On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

All About Fishing in Oklahoma

With over 200 lakes and more than one million surface areas of water, it’s no surprise Oklahoma is a fishing paradise.

Angling enthusiasts have plenty of large rivers and small streams, large lakes and hidden coves to cast lines for Oklahoma’s abundant bass, crappie, paddlefish and catfish. Even amateurs can haul up a trophy and get that “Instagram-able” shot of a fish on a hook.

But fishing is more than just a recreational sport. In the U.S. fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities, second only to jogging. The American Sportfishing Association’s recent report said that each year across the U.S. more than 49 million people hit the waters in hopes of reeling in a fish. In 2016, the average angler spent about $130 per fishing trip, which totaled almost $50 billion in annual retail sales.

Fish tourism is a bright spot in Oklahoma, too. The state is a premier destination for fishing-related tourism because of its fish diversity and lack of fishing seasons or restrictions. On average, Oklahoma anglers spend $1.8 billion on fishing equipment annually and support more than 15,000 jobs in the state.

Fishing’s mental and physical health benefits

Besides being a fun outdoor activity, fishing has some surprising health benefits. Casting your line into one of Oklahoma’s many lakes and rivers can be great for your health — but only if you do it safely.

One of the best ways to keep your brain healthy is to challenge it with mentally stimulating activities. Because you’re developing strategies and thinking quickly to foil the fish, it can boost your memory and brain health.

The National Academy of Sciences studied a group of Iraq war veterans and found that levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) dropped for three weeks following a fishing trip. Researchers found their patients slept better, expressed lower levels of depression and anxiety, experienced fewer symptoms of somatic stress, and were far less likely to experience feelings of guilt, hostility, fear or sadness normally associated with PTSD and traumatic experiences.

Believe it or not, fishing can also help you lose weight. People who are actively fishing (not just sitting in a camp chair on the bank) can burn 200 calories an hour, and even more if you’re fly fishing.

The health benefits of eating fish

Don’t forget the health benefits of actually eating the fish you catch. Fish is loaded in omega-3 essential fatty acids. Among other benefits, omega-3's improve circulation and allow more oxygen to enter the blood, reducing your chances of a stroke or heart attack.

But what about mercury?

Some types of fish are better for you than others. Certain kinds contain high levels of mercury, which is toxic and has been linked to serious health problems. For more information, check out this report from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality on fish consumption advisories for Oklahoma.

According to the FDA, people with a high risk of mercury toxicity (like pregnant or breastfeeding women) should follow these recommendations.

  • Eat 2–3 servings of a variety of fish every week.
  • Choose lower-mercury fish and seafood, such as salmon, shrimp, cod and sardines.
  • Larger predatory fish can have higher levels of mercury.
  • Avoid higher-mercury fish, such as tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel.
  • When choosing fresh fish, watch for fish advisories for those particular streams or lakes.

Risks found in Oklahoma lakes

Blue-green algae are a constant threat in Oklahoma. Blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria) produce toxins called cyanotoxins that are not only harmful to humans, but also fish, birds and other animals. Blue-green algae are usually found in non-harmful amounts, but on still lakes with warm temperatures the algae can accumulate, causing an algae bloom. Swimming during an algae bloom can result in skin rashes, irritation of the eyes, ears or throat, asthma-like symptoms, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, muscle and joint pain, liver damage and nerve damage.

In an assessment from the EPA, 12 out of 55 lakes tested in Oklahoma had harmful levels of cyanotoxins. You can identify blue-green algae blooms by the distinctive blue-green colored mats of algae floating on the surface of the water, although sometimes the bloom can be red or brown in color. When the algae begin to decay, they can emit a strong, unpleasant odor. If you notice a strong odor, there could be large amounts of algae present that aren't visible to your eye.

For more information on staying safe, check out our blog on Oklahoma lakes.

Where to fish

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Federation has a nationwide initiative called Take Me Fishing that includes a website with information on how to start fishing, links to every state’s fishing licensing site, tips on how to fish and an interactive map that shows fishing spots in every state.

Recently, Oklahoma has made it even easier to cast that line. In June, Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell announced the launch of the Oklahoma Fishing Trail, which highlights 38 lakes around the state, plus an additional list of 20 central Oklahoma fishing experiences, that are part of the Wildlife Department’s “Close to Home Fishing Program.”

The trail has six loops, one for each region of the state, to help guide visitors to the perfect lake. The official website for the trail is FishinOK.com. The site features a map of all the trail stops along with detailed information on the amenities available at each stop. Check out the brochure for more information.

“Oklahoma is well-prepared for this increase in fishing tourism,” said Jerry Winchester, who is the executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, in the announcement.

“Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees has twice hosted the Bassmaster Classic, the ‘Super Bowl’ of bass fishing. Bassmaster magazine regularly lists Grand Lake and Lake Texoma on their lists of the country’s best bass lakes. We have more shoreline than the East and Gulf coasts combined,” he said.

In the northeastern loop, Grand Lake is renowned for its largemouth bass, crappie and catfish, while Lake Eufala and Lake Tenkiller are first-class crappie fishing spots.

Oklahoma also stands out for the state’s unique species, such as the paddlefish. The Oklahoma Paddlefish Research Center, located in Miami near the Twin Bridges Area of Grand Lake State Park, will even process anglers’ catches and return fillets to the customer at no cost.

Fish and fixin’s

Now that you’ve caught your fish, it’s time to enjoy the rewards. Cooking fish can be simple or sophisticated, but first you need to learn how to clean a fish.

  1. Insert the knife tip into the fish's belly near the anal opening and move the blade up along the belly, cutting to the head, but keep the cut shallow so you don’t hit the intestines.
  2. Spread the body open and remove all of the entrails, locate the fish's anus and cut this out in a "V" or notch shape. Remove the kidney and backbone (if present) by scraping it out with a spoon.
  3. Rinse the cavity out with a good stream of water and wash the skin. Some fish have a dark tissue lining the abdominal cavity that can be scraped off to prevent a strong, oily flavor.
  4. Remove the head if you like, trout are often cooked with the head on. Collect the guts, heads and scales, and discard them. Your clean fish is now ready to be cooked.

Oven-fried Crappie

(download the PDF)
crappie recipe

Trout with Skillet-Roasted Peppers

(download the PDF)
trout recipe

For more healthy recipes and summer activities for your family, read Ways to Keep Your Kids Healthy and Active This Summer and Take Your Kids to Oklahoma’s Gardens, Farmers Markets and U-Pick Farms for Food Fun.

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