Row Your Boat Safely

In my family, we take boat safety very seriously. This big lake attracts a lot of tourists, and there are those who have no business being out on the water. Some of them really have no idea what they’re doing, others are intoxicated, and some are a combination of reckless and plain old stupid. It’s best if you know water and boat safety before you head out onto the lake. These tips come from my observations and personal opinions, with a few legal things thrown in:

I suggest you know how to swim before you attempt boating. Now, that might not help you if the dam’s gates are open and the water’s really moving, but it at least gives you a fighting chance. And even if you do know how to swim, life jackets are a good idea (and potentially required by law, to have even if not to be physically worn). Get the ones that are approved by the Coast Guard. It’ll say so somewhere on the label.

Pay attention. This is a pretty broad one, so I’ll break it down a bit. Pay attention to the condition of your boat and the gear you are required to have. If something is wearing out or needs to be fixed, get it handled correctly before you launch your vessel into the water. Also pay attention to the weather. Do you really want to be out in the middle of a huge lake in a metal fishing boat or holding a metal pole when it starts storming? Probably not if you want to live to see the next day. Same thing goes for the water levels on the lake – if they have to open floodgates, you’re going to need to know that.

Similar to owning a car, you may be required to register your vessel. Also just like driving a car, there are laws you need to follow. You have to be a certain age and have valid ID. There’s right-of-way procedures that you need to know, and you won’t have painted lanes or signal lights to help you along. There are also speed limits you need to be aware of. In Grand Lake, the speed limit goes down at night, and many water sports are prohibited after dark. If you’re diving, you need to mark your dive site with flags. If you are nearby and see said flags, you need to keep a safe distance away — at least 150 feet. You also need to know what No Wake zones are.

Another thing you need to be careful of is cleaning your boat. Even if you clean it in your driveway, if it’s going back in the water at some point – so will the chemicals you use to clean it. Use something that is phosphate free and biodegradable. Otherwise you run the risk of damaging the lake’s ecosystem or even making people who swim in the lake sick. That goes for anything else you plan on putting in the water, too: inner tubes, jet skis, whatever.

To get into all the rules and regulations of Grand Lake would take a long time, and somebody’s already done it for me. You can read them all here. It doesn’t have my wit and charm, but it does go into a lot more detail. Have fun and be safe out there.

A Quick Dam (and Lake) History

Grand Lake came about because of a great idea. The area around what would be the lake has been Native American land for a long, long time. A member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma had the idea that they could use the Grand River to supply hydroelectric power to the Cherokee Nation. This was actually before Oklahoma was even a state.

It took a while for it to actually happen. The idea finally became reality in March of 1940 with the completion of the Pensacola Dam. Once the dam was in place, Grand Lake o’ the Cherokee (Grand Lake for short) was born. The dam itself is damn impressive. It’s over 5,000 feet long, State HWY 28 runs across it, and it’s also got a walkway. I still don’t know how they did it – it was 1940, after all! Just think of the technology they had back then versus what we have now. I wish I could go back in time and see it being built in person. I bet it was amazing to see.

The lake is also pretty impressive. For one thing, it’s large – over 40,000 acres. It also brought a lot of life and joy to the area, and towns sprouted up or expanded right along with the lake. I’m proud to say that it is not all tourist centered, either. We’ve got great fishing, sailing, and all that water recreation to get them flocking here every summer, that is true. But we don’t shut down and close up shop after Labor Day, either: we’ve got fine dining, great performing arts centers, shopping, and casinos to keep people coming to visit year-round.

One of the greatest things about the area around Grand Lake is that we are able to honor our history as well as enjoy all the best of modern life. We’ve got fancy highways but we’ve also got Route 66. There are heritage museums celebrating Native American culture and the lives of early settlers right alongside state-of-the-art casinos. Then there is the Cherokee Queen, a riverboat that takes visitors around the lake. She’s about as old as the lake itself. If you’ve never been onboard, make it a point to do so. She may have a lot of years on her but she’s incredible. Over the years, the water craft on the lake has changed. We’ve gone from mostly sailboats and smaller fishing vessels to PWC (personal water craft) and even those crazy water jet packs. To each his own, I say.

I’m proud of my home and of Grand Lake. I think we are continuing to make history here. If you are looking for a fun and active family vacation or you just need to get away for a while, Grand Lake is the perfect place to be. You might make some of your own family history here too.

Staying Busy in the Grand Lake Area

Oklahoma is a surprisingly great place to visit, especially the area around Grand Lake. You might think that it’s like a typical lake town that would only be good in the summer when the weather is nice, the fishing is good, and everybody is out boating on the lake. You might think that it’s a ghost town every other time of year. If you think that, though, you’ve probably never been around here. We don’t have a lot of trouble finding reasons to celebrate.

For example, we start the year off right in Grand Lake. On New Year’s Day, Grand Lake State Park is open for a first day hike. Everybody who makes “get more exercise” and “be healthier” as a resolution for the New Year should be out there in Bernice to get a fantastic head start.

I do enjoy springtime here, especially Spring Break. I might be biased, because spring has a lot of fishing tournaments. The Gigging Tournament, the Crappie Spring Tournament, and sometimes even Bassmaster Elite – just to name a few.

Summertime is pretty wonderful here too. Not just because we’re a water sporting haven and the parks are full of campers and outdoorsmen. We kick it off at the Bernice Nature Center at Grand Lake State Park for Memorial Day, and then there’s the Toes in the Grand Festival celebrating life here at Grand Lake – that one is in Wolf Creek Park. We’ve got an American Heritage Music Festival at the beginning of June, which includes an amazing Fiddle Fest. There’s a Route 66 festival in mid-June, then a Huckleberry Festival in Jay at the end of the month. That’s followed by lots of 4th of July celebrations, complete with parades and fireworks. Personally I like the Cajun Fest, which includes great food, music, and crafts. August brings Langley’s Woodstock on the Water as well as a Back to School Fun Run. One not-to-miss event is the Will Rogers Memorial Rodeo Parade in Vinita, and that’s at the end of August.

