Most anglers in Oklahoma have yet to catch a 10-pound largemouth bass. Chuck Justice caught more than 200 of them in Oklahoma alone.
This might sound like an incredible fishing tale, but the 65-year-old fishing guide has probably spent more hours bass fishing in Oklahoma than anyone. That certainly applies to his two favorite fishing spots on Lakes Oklahoma, Sardis and McGee Creek.
Justice caught his 200th double-digit bass on April 4th in McGee Creek, where he lives and works. Three days later he caught #201, also at McGee Creek.
That’s just the 10+ pound fish he’s caught in Oklahoma. Justice also guides three months a year at Lake Fork, home of the best trophy bass in Texas.
“I don’t keep a record of these fish, but I do know I’ve caught well over 100 other fish over 10 pounds from Lake Fork,” Justice said.
More:“True to its roots”: The last American duck decoy factory comes to life in Henryetta
Trophy Bass Lakes
Justice has been a staple of Oklahoma bass fishing for three decades. He has made numerous tackle show appearances over the years and has been the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles.
He also writes for bass fishing publications and makes fishing videos and podcasts.
A McAlester native, he has been guiding clients for trophy bass between Sardis Lake and McGee Creek for 32 years. He says 60 percent of his 201 blowholes were caught in McGee Creek and the rest in Sardis.
“I caught a lot of them in Sardis in the ’90s, and I’ve caught the largest majority since the ’90s at McGee,” he said.
It had been almost two years since Justice had caught a 10-pounder until three weeks ago when he hooked No. 199, an 11-pound, 6-ounce trout mouth.
“I didn’t think I would ever catch a 10-pounder again,” he said.
McGee Creek was seized by the Bureau of Reclamation in Atoka County in 1987 and Justice moved there in 1994.
Over the years, McGee Creek has built a solid reputation as a trophy bass lake, largely because of Justice. Unlike Sardis, McGee Creek has big bass year-round, Justice said.
“Sardis fishes really well about 2½ or 3 months of the year and the rest of the year it’s below average,” Justice said. “Sardis in the spring will cost £30-35 to win (a bass tournament). Until the first of June, if you can catch £15, you can win any tournament there.”
More:‘A Hub for the Fly Fishing Community’: A new locally owned fly shop, JD Adams & Co., is slated to open in OKC
Fishing for a living
No other angler in Oklahoma has been a full-time bass fishing guide longer than Justice.
And he has no plans to stop any time soon. That’s what happens when you can make a living from fishing.
“If you put me 6 feet under water, you can come to my going away party,” he said. “I love my job. I really do. I am one of those blessed people. Every day I can’t wait to get back to the lake.”
There are days in the boat when his body takes a beating from hopping around in 50 and 60 mph winds, but he takes care of himself and says he weighs the same as he did the day he graduated from high school.
“I feel great for my age,” he said.
He also enjoys being with his customers, sharing some of his fishing wisdom and helping them catch the biggest bass of their lives.
Outdoor people are “broadly good people,” Justice said. “It’s a really good group of people to associate with.”
More:‘Numbers have dropped dramatically’: Turkey season starts later with reduced baggage limit as population dwindles
A life outdoors
Justice grew up in McAlester around politics. His father was McAlester Mayor and City Council member for many years.
“I can remember when I was a kid my dad, Gene Stipe and Carl Albert would watch football at our house one Sunday,” he said.
He has three daughters and six grandchildren still living in McAlester. His eldest granddaughter is currently Miss McAlester.
But he also grew up in a family that loved the outdoors, both fishing and hunting.
“My dad was a very tough bass angler,” Justice said. “I started fishing tournaments with him when he was 8 years old. By the time I was in high school I had probably fished 100 tournaments. I spent a lot of time in the outdoors growing up.”
Perhaps he was predestined that fishing would be his profession.
More:“Like holding on to a car”: Why anglers from around the world come to Oklahoma to fish for paddlefish
From bricks to bass
Justice was working as a bricklayer in 1990 when his career path changed abruptly. That’s what happened when he landed two of the largest bass ever caught in Oklahoma on back-to-back casts at Sardis Lake.
In 1987 he and a fishing buddy decided that they would fish at Lake Fork every weekend to learn how to catch trophy bass. But Lake Fork was almost a 3 hour drive from McAlester. Sardis, five miles north of Clayton, was less than an hour away. So the fishing friends ended up swapping classrooms.
“We caught a lot of really big fish (in Sardis),” Justice said. “On September 23, 1990, I caught two top 20 Oklahoma fish on back-to-back casts and it changed my life forever.”
Longtime Oklahoman outdoor writer Covey Bean wrote an article about Justice and his two big fish on back-to-back casts. The notoriety led to Justice becoming a weekend fishing guide in Sardis.
A year later, Justice caught his third top 20 bass at Sardis, a nearly 13-pounder. He would lay no more bricks for a living.
“From that point on it was like a snowball going downhill,” he said. “I was in TV shows and magazines, and instead of doing part-time (guiding), I did it full-time in 1991.”
In 1992, Justice caught 32 fish weighing 10 pounds or more.
“It was all in Sardis,” he said. “That’s when it just got crazy over there.”
Justice would eventually land a fourth fish on Oklahoma’s top 20 list, but they’ve all been surpassed by larger bass since then.
It now takes a largemouth bass heavier than 13 pounds, 8 ounces to crack Oklahoma’s top 20 list. The state record for trout is 14 pounds, 13.7 ounces.More:‘All the weight’s gone’: Oklahoma angler Jason Christie finally snags his beluga whale
For the past year, Justice has had anglers on his boat from Oregon to North Carolina hunting trophy bass. Because of COVID-19, he remained booked throughout 2020 and 2021.
“COVID has been great for the fishing industry,” he said. “It was terrible for everything else”
Recently, Justice is starting to see fewer customers as the economy slows.
“The first thing they do when money runs out is cancel recovery,” he said.
Even if Justice leads less, that doesn’t mean he will fish less. Even without a paying customer to take to the lake, Justice often goes fishing.
“I call it product research,” he said.
Justice never tires of catching big fish. Catching his 200th double-digit bass in Oklahoma was just as memorable as catching his first, he said.
“The excitement is still exactly the same,” Justice said. “It’s still a thrill.”
Reporter Ed Godfrey is looking for stories that will impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports – you name it, he wants to report it. Do you have an idea for a story? Reach out to him at [email protected] or on Twitter @EdGodfrey. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.