If there’s one fish Oklahoman’s love to catch, it’s a catfish!
Several species of catfish call the Sooner State home, including America’s favorite channel catfish, monster flathead and blue catfish and of course the ever-present bullhead, which some locals call mudcats .
Most of these catfish species are found across the state, and multiple species often inhabit the same waters.
We’re going to show you the best ways to catch them and, even more importantly, the very best lakes and rivers to catch catfish in Oklahoma.
What Kind of Catfish are in Oklahoma?
Since you are likely to catch multiple species while catfishing, we’d like to start you out by helping you identify each of the four frequently caught species.
Channel catfish are a grayish-brown color and have a deeply forked tail with small black spots along their body. Given the right conditions, channel cats can grow to 30-ish pounds.
Channel catfish are among the most commonly eaten fish in Oklahoma because of their abundance and aggressiveness. And their tastiness.
This species gets its name from often being found in river and creek channels throughout the Mississippi River system and beyond.
But don’t let the name fool you. Channel cats are found in healthy numbers in nearly every waterway in Oklahoma, including plenty of lakes.
Flathead catfish are brown and have a distinctive flattened head, making them easy to identify compared to other catfish species in the Sooner state.
They also stand out because they can easily grow over 50 pounds, making them a primary target for anglers searching for monster catfish in Oklahoma.
They are common in a majority of the rivers and many top lakes throughout the state. Flatheads are the prized species of catfish for noodlers, a.k.a. hand fisherman (more on that later).
A small blue catfish is easily confused with a channel cat if you don’t know what to look for.
For starters, blues don’t have black spots along their body, and their tail isn’t as deeply forked as a channel catfish. They are also more blueish gray.
Blue cats grow much larger than channels, regularly reaching over 75 pounds where food is abundant. Blue catfish are the largest species of catfish in the state.
Blues are found in a variety of reservoirs and rivers throughout the state. Like other species of catfish, they are scavengers, so they have a widely varying diet.
Bullhead catfish are a muddy green color and rarely grow over 5 pounds, and are far more common in much smaller sizes.
Bullheads are entertaining to catch because they bite readily and put up a surprisingly good fight. They can be found all across the state. I have often encountered them in private ponds and small creeks.
Few people eat them because of the poor quality of the water where they are often caught. Their nickname, mudcat, comes from them having a reputation of tasting like mud, though I’ve never eaten one, so I can’t verify this statement.
Now let’s figure out how to catch some catfish to bring home for dinner, starting with the best ways to catch them.
How to Catch Catfish
There are many ways Oklahoma anglers catch giant catfish. Catching catfish on rod and reel is popular. Using jugs, trotline or limb lines are other excellent ways to catch a lot of fish. Lastly, Oklahomans made hand fishing for catfish popular.
The best time of year to catch catfish is in the late spring and early summer, but if you can find a large school of baitfish, more than likely, there will be big ole’ cats lurking nearby waiting for an easy meal no matter the time of year.
Every catfish angler has their favorite baits, but the most common are cut bait (cut pieces of baitfish), live baitfish, chicken liver and stink baits.
I like to stick with what the catfish will most likely encounter in the water where I’m fishing, so I often use cut bait or live bait, but I’ve been known to throw hotdogs on a hook and catch catfish.
Rod and Reel
To catch catfish using a rod and reel, you’re going to need a good catfishing rod with a heavy-duty reel.
While most catfish you will catch will be in the 2- to 10-pound range, you never know when a monster 30-plus-pounder is going to bite, and that’s why you need a pole that can handle a big fish.
There are any number of combinations of rigs, hooks, and weight sizes you can use, and every angler does something just a little bit different.
I prefer using circle hooks, size 6/0 or 8/0 with at least an ounce weight, Carolina rigged.
Fishing with a rod and reel is done either from the bank or by boat, making them a great choice for beginners or anglers who don’t own a boat.
Often the approach is as simple as casting out as far as you can, letting your bait sink to the bottom, and waiting for a bite.