The fun doesn’t stop here once the weather starts to turn. In the fall, Grove has the Taste of Grand festival, Monkey Island throws a block party, and there’s a Cook Off at the regional airport. Halloween is a lot of fun around here. Vinita’s got a Punkin Chunkin Festival that is a real blast. There are a lot of trunk-or-treats held around Grand Lake. The Chamber of Commerce in Grove has a Trick or Treat Day downtown with even a special performance by The Playmakers. We’ve got Veteran’s Day parades and fall markets, too.

Fall rolls into the most celebratory time of year. Christmas parades and tree lighting ceremonies like the one in Jay are a great time for the whole family, and winter concerts are everywhere. There is a beautiful Angel of Hope Candlelight Ceremony at Lendonwood Gardens, too.

In other words, there’s a lot going on here just about any time of the year you might come to visit. You should experience some of the great things we’ve got on our events calendar. I’m sure you will find something you’d enjoy!

I’ll Be Fishing

I like fishing. There is not much that troubles me that a visit to the Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees can’t put right. I’ve done some of my best thinking out there, whether I brought home dinner or not. If I’ve got something on my mind, chances are you will find me out on the water. It’s certainly a better habit than drinking, womanizing, or getting into fights.

The good news for both me and you is that we can fish around Grand Lake throughout the year. We’ve got black bass and catfish to thank for that. Depending on the time of year, you might catch crappies, gar, walleyes, drums, or spoonbills, too. If you want to try your hand at snagging spoonbills and don’t know what to do, I definitely suggest hiring somebody to take you out. They are pretty big and can be difficult to handle. They do make for some great fishing stories, though! The fish are typically fine to eat, too, not like in some other places. The bigger ones, by nature of them being older, will have more mercury. But then, the bigger ones make better trophies, don’t they?

Like most other places, the type of fish available here depends on the weather conditions and the time of year. Like I said, I just like fishing so I don’t much care what’s biting. It’s being outside in the quiet, on the water, with nothing to do but be patient, that really holds the appeal for me. Catching fish is a definite bonus, especially when it tastes good or looks great mounted on the wall.

What I’m trying to say here is that you like fishing, it is worth the trip. We’re actually kind of a big deal in the fishing world. There’s plenty of tournaments throughout the year, and we’ve hosted the Bassmaster Classic a couple times now. The fishing really is that good – in addition to black bass, we’ve got white bass (it’s not the state fish of Oklahoma for nothing), spotted bass and hybrid stripers, too.

We pay more attention to the water levels around here than most places, and that’s because it’s regulated by GRDA and the Pensacola Dam. If there’s a lot of floodwater, the level is going to be higher. That’s one thing that can affect what’s be biting, the areas you can fish, and the best things to use. Just something to be aware of before heading out on the water and it is best to familiarize yourself with the laws above and below the dams.

If you’re interested in heading out this way to fish, there is a fairly active fishing report group on facebook, which you can find here. It’s a pretty active site so you should be able to find what you need to know or get your questions answered in a reasonable amount of time.

Maybe I’ll see you out there one day.

You’ve Never Heard of Grand Lake?

There are so many great places in the Grand Lake to visit. Afton, Bernice, Cleora, Disney, Fairland, Grove, Jay, Ketchum, Langley, Miami, Monkey Island, Tia Juana, Vinita, and Wyandotte might be places you have never heard of (well, maybe you’ve heard of Miami but the one in Florida, and you probably think the way I wrote Tia Juana was a typo by an uncultured hillbilly – and you’d be wrong on all counts). I am telling you, however, these are places definitely worth looking into the next time you’re considering a move or a vacation. I am biased, of course, but I’ll tell you, this area is probably the best place to be in the whole state of Oklahoma.


I’m so happy you asked! I can give you a million reasons, but it really comes down to this: we’ve got everything. We’ve got 5 state parks. We’ve got camping, water sports, and fishing. We’ve got casinos, shopping, performing arts, fine dining, and golf. For auto enthusiasts, we’ve got Route 66. For the history buffs, we’ve got quite a lot of that as well, thanks to our Native American roots. If you have a hobby or a passion, chances are you can indulge it somewhere around here! It is a perfect combination of a great location, great access to recreation and fun, and lots of culture — all without the impersonal stuffiness of big-city living.

For those of us who live here, well, we know we’re lucky and we work hard to keep our cities and towns alive. It’s just about the most gorgeous area on God’s green earth, and we like to keep it that way. If you don’t believe me, go look online for some rental homes in the area. Go on, I’ll wait. Now you see what I’m talking about? You like those screened porches, covered boat slips, and amazing lake views? I do too. That’s why I live here.

Going about my daily life, I meet lots of people who came here for a family vacation and decided to come back in a more permanent way. They probably thought all of Oklahoma was some farmland and some tall buildings out by Oklahoma City. And that’s a fair assessment, Oklahoma does have its share of farmland. And since we’re a landlocked state, it’s hard for people to imagine that we’d have such a fine lake. It’s almost like we’ve been keeping it a secret and saving it just for those who would appreciate it. Once those people – and maybe you, too – see what’s around here, it’s easy to wonder if you’ve been living in the wrong place all this time. Maybe you need to live somewhere a little more leisurely and beautiful. A place that you can hunt and fish and still be able to take the wife out to a good meal and a concert. A place that has good schools for the kids and wholesome family fun on weekends.

So now that you’ve heard about us, what do you plan to do about it?