It wasn’t the first time I fished under a bridge from a boat, but it definitely was the first time I’d done it while at eye level with the drivers going over that same bridge.
It was also the first time I’d fished with a professional guide who was less than half my age — far less; one-third, actually. He’s 18, not quite four decades my junior.
What was weird was making a cast with an F-150 speeding past my shoulder along the Bernice Bridge, but welcome to the summer of high water across Oklahoma. The fishing has been a little bit weird just about everywhere this season.
I hit the road Sunday intending to roll in after the rain to enjoy the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot & Trade Show at Wyandotte, the state’s biggest and loudest full-auto shoot. Instead, I ended up fishing with a young-gun fishing guide, catching white bass in machine-gun fashion at the Bernice Bridge at Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
Storms rolled through and put an early end to OFASTS. I was already in Wyandotte, so the natural thing to do was drop down State Highway 10 toward Grove and Grand Lake.
I’d seen social media posts from the lake but hadn’t been there the past two months. Businesses based on outdoor recreation are having a rough summer, as high water closed boat ramps and some lakeside campgrounds and marinas closed down, as is the case at many lakeside communities this year.
The water is still there and the fish are still biting, however, and those businesses could use your patronage. I stopped in at a sporting goods and bait store where one of the proprietors said business in recent weeks was off 80%. Check with the Grand Lake Association Visitor Center at 918-786-2289 and plan a trip that direction with the help of a guide or a marina. They could use your support.
Early this spring, I learned that Haydn Williams would begin guiding this year as Williams Guide Service, and he was top of mind as I rolled south last Sunday. The first photo of him that I posted in the Tulsa World was in 2013. He was 12 and “Slim,” as he was nicknamed, had taken a nice, mature 5-by-6 buck in the muzzleloader season over some Nutra Deer, a line of feed and mineral attractant developed by his dad, Jeff Williams.
I first fished with him and his father a year later, after Williams resurrected the Fle-Fly Tackle brand. That trip, I ran a photo of Haydn with a couple handfuls of Grand Lake crappies.
The late, great Grand Lake guide Ivan Martin was the one who introduced me to Jeff Williams and told me about his deer feed and Team Catfish brand history. Not long after that, Jeff Williams introduced me to “the blue cat master,” Jerry Kropff.
So, when I learned the younger Williams would be guiding after he graduated from high school, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. He’s learned from some of the best on the water.
Williams didn’t have clients lined up for that stormy Sunday, but he said he planned to go out that afternoon after the storms passed to see what was happening anyway. He said he was happy to have company and he chose to show me the fun at Bernice Bridge, which has been a popular spot for crappies and white bass lately.
We had a narrow and tricky launch at Indian Hills Marina on the north side of the bridge, but that was the only way to get there. The high water was up to the bottom of the bridge, and rising.
That put the deck of William’s boat just about even with the road surface atop the bridge as we tied off there to fish. We looked down on people in small cars and were eye level with people in SUV and trucks.
We tossed ⅛-ounce Fle-Fly Big Eye jigheads with Go Go Minnows on the new Fle-Fly Micro Braid line just under the edge of the bridge, and caught and released a pile of white bass and a couple of crappies in just a few hours, until rain clouds formed and thunder rolled again.
I’ve been using those jigs and minnows for about five years and I know they work. What surprised me was the Micro Braid. It’s like silk and lets you feel the slightest bite. I made some really bad casts at the bridge (people who fish with me know that’s not uncommon in any situation), but that braid was forgiving. I think I’ve found the line I’ll be using to practice skipping baits under docks from now on.
A cast, countdown of about 10 or 12 to let the bait sink and a steady retrieve was the trick. It didn’t hurt to pause and jig that bait a couple times before reeling it up to the boat. We fooled a couple slow followers that way with hookups right below the boat ... and the bridge ... and the passing traffic.
Find Williams Guide Service on Facebook or call 618-946-9294.