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Barren Fork Smallmouth

Barren Fork Creek is Oklahoma's premier Neosho smallmouth bass wet wading stream destination. What the fish lack in size they make up for in volume. There is very little in the way of bycatch, 95% of fish caught will be smallmouth bass. For the most part, bycatch will include different species of sunfish. Most smallmouth bass average between 6"-14", but there are a few fish over 14 inches in each section of the creek. With an average CFS around 200 and depth around 3 feet, it is an ideal location for new and young anglers to gain experience stream fishing. The packed cobble stream-bed makes for easy wading and wide gravel bars with little bank overhang makes for easy casting. 

There are five public access locations along the creek. ODOT offers public access at the Eldon Bridge on HWY 51 (parking available to southeast of bridge). Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) offers public access at Welling Bridge. Corps of Engineers maintains public access at Boy Scout Hole. ODWC offers public access at the Thomas A Bamberger Sr WMA and Barren Fork WMA.

There is no public camping on Barren Fork Creek, but float outfitters along the Upper Illinois River have traditional campgrounds, RV hookups and cabins depending on what best suits your needs. The Corps of Engineers and Oklahoma State Parks operate campgrounds around Tenkiller Lake and there is an abundance of other lodging and AirBNB opportunities in the area.

ODWC offers primitive camping along the Upper Illinois River at Round Hollow, Stunkard, Peavine Hollow, No Head Hollow and Echota public access sites. These sites are maintained in partnership with GRDA. GRDA collects a camping fee at these sites on the weekends and at their office on weekdays. Camping is $14/night and accommodates two vehicles and tents per site. For more information, contact GRDA Scenic River Operations (918) 456-3251.

Fishing Tips

1.5" to 3" tubes, grubs and swim-baits paired with a 1/32nd or 1/16th ounce jig-head are all that is needed at Barren Fork Creek. Green pumpkin is an excellent base color mixed with red and/or black flakes. Soft plastic baits in shades of green, brown, black, white and orange are also effective.

Fly anglers can find success stripping jig-head and bead-head flies like Clouser Minnows and Woolly Buggers. Hatches such as mayfly and caddis provide dry fly opportunities along with terrestrial patterns like hoppers and stimulators. Stonefly, pheasant tail and rubber-legged yellow sally nymphs are also effective.

Bait anglers can find success with a cup of nightcrawlers or red worms drifted below a bobber or fished off the bottom with a 1/8th to 1/4th ounce weight. Scooping up a handful of grasshoppers along the creek's banks is also an effective bait choice.

Due to the small size of the creek, anglers can cover a lot of water. Fish will be stacked up in reliable areas such as pools and woody structure, but don't overlook any inch of the creek. Some of the biggest fish can be found in shallow shaded areas.

Watch Ask an Angler: Virtual Fishing Clinic (Wet Wade Fishing Illinois River System) on YouTube.


Editor's Tip

My go-to is to buy a 15 pack of 1.5" Bass Pro Shops Tournament Series Squirmin' Squirt tubes in Green Pumpkin Red Flake and a 15 pack of 1/32nd ounce Bass Pro Shops Squirt Head jig-heads. I pre-rig the tubes with the jig-heads and put them back into the plastic pack the tubes came in along with a pair of line clippers. That fits into my chest pocket and allows me to wet wade unencumbered. Each tube will catch several fish before it needs to be changed out for a fresh one. I throw this rig on a 6'6" medium-light action rod with a spinning reel spooled with 6-pound test fluorocarbon line or on a 3-weight fly rod with floating line, 9' 4x leader and 2' of 5x tippet (1/64th ounce Squirt Heads work even better for fly casting).

Fishing Contact: (918) 683-1031

Game Warden: (918) 431-2539(918) 431-2546, (918) 431-2552, (918) 431-2562

Location: Barren Fork Creek (Google Map) is located 15 miles east of Tahlequah on HWY 62.


  • Cobble bottom, gravel bars, submerged timber, log jams, riffles, runs, pools

Drive Time

  • From OKC: 3 hours

  • From Tulsa: 1.5 hours

  • From Muskogee: 1 hour

  • From Tahlequah: 20 minutes

Bait & Tackle Nearby

Barren Fork Creek CFS Data: USGS Current Conditions

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