Pick up plenty more tricks and tips for catching catfish in our easy how-to fishing guide.
If you are looking for good numbers of eating catfish want to increase your odds of catching them, I highly recommend using jugs.
A jug is usually a large pool noodle or actual jug with a line, sinker and hooks suspended from it. Live bait and cut bait work best for jug fishing for catfish.
Scatter the jugs along a creek channel or flat for several hours and come back to check what you’ve caught. A boat is required for the best results while jug fishing.
I set my jugs out in the evening, spacing them 50 to 100 yards apart, letting them sit overnight, and returning to check them in the morning. By law, you are required to check jugs and trotlines at least once every 24 hours.
Check the local regulations for jugs, as there is a limit to the number of hooks you can have and the total number of jugs you can use.
A trotline is a bunch of hooks hanging from a line; it has to be 100 hooks or fewer per person. The line is anchored on both ends.
Usually, a trotline is run across the channel along the bottom. You want to ensure your hooks are adequately spaced according to the regulations.
Also, ensure your trotline doesn’t float to the surface for a boater to snag while motoring in the channel.
The best baits to use for trotlines are live bluegill and cut bait. Keeping your baits 1-3 feet off of the bottom will ensure you stay in the range of catfish since they are bottom feeders.
A limb line is when you tie a line with a hook to a limb or pole along the creek or riverbank.
Using live bluegill or cut bait works best, and operating from a boat is best. However, running limb lines also can be done from the bank.
When the lakes are high during the springtime, limb lines are a great way to catch the catfish moving into the shallows to feed.
Hand Fishing (Noodling)
The craziest way to catch catfish is by hand: no bait, no tools, just your hands.
Noodling, as we like to call it, is where you stick your hand in a hole that the catfish is protecting in hopes that it will bite it.
Big flatheads are the prized target for most noodlers in the creeks, rivers and reservoirs across Oklahoma.
Noodling is not for the faint of heart.
It’s best to go with someone who’s noodled before to teach you how to do it properly, but the basics are simple.
Find a hole in rocks or the bank, block that hole so the fish can’t swim out, and stick your hand into the hole to feel for the fish.
If you feel it, try to provoke it to bite you or grab it by the mouth.
BEWARE of beavers, snapping turtles and venomous snakes!
There are special regulations for hand fishing, so be sure to read the laws before heading out to noodle a monster flathead.
The Best Catfish Lakes in Every Region
The following are considered by many to be the best catfishing lakes in each geographic region of Oklahoma, so you’ll be able to fish the best of the best within a reasonable drive.
With that being said, many lakes in Oklahoma have monster catfish swimming beneath the water’s surface that didn’t make the cut. Oklahoma is simply a great catfishing state, but we have to cut off the list somewhere!
Great Salt Plains Lake
The Great Salt Plains Lake is a man-made reservoir on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River near Jet, less than an hour northwest of Enid.
While the Great Salt Plains Lake isn’t known for huge flatheads or blues, you can catch a massive stringer of channel cats.
Channel catfish are one of the primary fish in the lake that is heavily managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife (ODWC). They regularly stock channel catfish in the lake to offer anglers staying at the state park campgrounds a shot at catching dinner.
Great Salt Plains Lake is murky with a red tint to it from the local dirt, so stink bait, cut bait or small live bait will work the best in the creek and river channels or along the flats of the main lake points.
There are activities for the whole family like digging for salt crystals at the salt plains, swimming in the lake, or going for a hike at Salt Plains State Park.
Located 10 miles north of the town of Waurika, the lake offers anglers the opportunity to catch channel catfish, blue cats, and flatheads.
The lake is littered with standing timber which would be an excellent area to place limb lines.
The lake is often murky, so cut bait, live bait or stink bait will give you the best opportunity at a bite.
You will fare best with a boat to fish Waurika Lake because there is limited bank access to the lake. That also means it’s not as heavily pressured as other lakes in Oklahoma.
