready to quit running
them. The most important thing to remember is to run your lines with
a friend or two. It is more fun and you can expect that the
'unexpected' will happen...that is what makes it fun.
Sometimes, the 'unexpected' generates an emergency room visit.
Don't kayak alone.
How Many Limb Lines Should I Set?
For me, the number of limb lines depends on how far away the fishing spot is, how fast
they are biting and how much fish I feel like cleaning.
Normally, I like between four to eight limb lines, if my fishing
spot is between 5 to 30 minutes away. Four lines per person
will usually yield as much catfish as you want to clean, if you are
doing it right. We usually put two hooks on each limb line.
Don't use too many hooks on one line or it will be considered a
trotline and they are regulated differently. Our first hook is set
to be about 3-inches under water. This bait is the 'flopper',
it stirs up the surface and attracts game fish. The second
hook is set close to the bottom of your fishing spot, this bait lays
on the bottom where the biggest catfish roam. The top hook is
the one that most often get entangled with Gar. Mark your limb lines
properly with your name and address. It is also a good idea to
include a bit of something reflective but cheap like tin foil, to
make the lines easier to locate at night.
Learn How To Tie a Limb Line
How long to make your drops depends on the water you are fishing in.
Use 4/0 to
catfish hooks with big eyelets, 5 ounce sinkers and braided nylon
Flathead catfish can grow to be enormous, use large, heavy hooks or
consider circle hooks.
Flag your lines for vividly for day & and
reflective for night running.
Set two hooks per line with one hook just off the bottom
a few inches and the 2nd hook just below the surface. Sinker on
Dianne running her limb lines for catfish on the Deep Fork
Limb Lines can be tied on fairly small branches, as
you can see in the photo above. Use green branches that are
springy, this will make them better for setting the hook and for
tiring-out a big fish once it is on the set line. Remember that all
three kinds of Oklahoma catfish are cavity nesters. They spawn in
undercut banks, rocky, bluff-like shorelines and similar places
where they can find dark hollows to protect their eggs from
predators. These areas also tend to house snakes, so watch
yourself. Move slow and look before you reach. Protect your
hands (you will need them to get home) with fishing gloves and a
good fish handling tool...like the
Berkley Lip Grip Fish Handling Tool.
Discover the Best Places to Tie a Limb Line
Catfish like shade, a food source and still, muddy water.
I prod with my paddle to find spots that are
deeper than a paddle-length.
Green branches about one inch in diameter have the bounce needed to
hold a big catfish.
Logjams often contain lunkers, but are often too stiff
to 'play' the catfish.
In log jams, a larger fish is able to straighten the hook or tear it
out...add a Bungie cord 'shock absorber' to your setline.
Small fish landing nets work well and fits in
Choose the Best Bait and Schedule Your Runs
Use live bait or don't bother. (Battery Operated Bait Aerator)
Perch, bluegill, shiners, crawfish & goldfish
make the best limb line bait.
Hook your bait fish behind the dorsal fin, pick a lively breed.
For big catfish, use big bait and big hooks.
Not need to buy bait, catch your own with a
casting net or
Keep bait in
battery-operated bait cooler or other livewell solution.
Run your limb lines every four hours.
Don't get too far from the put-in. You may have
to drag home a monster catfish!
Use sunscreen in the day, bow & stern lights at night.
a Fishing PFD always!
Plenty Fish Bite, If You Got Good Bait
Most experienced limb lining enthusiasts spend more
time working on the acquisition of live bait than they do on running
their lines. Goldfish are available at many local live bait
retailers, but you can run into quite a bit of money paying $10 to
$20 per pound for live goldfish. Most folks opt for some pond
fishing for perch, running a seine through river sloughs or using a
casting net small ponds for crawdads. You can even use fish
traps for catching small fish. Worms really don't offer
sufficient action to attract the attention of large catfish in the
muddy old Deep Fork River. If money
is no object but time is, you can easily buy live crawdads, goldfish
or shiners at convenience stores surrounding most lakes in Oklahoma.
If you can't afford a collapsible bait cooler, just clip a portable
aerator to your minnow bucket. Lively bait always brings out the
most game fish.
As for lures, sprays and stinkbait, etc....
You can try that voodoo, if you get a lot of time
off for fishing. I don't waste my 'quality time' on bait with
no wiggle. There are countless methods for getting free fishing bait,
when it cannot easily be purchased. Any fly fishing enthusiast will
tell you that fish bite much better when baited in by a common food
source in its normal season. Gathering your own bait locally
ensures you get fresh bait that the local catfish will recognize and
bite at fearlessly.
Keep your eye on the local flora and fauna whenever
you are kayaking. Knowing the seasons, the timing and the
habits of prey species will help you target the Big Game fish.
Dianne caught the catfish pictured on the right when the mayflies
where gathering in huge bunches for mating. The fish go crazy
when this annual event occurs. You can see some more
pictures from our limb lining fishing trip in our Flickr photo Set
for the Deep Fork River. The pictures include a close-up
of the mayfly and details about this vital part of the Oklahoma food
chain. ON the Illinois River or the Mountain Fork River, try
flipping over rocks and catching the hellgramites that hide below.
The Hellgrammite is the aquatic larva of the dobsonfly, watch the
short sharp pincers on their heads. They are not poisonous but the
pinch can be painful. Hold them by the 'collar' behind their heads.
The catfish are so familiar with hellgrammites that they strike
quickly on sight of one.
Be Disciplined When Running the Limb Lines
Watch for bouncing limbs, but assume nothing.
handle landing net for catfish and
fishing gloves to release gar.
Hoping for good picture - use
The Berkley Lip Grip.
Storing the fish you catch - use a
insulated deck bag
or a rock
Don't leave catfish hanging on a limbline for extended periods of
Pull your limb lines, when you are finished
running them every 4 hours.
Don't just cut the lines low and leave them
dangling, they create a snag hazard.
It is the angler’s responsibility to know what
regulations apply to the body of water they are fishing.
Dianne wielding her Berkley Lip Grip.
Proper disposal of fish remains is the duty of
all responsible fishermen.
Vital Safety Considerations When Kayak Fishing with Limb Lines
Always run your lines with a friend. There are
Always wear a PFD when you paddle,
fishing PFD's are handier.
Don't bring long fishing rods to get tangled.
Do bring extra hooks, line and sinkers.
Hydrate and don't over heat, a good fishing hat is vital.
Dress for both heat and immersion with
synthetic apparel choices like HeatGear.
Clean your fish as quickly as possible and soak
the fillets in some salt water.
Frying Catfish - Pan-fry in cream, light flour and
chopped fresh rosemary. Serve over diced cucumbers and balsamic vinegar.
FYI - In Oklahoma, it is unlawful to tamper with the
trotline, throwline, jugline or limbline of another person without
permission from that person.
Did You Know?
The 35lbs, 15oz Oklahoma state-record Channel Catfish came from the
tiny little 46-acre Taft Lake near Muskogee, Oklahoma.