With both flatheads and blues, there is no telling just how many monster catfish are in the waters of Waurika Lake. It’s not uncommon to catch blues ranging from 2 to 25 pounds.
Waurika Lake is about 45 minutes outside of Lawton and under two hours driving southwest from Oklahoma City.
One of the state’s largest lakes, Lake Texoma is home to monster blues and flatheads. The 98-pound state record blue catfish came from Texoma as of this writing.
The lake is located along the Red River near Durant on the Oklahoma-Texas border.
The lake is often murky, but it’s clearer than others, at least some days. Using bait the fish can both see and smell will be the best.
There are many fishing guides working on the lake, if you want to hire a professional to help get you on more fish.
Anglers heavily pressure the lake from Texas and Oklahoma for striped bass and catfish, but there are plenty of opportunities to catch fish on this large lake.
More: Lake Texoma Fishing
Widely known as an incredible bass fishing lake, as you can see from our Great Bass Fishing Lakes in Oklahoma article, Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees also is a hotspot for catching giant catfish.
Most catfish caught are blues. However, channel cats and flatheads are also regularly caught.
Because the lake is heavily pressured, you might think catfishing here is more challenging than other lakes nearby, but the pressure is often for largemouth bass and not catfish.
Grand Lake was one of my great grandpa’s favorite places to fish. If only I knew all of his honey holes! I’ve seen pictures of him holding a big stringer full of catfish and a big ole’ smile after a day of fishing on Grand.
Your best bet will be to fish from a boat, or if you don’t have a boat, you can rent one from one of the marinas or hire a fishing guide.
There are also a few locations to fish from the bank, but most docks and the water’s edge are private property, so be sure to stay on limited public property.
Grand Lake is located near Grove, in the far northeastern corner of the state and about an hour and 15 minutes from Tulsa.
More: Grand Lake Fishing
Lake Eufaula is the largest lake in Oklahoma, so it’s no surprise that it produces big flathead and blue catfish.
Lake Eufaula is a heavily pressured bass fishing lake, and it also receives pressure from catfish anglers.
The best way to attack this lake is by boat and focusing on one branch of the reservoir.
I suggest hitting one of the three bridges because they act as cover to attract catfish in the middle of the lake. However, if it’s too cold or windy, try fishing at a heated dock at one of the marinas.
The lake is murky like most lakes in the Sooner State, but it does clear up at times throughout the year, depending on the rain and wind.
With that said, cut bait and live bait are always my top choices when catfishing any location with rod n’ reel or jugs along a creek or river channel.
The lake is located about two hours east of Oklahoma City via Interstate 40, and a little closer heading south from Tulsa.
The town of Eufaula sits right on the edge of the lake, and you’ll find several tackle shops and marinas to meet your needs there.
There are two state parks and a U.S. Corps of Engineers campground to stay at during overnight visits with family or friends.
If you’d also like to catch another great-eating fish while here, you’re in luck because Eufaula also rates highly in our Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in Oklahoma.
More: Eufaula Lake Fishing
While these lakes (and a river) didn’t make the top 5 regional list, they barely missed out and are simply too good not to check out, especially if you’re close.
Canton Lake is located in Northwestern Oklahoma and once held the state record with a 34-pound channel catfish.
Drift fishing and jugging are the best ways to catch the reservoir’s big channel cats as well as blue cats. Most anglers use live sunfish on the jugs and cut shad while drift fishing.
It’s under a two-hour drive northwest of Oklahoma City and there are several campgrounds and services at the lake.
More: Canton Lake Fishing
Located 45 miles north of Tulsa, Oologah Lake has produced monster flatheads and blues.
It’s a murky lake, but Oologah offers anglers the opportunity to catch catfish any way they choose.
Rod and reel, jugs, trotlines and even noodling are common, especially during the late spring and summer months.
A popular destination for rod and reel anglers is to fish the Winganon bridge that cuts across the middle of the lake.
If you have a boat, finding the river and creek channels near a flat usually produces good numbers of fish.
If you’re a bank fisherman, there are several locations to fish from the bank and still have the opportunity to land big catfish.
More: Oologah Lake Fishing
Keystone Lake is just 15 miles west of downtown Tulsa on Highway 412. It’s a similar lake to Oologah in water color and style of fishing that often takes place.
Not only does it have giant catfish, but Keystone Lake has produced two world-record paddlefish as of this writing. You can read our Best Paddlefish Snagging in Oklahoma article for more paddlefish snagging on Keystone Lake.
If the paddlefish grow to world-record size, then that means there’s plenty of food for catfish to grow to monstrous sizes.
You can expect to catch flatheads, blues and channels in Keystone.
As usual, fishing by boat is best; however, there are several locations to fish from the bank and be successful.
Located mostly within the city limits of Edmond, with some also in Oklahoma City, Arcadia Lake is a fantastic location to catch channel cats, blue cats and flathead catfish near home.
The water is murky and often turns red to match the color of the area’s dirt.
Fishing the lake by boat will give you the best opportunity to catch the most catfish. However, there also is a heated dock available to the public, and shore angling can also be pretty good at times.
Read the local lake regulations because there are special rules regarding using jugs and trotlines during certain times of the year at Arcadia.
The lake’s campground, fishing docks and swim beach are all maintained by the city of Edmond.
Arcadia Lake has more than a million visitors each year. Though they don’t all show up at once, nor do all have fishing rods in hand, but the lake will get crowded with boats during the spring and summer months since it is in a metropolitan area.
Deep Fork of the Canadian River
Ten miles south of Bristow, you will find the Deep Fork Wildlife Management Area along the Canadian River. This stretch of the Canadian River, simply known as Deep Fork, is home to incredible catfishing.
Channel catfish and flathead catfish are present in great numbers in Deep Fork. Flatheads regularly grow to over 30 pounds in the river.
Most locals use jugs or limblines, but you can find a hole at the mouth of a creek and use a rod and reel from a boat to hammer them.
Check the special regulations for the Deep Fork WMA to ensure you’re not breaking any laws.
Robert S. Kerr Reservoir
The Robert S. Kerr Reservoir is a dammed portion of the Arkansas River just south of Sallisaw in southeast Oklahoma.
This reservoir is known for excellent channel, blue and flathead catfishing. Waters in the southeast portion of the state tend to be much clearer than the rest of Oklahoma, but the Arkansas River itself is not known for its clarity.
Using a boat will give you the greatest opportunity to catch fish. However, there are plenty of opportunities for bank anglers.
The US Corps of Engineers maintains the campgrounds and boat ramps.
Kerr has a nice variety of fisheries, including some of Oklahoma’s best fishing for sand bass (a.k.a. white bass).
Eleven miles east of Ponca City sits Kaw Lake, another reservoir built on the Arkansas River. It’s known for big blues and flatheads with abundant channel cats.
Kaw Lake tends to stay murky like most lakes in Oklahoma, but it clears up at times throughout the year.
A couple of bridges cross the lake and are great spots to begin catfishing along the river channel.
The area around Kaw Lake (a little over an hour north of Stillwater) isn’t as densely populated, so it receives less boating and fishing pressure than lakes closer to Tulsa or Oklahoma City.
The US Corps of Engineers maintains the boat ramps and campgrounds.
Hefner Lake is in the city limits of Oklahoma City, northwest of downtown, so it requires a special OKC fishing license on top of the state license to fish.
Flathead and channel catfish are regularly caught at Hefner Lake from a boat and along the bank.
The waters are relatively clear, considering the water could be red like the red dirt of the surrounding landscape.
Hefner has a few fishing docks and one enclosed heated dock for cold weather available for public use, so it’s a better lake than some for bank fishing.
The lake has many other recreational activities other than fishing, and since it’s also located in the city, it gets very crowded during peak times.